Kuala Lampur, Malaysia
The Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lampur is one of the oldest mosques in the city and, along with the Masjid Negri in Kota Bahru, among the most important in Malaysia. It served as the national mosque of Malaysia throughout most of the first half of the 20th century, and though it has since been surpassed by the Masjid Negara, it is still first in the hearts of most Malaysians. It is by far the most popular Muslim religious site in the city, and many visitors to the city prefer to visit the traditional Masjid Jamek rather than the far larger and more modern mosques that have popped up all over the city in the last few decades.
From the time of the arrival of Islam in Malaysia until the early 15th century, the religious center of activity in Far East was Kota Bahru in the extreme north of the country. From there it spread both into Indochina and Australasia. However, in 1414 AD a powerful Hindu prince who ruled much of the Malay Peninsula converted to Islam, changing the political and religious dynamic of the region. Desirous of exerting greater control over the highly strategic and highly lucrative waterways off the west side of Malaysia, he established a new capital at Malacca.
While Kota Bahru remained the chief trading center on the South China Sea, Malacca’s naval control over the narrow straits between mainland Asia and Sumatra soon made it the more important of the two cities. For a while Malacca was the religious equal of Kota Bahru in Malaysia, but when the European colonial powers arrived in the 16th century, Christian missionaries arrived with them. Malacca’s religious importance waned, while Kota Bahru, which was not nearly as economically important, retained much more of its Islamic character and historic role.
That continued until the 1800s, when the British founded Kuala Lampur near the Straits of Malacca. The history of Kuala Lampur from an Islamic religious perspective is almost the opposite of that of its predeccesor Malacca. Most of its earliest inhabitants were non-Muslims, either Christians or Chinese; but within a few decades it was Malaysia’s most important Islamic center. When the Masjid Jamek was completed near the turn of the century, it became overnight the most important mosque in Malaysia.
This situation was somewhat unusual, considering that Malacca was primarily ethnically Malay and religiously Muslim, while Kuala Lampur was always fairly ethnically and religiously diverse. Nevertheless the center of Islamic activity in Malaysia moved to the latter, and the Masjid Jamek was looked to as a symbol of a future independence from the British. This took place in 1957, which was a major boost for Islam, but not so much for the Masjid Jamek. Less than a decade later, it was overtaken in size and importance by the National Mosque, the first major modern mosque constructed in Australasia.
The Masjid Jamek is one of the architectural highlights of Malaysia. Completed in 1909 during the height of the European Colonial period, it is barely a century old and very much in its original and excellent condition. The architectural style is very different than that found throughout the rest of Australasia and India. For one thing it is very colorful, featuring colonial-type red brick walls trimmed in white and grey stone. All of the mosques outer support columns are crowned with miniature colonnades which look as though they were modeled after tiny Greek temples.
The main minaret and inner buildings are constructed of sand-colored brick, with dozens more of the small colonnaded crowns sprouting up from the walls like a forest. The most traditional Australasian elements of the mosque are the trio of brilliant white domes which top the main prayer hall. Despite the Masjid Jamek’s diverse array of styles and colors, the whole is surprisingly harmonious in appearance.
The Masjid Jamek is located close to the city center of Kuala Lampur close to where the Gombak River flows into the Klang River. It is open to both Muslims and non-Muslims (though with restrictions to the latter). There is no cost of admission. Web: www.tourism.gov.my (official tourism website of Malaysia)
Kuala Lampur boasts among the largest number of mosques of any city in Australasia. The most important besides the Masjid Jamek are the Masjid Negara, the national mosque of Malaysia, and what is perhaps the world’s most boringly named but nevertheless attractive Federal Territory Mosque. Also near Kuala Lampur is the Masjid Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz, the largest mosque in Malaysia and the second largest in the Far East.