As the former state mosque of Penang, Malaysia, the Kapitan Keling Mosque is arguably one of the most magnificent religious buildings in the country. Take a trip to Penang and you will get an insight into this serene cultural heritage that Penangites are proud to call their own. The mosque stands strong at Jalan Masjiid Kapitan Keling, also known as Pitt Street which formed the famous Street of Harmony.
A Picture of the Past
The Kapitan Keling Mosque isn’t merely a mosque; it is the culmination of more than 200 years of history. The mosque was established in 1801 as a single-story brick building. The ‘Captain’ of the Indian Muslim community, Cauder Mydin (sometimes known as Caudeer Mohudeen) spearheaded the construction of the mosque by bringing in builders and materials from India. As time progressed, so did the mosque’s extravagance. From a simple brick structure, the mosque has transformed over the years to the awe-inspiring building it is now; one of the prime attractions in Malaysia.
The mosque has an interesting name. Back in the day, the Chinese and Indian community had a ‘Captain’ to lead them. This English word soon became corrupted to fit the colloquial language of the land; thus the captains were now called ‘Kapitan’. As for the word ‘Keling’, it was a Malay term used to describe those who chose to travel to Penang from an ancient Hindu kingdom South India, or rather Indians in general. The Kapitan Keling Mosque derived its name from the then ‘Kapitan’ of the South Indian Muslim (Keling) community in Penang, who led the construction of the building. While the term ‘Keling’ was not considered offensive in the past, it is not recommended to use the word today as it is deemed insulting.
Originally, an 18-acre plot was given to the Indian Muslim community by Sir George Leith, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang back then. As time passed on, 18 acres became 8 acres, due to the need for roads and houses. A trip to Penang today will show you a slightly smaller, but nevertheless glorious, mosque.
The Mosque: Architecture and Otherwise
The architecture of Kapitan Keling Mosque is an amalgamation of Islamic, Moorish and Mughal architectural styles. This unique architecture has defined among the attractions in Malaysia. As with most mosques in Malaysia, an intricate minaret can be found in the mosque’s courtyard. From here, the call to prayer for Muslims in the area can be hear periodically. This call to prayer is more commonly known by locals and Muslims everywhere as the “azan”.
A distinct Mughal touch can be found in the mosque’s domes; whereas the arches, which lead from one passage to another, bear a Gothic-like feel. The mosque is fairly spacious and the passageways are constructed in a manner that allows the breeze to cool down the interior: a welcomed aspect, considering the hot climate in the region.
The mosque also houses a “madrasah” which facilitates religious lessons. Panels of calligraphy and stained glass decorate the surroundings of the main dome, while orderly arranged prayer mats adorn the solid marble floor allowing Muslims to make their prayers. The mosque is carefully constructed in the direction of the Ka’aba: a subtle yet important detail as Muslims must pray in this direction.
Entry to Kapitan Keling Mosque is absolutely free. Being an actual mosque, however, tourists and visitors should tread respectfully. Visitors are expected to wear a set of robes which are provided.
The mosque is open for visitation from 1 p.m. till 5 p.m. every day. On Friday however, the mosque shortens its visiting times to 3 p.m. till 5 p.m. This is due to the Friday Prayers which floods the mosque with Muslims all around the area. Similarly, the mosque becomes a tiny hub for Muslims during Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, so expect it to be packed with eager members of the faith. If you want to experience the mosque at full force, take a tour in Malaysia during this period.
Tours are run by the Islamic Propagation Society International, which can be found on the ground floor of the mosque’s minaret at the Islamic Information Center. Tourists who travel to Penang might appreciate the extra guidance provided by this dedicated society.
A tour in Malaysia warrants attention to this vital part of Penang heritage. Beautiful and serene, Kapitan Keling Mosque is the pride of Muslims in Penang, Malaysia.