Small historical mosque
Published/Last edited or updated: 4th October, 2017
Towering above the surrounding tightly packed shophouses and bungalows around Lebuh Acheh, the Acheen Street Mosque’s minaret betrays its presence in the otherwise hidden enclave.
The small butter-coloured mosque was built at the turn of the 19th century by Syed Hussain Al-Aidid a wealthy spice trader of the Acehnese royal family who had settled in Penang. According to accounts, he was among other wealthy international traders who were invited to take up residence in Georgetown by Francis Light to strengthen Penang’s (and Britain’s) presence as a trading post to rival that of Sumatra.
The mosque’s architecture survives largely in its original form with a truncated version of the pyramidical tiered roofs seen in mosques in Aceh, Melaka and elsewhere in the archipelago, and features an octagonal Chinese pagoda-style minaret.
The Moorish arcaded facade is an early 20th-century addition and the ugly corrugated metal awning over the veranda much more recent. Within the compound a row of bungalows housed Penang’s first Mufti, a madrasah and dwellings of the relatives of the founder, who himself now lies in a mausoleum beside the mosque.
Acheen Street Mosque is important historically sitting at the heart of Georgetown’s first Malay urban settlement within the surrounding lanes and alleyways. Here until the late-20th century when air travel became more affordable, the area served as an assembly point for multitudes of pilgrims from all over the archipelago on their way to Mecca via ship, bustling with pilgrim brokers and ticketing agencies, and was sometimes referred to as the “second Jeddah”.
In the mid-19th century, members of the mosque’s community were involved in the “Red Flag” secret society who joined forces with the nearby Hokkien secret societies fighting a nine-day street war against the White Flag Indian Muslim community based around Kapitan Keling Mosque alongside Cantonese gangs. Allegedly a cannon ball damaged the minaret during the riots, but we couldn’t find any evidence (unless it’s been repaired with a perfectly round porthole).
The prayer hall is out of bounds for non-Muslim visitors, but feel free to wander around the compound and take a quick look at the exterior of the mosque and the graveyard with Syed Hussain Al-Aidid’s mausoleum within a latticed wooden panelled enclosure. Respectful dress is appreciated.
Take time to wander around the narrow surrounding streets, these days full of cafes and gift shops and don’t miss the Hokkien Khoo Kongsi hidden off Lebuh Cannon.
Every last Saturday of the month 09:30–11.00, Georgetown World Heritage Incorporated offer a free guided walk around this fascinating area, well worth joining if you’re in town, preregistration is required.
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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