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Kapitan Keling Mosque

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Kapitan Keling Mosque is one of the most prominent, and beautiful, landmarks in Georgetown, with its Mughal-inspired minaret tower and copper-clad main dome, oxidized to a striking black against the usually bright blue sky.

The mosque’s founder and first superintendent, Caudeer Mohudeen, popularly known as Captain Kling, lends his name not only to the mosque but also more recently to the entire street. A South Indian mariner and trader, he had made Penang his home in 1770, well before the British landed and had already become one of the most prominent members of the local community by the time Lieutenant-governor Leith made him the official headman of the South Indian locals.

The impressive black dome of the Kapitan Keling mosque.

The impressive black dome of the Kapitan Keling mosque.

He subsequently applied for a land grant to build a mosque and on its approval made sure subscriptions flowed in from his fellow Muslim merchants and mariners to fund the materials and builders drafted in from India. Soon a site of 18 acres became a religious centre but also a bustling village, the rentals from shophouses providing funds for the mosque’s upkeep and charities.

The old well that fed the ablution pools with the minaret tower in the background.

The old well that fed the ablution pools with the minaret tower in the background.

The present mosque was started in 1916, based on the ambitious designs of a Henry Alfred Neubronner, in himself a fine example of Penang’s cultural melting pot, being a Melaka-born, London-trained Eurasian of German descent. Its impressive ensemble of buildings incorporates some of the older mosque and includes a madrasah for religious classes, quarters for Imams, a kindergarten, a mausoleum, gardens, wells that feed ablution pools and shady galleries.

A sprinkling of graves beneath a pink frangipani.

Graves beneath a pink frangipani.

The prayer room lies at the heart of the mosque, a large, light-infused hall that can hold 1,500, although visitors can only view it from the side galleries. A huge sparkling chandelier beneath the central dome, a legion of slender white columns supporting horseshoe arches, geometric patterns and elaborate carvings combine to conjure an inspiring space.

It is used five times a day, seven days a week but reaches full capacity every Friday and on important festivals such as Hari Raya Haji. Interesting features are the wooden pulpit from which the Imam addresses the devotees and just to its left the mihrab, a semi-circular niche in the western wall which denotes the direction of Kaaba in Mecca, the true direction Muslims face when they pray.

Slender columns flank the prayer mats of the beautiful prayer hall.

Slender columns flank the prayer mats of the beautiful prayer hall.

A small visitor centre is on the ground floor of the minaret tower but you will only be lucky enough to climb the narrow stairwell for fine views across central Georgetown on special heritage days.

The Kapitan Keling mosque deserves a visit, if not just for the beauty of its architecture and the proud place it holds in Penang’s history, but also as a reflection of the important role the Muslim Indian community played and continues to play in this area and on the island as a whole.

The 1801 Acheen Street Mosque in nearby Acheh Street is also worth a peek, if only to contrast the more Arab-Malay style architecture; as is the mansion of Syed Al-Attas, a wealthy Achenese merchant, in nearby Armenian Street, as an example of Muslim civic architecture. Ambitious plans are currently underway for a full restoration to turn it into a gallery and Islamic art and history exhibition space but may not be completed until 2016.

To complete the experience, Little India beckons with its delicious banana leaf thalis, cups of chai, wafts of incense, blasts of Bollywood music and riots of colourful shopping.

Kapitan Keling Mosque
14 Lebuh Buckingham, Georgetown
Mon-Thurs, Sat-Sun: 11:00-13:00, 14:00-18:00; Fri: 14:30-18:00
T: (04) 229 3048

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Location map for Kapitan Keling Mosque

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