Thursday, June 4, 2009

Finding the World's Biggest Mosque - Blue Mosque Visit Part 2

The Blue Mosque - Notice the Islamic calligraphy (see below for detail) decorating the dome (and even the walls) of this mosque, as well as other Islamic mosques and structures (the Taj Majal has such calligraphic designs). Pictures are considered haram (forbidden) in mosque architecture.

Shah Alam is a city that nestles at the Klang Valley in the state of Selangor, some 25 kilometers west of KL, and 35 minutes by train. This has to be mentioned to underline the fact that it can be easily visited for a day-out! It is also the first planned city in Malaysia after its independence in 1957. Its most famous landmark is a disarmingly beautiful mosque – the Blue Mosque – aka the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque – which is claimed to be the world’s largest mosque. Its distinguishing feature is a blue-and-white dome surrounded by 4 minarets (towers) in arabesque fashion, rising 460 feet into the sky.

The mosque was commissioned by the late
Sultan Abdul Aziz when Shah Alam was proclaimed as the new capital of Selangor during the 1974 Valentine’s Day. Construction began in 1982 and was finished 6 years later (1988). It can accommodate 16,000 worshippers.


Upon my arrival at the
Shah Alam train station, it was just 10 paces beside the road where I hailed a RAPID KL commuter bus no. 101. The door up front led inside a comfortable, air-conditioned bus. I deposited 1 malaysian ringgit RM ($0.29) at the payment box – they don't have change so make sure you have the exact amount - then took the seat at the back of the driver (who sits at the right side of the bus). To alight from the bus, you have to push the bell button located by the window. The bus will stop at the next designated stop – usually a waiting shed.

I couldn’t help admire how clean the surroundings were – residential areas, a few rows of restaurants, playgrounds and a park, then commercial establishments, Kompleks PKNS, a City Aquarium, Wet World Water Park and malls.
35 minutes from the train station, the bus had its last stop at the back of a May Bank. The sun was bearing down the pavement. Mapapalaban ako nito.

I could see the imposing blue-and-white aluminum dome of the mosque, but it was 4 to 5 blocks away. There were hotels along the way – Carlton Holiday Hotel, Grand Blue Wave Hotel; a museum, several banks again. I saw the lakes. I love the waters. They always render a dreamy ambiance to a place. I am not sure if this is the Shah Alam Lake Gardens, which is developed around 7 artificial lakes. I didn’t mind that sweat was starting to soak my shirt. There were so few people walking about, it felt like a ghost town. The walk towards the mosque was uphill, through a gated compound lined by canopies and decorative howz or fountains, a feature common among major mosques.


I reached the marble floor. I took my shoes off and carried them to a stall some 50 paces away, at the facade. This mosque was huge – and though I hate walking around
na nakapaa - without a pair of shoes – I was brimming with excitement! There were a few tables selling shirts, caps, books and those white muslim get-ups (I forgot the name). To get to the prayer hall, I had to walk up the spotless stairs. Thank heavens I still had my socks on! Everyone else was barefoot! Even going to the puddly toilet would be in barefoot! Eww!


Two of the 4 minarets (towers) which, in the old days, were used as flame torches and/or lookout towers.

One of a few tables selling stuff.

At the 2nd floor, I saw the beautiful courtyard which is called sahn, white posts standing in place, ultimately leading to the huge Prayer Hall! And only Muslim males can enter this hall. My heart sank, although no one seemed to mind my presence.

I stood by the door, and just peeked inside! Heavens, I am sure it wasn’t forbidden to take a peep inside. By this time, a steady stream of men was walking past me. MEN!
Where were the ladies? This was after 2 PM, and men were scurrying inside the hall, which was immense, and had a pious atmosphere! God knows, I needed to photograph this, but how?

I saw a small door by the side, and a cramped winding stair that led to a seemingly hidden enclave, facing the prayer hall! My gosh! I had goosebumps. In there, I saw the women! All covered with white
burqah – if that’s how they call it in Malaysia. The women were apparently secluded – and have a much smaller prayer hall of their own, upstairs! Snap! Snap!


Now I don’t mean to desecrate the mosque by photographing these halls. I just think it’s a good idea to share to the world how beautiful and peaceful and solemn it is inside. It is this secretive, seclusive nature of the Muslim religion that somehow allows wild imagination to run wild. If they were more welcoming and more open, most people would see that Muslims are no different from Catholics who pray in churches; or from the Anglicans in England or any religious group the world over, and there is absolutely nothing to fear within the realm of this religion which suffers a certain stigma among non-muslims.


Find my way out, I noticed more and more people rushing in, walking towards the mosque. Cute little school boys were led by their teacher. People rushing off their cars, or bicycles. That’s what I love about the institution that is religion. It equalizes a group of humanity. That everyone within the same religion kneels down and prays to a mighty One. The thought comforts me. Sometimes, being inquisitive, like an
Eye in the Sky pays up big time – like this time.

Walking my way up the 2nd floor - to the Prayer Hall - barefoot.

The sahn or courtyard that leads from the stairs towards the Prayer Hall.

The faithful starting to troop to the Prayer Hall.

The enclosing "wall" of the sahn overlooking the high rises of the city.

Ooops! A stolen shot of the Prayer Hall. From the main door, non-muslims and women are forbidden.

The carpeted Prayer Hall for male muslims. Of course, i was an unwelcome by-stander.

The view to my right just before entering the Prayer Room, where i wasn't officially allowed. I'm Catholic.

The view to my left before the Prayer Hall.

A hidden cloister reserved for muslim women. This is located at a separate room, at the 3rd floor overlooking the immense Prayer Hall of the males.

Stained glass window of the women's prayer room. Women clothed in white burqahs - covered from head to toe - with just the slit of the eyes showing. Didn't have the nerve to photograph them for i knew was already trespassing by being there.

The sprawling sahn - this was a sprawling courtyard infront of the Prayer Hall - with howz or fountains in place. The howz structures are, this time, supposedly for absolution instead of decorative since they are located beside the Prayer Hall.

Except for a few people sleeping on the floor (it was 2:30-3PM), I had the whole courtyard to myself. From the ledge I could see more people on the grounds below coming in to pray.

School children with their teachers trooping in to pray.

A dry fountain infront of the Blue Mosque.

Detail on the wall. This was beside the wall going to the toilet, imagine. Notice the arabesque structure - a series of repeated geometric patterns, common in islamic mosque architecture.

As I was leaving the mosque, more and more people were going to the mosque to pray. It was around 3PM.

The stair beside the shoe racks leading to the 2nd floor where the Prayer Hall is.

Next post:
What is the City of Shah Alam like, after visiting the Blue Mosque? And how to get out – of Shah Alam (or how not to…)? ;->

No comments: