Indonesia’s largest mosque
Published/Last edited or updated: 3rd July, 2018
Built as the National Mosque during Indonesia’s post-independence fervour for establishing an identity on the international stage, modernist Istiqlal Mosque is an imposing marble-clad, concrete and steel example of International Style architecture and reputedly the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, able to accommodate 200,000 worshippers.
The location follows Javanese town planing traditions that the masjid agung (grand mosque) should be positioned near the kraton (Sultan’s palace) facing the alun-alun (city square), the “Sultan’s palace” in this case being Istana Merdeka, the presidential palace. As a symbol of the principals of Pancasila (Indonesia’s philosophical foundation) which includes a vision for a multi-faith tolerant society, it is perhaps not an accident that the mosque sits between Jakarta’s Catholic Cathedral and the Protestant Immanuel Church (although it is significantly larger than both).
Istiqlal mosque was designed by eminent Indonesian architect Friedrich Silaban, who later designed Monas, Indonesia’s National Monument, among other important institutional projects and again highlighting the sentiments of an inclusive society, he was a Batak Christian from North Sumatra. As with Monas, the project began under Sukarno, Indonesian’s first president, but wasn’t completed until 17 years later in 1978 when his successor Suharto was in the hot seat.
Similarly to several of Silaban’s projects (including that of Monas), numeric symbolism is incorporating into much of the design referencing Indonesia’s date of the declaration of independence—17, August 1945 as well as Islamic connotations. The main 80-metre square prayer hall is covered by a 45-metre diameter dome, with a measurement of 17 metres between the ceiling and the star and crescent on the roof. The dome is supported by 12 pillars, the birth date of Muhammad, and a smaller secondary dome is eight metres (for August) in diameter. Five levels of the hall represent the five principles of Islam (and of Pancasila) as well as the five times per day that Muslims pray. The interior shimmers with shiny metal surfaces, and a cool breeze wafts through the concrete and metal grills of the exterior walls.
The main structure connects to arcades that surround the spacious courtyard that can accommodate worshippers during busy times such as Ramadan. The courtyard offers a good view of the spires of the neighbouring Cathedral which together with the dome of the mosque makes for a good photo opportunity. In the southern corner, a single minaret towers 66.66 metres for the 6,666 verses in the Quran, topped by a 30 metre spire for the Quran’s 30 ajiza (sections).
Along the southern arcade, photographs and information on the history of the mosque are on display (in Indonesian) as well as a large bedug, a wood and leather drum traditionally used for the call to prayer in Indonesia. The somewhat impersonal architectural style of the mosque has been criticised for not relating to the Indonesian vernacular and while some visitors may agree, the sheer massiveness of the structure is sure to impress and if you’ve never stepped inside a mosque, it is a good opportunity.
Non-Muslims are welcome to visit—sign the guestbook at the visitors desk and you will be escorted by a guide to the VIP room to store your shoes, and don appropriate clothing if you are not dressed sufficiently modestly. The English-speaking guide will then show you around in a tour that takes about 30 minutes (and will likely ask for a tip at the end).
Walk across the road to admire the beautiful filigree spires of the Neo-Gothic Catholic “Gereja Katerdral”, built in 1901 and then walk around the corner to Jalan Medan Merdeka Timor where to the south you’ll find the domed neoclassical Immanuel Church. You may want to then venture to Glodok, to check out the Chinese temples of an all inclusive religious architecture tour or near Immanuel Church, visit the Galeri Nasional Indonesia, our religion of choice.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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