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Seminar on “Islam, Mosque Architecture and Nation Building: A Socio-Political Critique”

MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME

Urbanization, Consumption and Culture Seminar Series

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 – The ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute invited Professor Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi to deliver a seminar on the dynamics between Islam and mosque architecture in Malaysia. Professor Tajuddin is trained as an architect and is presently based at the School of Architecture and Built Environment at UCSI University, Kuala Lumpur. He writes regularly for Malaysian media outlets and has published many books scrutinising Islamic architecture and Islam in Malaysia.

Professor Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi (right) discussed mosque architecture design and planning within the perspective of Islam. Dr Geoffrey Pakiam (left) moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

In his seminar, Dr Tajuddin provided a typological analysis of mosque architecture in Malaysia, covering a diverse range of styles, including Traditional Vernacular, Sino-Eclectic and Modernist. Instead of minarets, some Traditional Vernacular mosques contain a drum house (rumah taboh) while the main prayer hall is sheltered under a tiered roof. Mosques with Sino-Eclectic architecture share similarities with the external façade of Chinese temples. In recent decades, Modernist architecture has gained popularity, with Ottoman domes incorporated in many recently-completed mosques.

Dr Tajuddin argued that architects and their clients should consider local context when drafting designs for new mosques. He commented that in addition to their function as places of worship for Muslims, mosques should also serve as platforms to facilitate social integration between Muslims and non-Muslims. Mosques in Malaysia should therefore incorporate architectural elements that invite outsiders to enter, rather than suggest exclusivity and a siege mentality. One example of exclusivism is the Federal Territory Mosque (Masjid Wilayah) in Kuala Lumpur, which has 22 domes and a stream surrounding the compound. Unlike drier regions, Malaysia experiences a tropical climate with high rainfall, placing much strain upon Masjid Wilayah’s dome structure. Furthermore, the stream resembles a moat and may thus accentuate a sense of exclusion among non-Muslims.

Dr Tajuddin contrasted Masjid Wilayah with Masjid Negara (National Mosque), the latter designed with a dynamic structure evoking a sense of universality, rather than drawing inspiration from one particular cultural tradition. He recommended that all places of worship – regardless of religion – should set aside 20 percent of their floor area for social inclusion activities among Malaysians of different faiths.

The seminar concluded with a question and answer session. One participant asked if pre-modern mosques had their Kiblah (wall niches indicating the correct direction to face during prayer) pointed towards Mecca. Another audience member inquired regarding best practices for contemporary Malaysian mosques wishing to act as sanctuaries for the homeless and aged.  Other topics raised included Islamic education in Malaysia, the role of Malay-Muslim elites and the construction of sacredness. The seminar drew over 50 participants from the civil service, educational and research institutes, and the general public.

The seminar drew over 50 participants from the civil service, educational and research institutes, and the general public. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)