The changing face of mosques in Singapore

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Al-Mawaddah Mosque

Doing away with domes, arches, and minarets; having youth corners instead.

Al-Mawaddah Mosque
Al-Mawaddah Mosque

When the Al-Mawaddah Mosque opened in 2009 with its roof-top garden, aluminium exteriors, and Building and Construction Authority (BCA) green-mark-award winning sustainability features, it was a sign that mosques in Singapore are going through a philosophical change to engage the country’s young Muslims and “stay relevant in modern context”, as noted by Zaini Osman, head of the mosque policy and planning division of Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) – also known as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. Osman had told Reuters then “this is about co-existing with society at large”. The mosque, which is located at Compassvale Bow, has no dome. Instead, it has a computer equipped youth corner to engage young Muslims.

Omar Kampong Melaka Mosque. Probably the oldest surviving mosque in Singapore. Built in 1820 by Syed Omar Ali Aljunied, a wealthy merchant from Sumatra, Indonesia. Rebuilt twice in 1855 and 1981-82, the mosque is now a historical monument as accorded by the Singapore Preservation of Monuments Board.
Omar Kampong Melaka Mosque. Probably the oldest surviving mosque in Singapore. Built in 1820 by Syed Omar Ali Aljunied, a wealthy merchant from Sumatra, Indonesia. Rebuilt twice in 1855 and 1981-82, the mosque is now a historical monument as accorded by the Singapore Preservation of Monuments Board.

Omar Kampong Melaka Mosque. Probably the oldest surviving mosque in Singapore. Built in 1820 by Syed Omar Ali Aljunied, a wealthy merchant from Sumatra, Indonesia. Rebuilt twice in 1855 and 1981-82, the mosque is now a historical monument as accorded by the Singapore Preservation of Monuments Board.

The issue was highlighted again in 2011, when during its Mosque Convention, MUIS decided to “review mosque design concept and model for next phase of mosque building”. The Council also vowed to intensify its efforts to make mosques in Singapore family, youth and community friendly.

Last year in a seminar organised by the National Heritage Board titled Singapore’s Islamic Architecture in Transition, Kurjanto Slamet, an architect from Ong&Ong, and Tan Kok Hiang, founding director of Forum Architects, argued how modern designs of mosques in Singapore are a symbol of openness and inconclusiveness. Tan’s firm had designed the Assyafaah Mosque and was also involved in retrofitting the Almumkinin Mosque.

While designing the Assyafaah Mosque, Forum Architects, as noted on the mosque’s own website “deliberately avoided the literal adaptation of icons typically associated with Islam. These are the dome, the arch, the traditional minaret and traditional arabesque patterns. Quite a few of these traditional symbols stem from Mughal, Ottoman, Mamluk or Safavid cultures, and thus have little relevance to the cultural context of Muslims and Malays in Singapore. However, recognising that ‘historical imagery’ can be a powerful means of communication, the design adapted and created contemporary versions of the arch, the minaret and the arabesque patterns. The result is that the complex is easily identifiable as a mosque, in contemporary and global Singapore”.

The Sultan Mosque. Dates back to 1823. Located at the historical Kampong Glam site. The present mosque structure, which is a combination of Persian, Moorish and Turkish themes representing the Islamic Saracenic style with big domes and minarets, was completed in 1928. Known for its unique multi-ethnic administration, the mosque is governed by a charter put in place in 1914 which stipulated that the Board of Trustees must represent the six different ethnic groups of Malays, Arabs, Javanese, Bugis, as well as north and south Indians.

Interestingly, for the first time a mosque design review committee was set-up which gave design suggestions for the upcoming Punggol Mosque. The final design of the mosque will be unveiled at the ground-breaking ceremony later this year incorporating the committee’s feedback.

The Sultan Mosque. Dates back to 1823. Located at the historical Kampong Glam site. The present mosque structure, which is a combination of Persian, Moorish and Turkish themes representing the Islamic Saracenic style with big domes and minarets, was completed in 1928. Known for its unique multi-ethnic administration, the mosque is governed by a charter put in place in 1914 which stipulated that the Board of Trustees must represent the six different ethnic groups of Malays, Arabs, Javanese, Bugis, as well as north and south Indians.
The Sultan Mosque. Dates back to 1823. Located at the historical Kampong Glam site. The present mosque structure, which is a combination of Persian, Moorish and Turkish themes representing the Islamic Saracenic style with big domes and minarets, was completed in 1928. Known for its unique multi-ethnic administration, the mosque is governed by a charter put in place in 1914 which stipulated that the Board of Trustees must represent the six different ethnic groups of Malays, Arabs, Javanese, Bugis, as well as north and south Indians.

Earlier this year, Yaacob Ibrahim, minister-in-charge for Muslims affairs, at the MUIS work plan seminar noted that mosques in Singapore are “ a source of tranquillity and solace”. “Mosques are another key socio-religious institution close to our hearts. We want to create better experience at the mosques, both physically and spiritually. Punggol Mosque will be completed by 2015, while the mosques at Jurong West and Woodlands will be ready by 2016. Also, 16 mosques will be undergoing the Mosque Upgrading Programme,” Ibrahim added. Of these, seven mosques are up for major upgrading, while nine for minor works.

Going ahead, MUIS is also looking at friendlier buildings for mosques with barrier-free infrastructure such as ramps, and toilets for the handicapped, which will enable mosques to be inclusive and cater to a wider community.

History of mosque building in Singapore
In early 19th century, Arab and Indian Muslim traders pooled in resources and built several mosques across the Island. These include the Al-Abrar Mosque (1827), Hajjah Fatimah Mosque (1846) and Abdul Ghafoor Mosque (1850).Soon after independence, in 1968, the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) was enacted which led to the establishment of MUIS. One of the functions of MUIS is “to administer all mosques” as stipulated in provision 3.2(e) of AMLA. Seven years later, in 1975, the Mosque Building Fund (MBF) was formed “to raise funds from Muslim employees through the Central Provident Fund (CPF) check-off mechanism to build new generation mosques in new housing estates.” Masjid Muhajirin was the first mosque built under the MBF scheme in 1977 and is now known as Singapore Islamic Hub.As of now, Singapore has 69 mosques, which are operated through the the Enhanced Mosque Cluster System. These are grouped into five clusters along the boundaries of the Community Development Council (CDC) and with each cluster having between 7 to 29 mosques.The Central Mosque Cluster is the largest covering 29 mosques. This is further divided into the Central South Cluster with 17 mosques and head-quarters at Al-Amin Mosque, and the Central North Cluster with 12 mosques, and head-quarters at the Al Muttaqin Mosque.MUIS claims that “while operating as a cluster, the mosques benefit from the economies of scale, share resources and achieve synergy. Via the cluster, mosques are also now able to provide a more holistic intervention and assistance to families in need i.e. the zakat recipients, beyond just monthly cash hand-outs”.

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