Java’s most interesting mosque
The northern part of Central Java is known at the cradle of Javanese Islam, Jepara, Kudus and Demak were powerful and prominent centres in the 15th and 16th centuries and it is said that nine Islamic saints, known as the wali songo, spread the new faith from theses parts.
The name Kudus is derived from the Arabic, “Al Quds” or “holy city”, and the town’s mosque is one of the most fascinating in all of Java—well worth a detour to visit. The new Islamic beliefs blended with the exiting Hindu-Buddhist traditions, and are particularly visible in the Menara Mosque dating from 1549.
The remarkable red-brick minaret, candi bentar (split gate) and candi agung (main gate) within the dome are distinctly Hindu, which leads one to believe that the mosque may have being built on the site of an older Hindu temple. The minaret harbours a large skinned drum (bedug) used for the call to prayer as well as a split wooden drums and a clock, and is decorated with Vietnamese ceramics (indicating connections with the Majapahit kingdom who had ties with the Cham of Vietnam) and resembles a kul-kul tower found in Balinese temples.
Interestingly in this town it’s forbidden to eat beef (as well as the usual forbidden pork), usually associated with Hindu belief rather than Islam. The mosque has been rebuilt several times and the 1930s addition of the serambi (porch) with its arches and stained glass windows sits rather incongruously with the red-brick style. Behind the modern dome, you can see the triple-tired pyramidical roof, typical of Javanese mosques, but evolved from the Hindu meru. To the side of the mosque, a gate leads to an ancient graveyard and the mausoleum of Sunan Kudus, one of the nine wali and founder of the mosque.
This is an important and popular pilgrimage site for local Muslims, and it’s interesting and tremendously atmospheric to see the faithful gathered around the curtained tomb chanting and meditating. Visitors can enter the site: a guardian near the tomb holds a visitors book to sign, take off your footwear as you enter the area (you’ll see the piles of shoes), and follow the crowds.
As this is a holy site, respectful dress is required—long pants and sleeves, and headscarfs for women. Women will be asked if they are menstruating before they enter. The mosque is found on Jalan Menara, a narrow laneway that was closed to traffic at the time of our visit off Jalan Sunan Kudus in Kauman, the old part of the town. If you have time, wander around this area to admire the mix of old colonial and traditional architecture.
Also visit the Mesjid Agung (Grand Mosque) in nearby Demak, Java’s first mosque and considered even more important by pilgrims. Kudus lies between Semarang and Jepara (also on the route from Yogyakarta and Solo) and is easily visited on a daytrip. While you’re in town stop by the Kretek Museum and eat at Rumah Makan Gasasa or Omah Mode where you can cool off in the swimming pool (30,000 rupiah).
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.