Masjid Negara is what the locals call the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. This mosque was built in 1965 in honor of Malaysia gaining independence from Great Britain without any bloodshed in 1957. It was originally to be named Masjid Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj in honor of Yang Teramat Mulia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, who was the Chief Minister of Malaysia during British rule and the first Prime Minister after the Malaysians began ruling themselves, but he declined the honor and instead chose Masjid Negara as the name.
Visiting the National Mosque was a nice experience. I had been a bit nervous about visiting because I wasn’t sure how welcoming they would be to non-Muslims, but it was a needless worry. We’d heard a few unfortunate stories about visiting mosques in Kuala Lumpur, which was the basis of our (my) worry. Our experience was quite lovely one I’m glad we had the opportunity to have.
One of the things everyone needs to consider before visiting a mosque is attire. I’d visited a mosque before in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, but had been given a robe to wear anyways, so I was a little confused about what was appropriate for women to wear. A Muslim friend later told me that pants and shirts have to be loose and not form-fitting, so it’s possible the person who’d given me a robe at Putra Mosque thought either my jeans or shirt were too tight or perhaps they were of a more strict mind and didn’t approve of women wearing pants to a mosque or it could have been that I didn’t have my scarf tied properly around my head. *shrug* This time, though, I avoided that issue entirely by wearing a long skirt, a loose t-shirt, some arm sleeves and a hijab I picked up in Langkawi. Troy wore a dress shirt with his nice pants.
When we arrived at the mosque, I was soooooooo happy I’d opted to wear what I did. We arrived shortly after a tour group and were towards the end of a rather long line of visitors to get into the mosque, but a woman who was giving people robes and signing them in came over to us and told us we could go right in. Yay! It was nice to be able to walk right past all the people who had to wait to borrow a robe. There were a limited number of robes, so people were having to wait quite a while until others finished their visit and returned the robes before they could go in.
Of the other visitors we saw, most were not dressed appropriately for visiting a mosque, but the greeters did not harass or make disparaging comments to anyone. They just handed the visitors a robe and requested they put it on before entering the mosque. It was a very quick and smooth process. The only delay was due there being more visitors than robes.
Of course, before we even got in line, we did the requisite photo in front of the building.
While this mosque isn’t as ornate as other mosques around the world, Masjid Negara is quite beautiful. The architecture and design are open and inviting. We really enjoyed wandering the halls and seeing the different areas.
It’s interesting to note that this mosque pays homage to the Prophet Muhammad’s home from 7th century Saudi Arabia. The Prophet’s home consisted of a large courtyard surrounded by long rooms supported by columns. Columns are very common in mosques and this one has plenty.
Another thing I enjoyed was how peaceful the mosque was and how we were allowed to roam freely in most places. There were a few areas that we weren’t allowed to enter, mainly just the offices and the prayer hall, but for the most part we could wander the halls and the grounds at our leisure. I had partly expected people to be passing out flyers about Islam, but the only flyers we saw were on a table for people to take if they wished. There were docents there to answer questions, but they weren’t pushy. Most just said hello and asked if we had any questions. Another talked to us more and I’ll tell you about that down below.
Other mosques we’ve been to have quite a bit of mosaic-work or Islamic verses carved into the walls, but this one doesn’t have any of that. The halls are very open and are designed beautifully, there just isn’t a lot of adornment or excess. But even without the extra frills and ornamentation that is common in Christian churches or other mosques, I think the design, architecture and layout are marvelous.
One of the most prominent features of the mosque is the roof, which is green and blue. Originally, the roof was pink concrete, but in 1987 the mosque was renovated and the concrete was replaced with reflective tiles. I think it looks quite nice. The roof was designed to be a 16-pointed star that is over the prayer hall like an umbrella.
The ground area in the above picture is called a sahn. It’s part of the overflow area that is normally utilized for Friday prayer services. The fountain (it wasn’t running when we were there 🙁 ) is used for the ritual cleansing, known as ablution.
Another interesting feature of the mosque is the tower, or minaret. The minaret is 239.5 feet high and is topped with a folded umbrella. The use of umbrellas in the design is an homage to the tropical area in which they live. Every mosque you visit will have a minaret, though it will be in a different style. The minaret is the tallest part of any mosque and is used to issue the call to prayer. Back in the day the muezzin used to ascend the inner stairs to perform the Adhan (call to prayer), but nowadays it’s more common for a speaker to be mounted near the top of the minaret to issue the call.
The main room in the mosque, the prayer room, was absolutely breathtaking. Say whatever you want about Muslims and how they choose to live, but one thing that is indisputable is the beauty of their mosques. Masjid Negara is one of the more plain mosques, but it is still beautiful.
The prayer room is just absolutely beautiful. The stained glass, the use of the lighting, the openness of the space. I really enjoyed this room. We weren’t allowed to enter it since it is a sanctified room set aside for Muslims to pray in, but even just looking around at the room is worth the visit. I’m kinda kicking myself for not taking zoomed in pictures because the design on the walls is just beautiful and the stained glass is quite intricate. *sigh* I guess that means I have to go back to Malaysia.
When we were waiting in line to get a picture of the prayer room, a man walked over to us and asked if we were Muslims. When we told him we were Christians, he was shocked. Seriously, he did the whole opened-mouth staring thing for a few seconds. He asked what I was doing dressed as a Muslim if I was Christian. We explained to him that we wanted to be respectful of their holy place by wearing what they are required to wear. He shook both our hands and told us he really appreciated our respect. He said most people come to mosques wearing inappropriate clothing and some argue about needing to cover up before coming inside. We didn’t see any of that while we were there, but I don’t doubt it. We saw many people argue about needing to cover up when visiting Buddhist temples. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to respect other cultures, but I won’t get into that here.
After thanking us for respecting his religion he went into a long discussion with us about the misinformation about Muslims and what they believe. He explained how Islam is a peaceful religion and then went on to start talking about how the US needs to stop meddling in the Israel and Palestine dispute.
Well, he wasn’t really talking to me. He was mostly talking to Troy, so I listened for a few minutes and then wandered around taking pictures. I felt bad ditching Troy like that, but they weren’t even talking to me and Troy thinks that whenever I talk politics with people that an argument is going to begin, so I don’t think he minded too much. Troy has a fairly diplomatic temperament when he wants, so he maintained a neutral and non-committal response to our new friend’s commentary.
By the time I wandered back over a few minutes later, the guy and Troy were back to talking about the general misunderstand of Muslims and Islam. We agreed with him because after having lived in a Muslim nation for a year, we have grown to understand that most Muslims are quite nice, peaceful people.
After speaking for a few more minutes, we indicated that we needed to be going. We didn’t want to be rude, but we were both kinda hungry since it was about dinnertime. He didn’t seem to mind that we wanted to get going. Earlier he’d told us he was a volunteer who spends his free time at the mosque talking to visitors and answering any questions they had about Islam, so he was probably used to people chatting for a few minutes and then saying goodbye.
Before he would let us walk off, though, he requested a picture with us. He said he wanted to show his friends that he had met some Christians who dressed as Muslims to visit a mosque and to prove to his friends that not all Christians hate or fear Islam. And he thanked us again for showing respect to his religion. It was touching how much my wearing a hijab and being dressed appropriately meant to him.
It also makes me sad that so many people think Islam is a violent, hate-filled religion. Just because some members of a religion act a certain way does not mean the entire religion is so. If you want to put things into perspective, look at the Westboro Baptists or those Catholic clergymen who hurt children. We all know that not all Baptists agree with the actions of those from the Westboro congregation. We also know that the Catholic church does not teach priests to act as those errant clergymen have been. Since we are willing to give these religions the benefit of the doubt, maybe we should also do so when it comes to those of the Islamic faith. Not all Muslims are bad and to be feared. The actions of a few do not define the whole.
Anyways, back to our visit to the mosque. If you want to read more about my opinions on the above subject, check out this post.
During our wanderings around the complex, we discovered a pathway that leads a little ways past and behind the mosque. In it we found a beautiful room with headstones.
This room is called Makam Pahlawan, or Heroes’ Mausoleum. This is where some of the most prominent leaders and politicians in Malaysia are buried. This section of the mosque complex was started in 1963 and completed in 1965. Like the mosque, the mausoleum is is covered by a star-shaped concrete roof, though this one has 7 points instead of 16.
Aside from the space inside, there are several tombs on the grounds surrounding the main mausoleum. We didn’t go see those because it was raining outside.
Aside from the beautiful architecture inside the mosque buildings, there are also lovely grounds surrounding it. It was raining almost the entire time we were at the mosque, so we didn’t venture around the grounds very much, but we did see some of it from inside the mosque.
When we left the mosque, it was raining quite heavily, as you can see in the picture above. We waited by the entrance for a few minutes with a large group of people, but after discussing it, we decided that it was better to just face the rain than to wait for it to stop. During monsoon season, the rain can last for hours and we didn’t want to be sitting there for the rest of the day. So, we braced ourselves and stepped out into the onslaught. As we stepped out into the rain there was an audible gasp from the people who were behind us. It was so funny that they were all shocked about us walking out into the rain. We even heard on girl say, “Oh, no, they’re getting wet!” We laughed so hard when we heard her say that. Yeah, it’s no fun being soaked, but it’s just water.
As we were making our way down the street to our car, two taxis stopped for us! The walk from the mosque to where we parked the car was only a few minutes and the road was not busy at all, so it was quite surprising that even one taxi would stop for us. Especially since we didn’t hail either of them. It wasn’t the rain, because I’ve walked in the rain several times before and not had a single taxi stop for me, even when I’d been trying to get one. We decided it was the fact that I was dressed as a Muslim. There are definitely some perks to dressing like a local!
TIPS FOR VISITING A MOSQUE
- Women – Wear loose long pants or a floor-length skirt along with a plain, loose, long-sleeved shirt that covers all the way up to your neck (or something of the equivalent). Make sure all of your hair is covered under a scarf. If you do not have a shirt that goes up to your neck you can use your scarf to cover any exposed chest/cleavage.
- Men – Wear long pants and a plain shirt that at least has sleeves. Short sleeves are permitted as long as they are not borderline sleeveless. Business casual is the best option, though not required.
- Do not wear shirts that contain images or text
- Do not wear pants that contain holes, have chains, are stained or ripped
- If you wear clothes outside of the above advisement you will be required to wear a robe while inside the mosque.
- Hats and shoes will need to be removed before entering the mosque
- Make sure there is not a separate entrance for men and women
- Do not offer to shake hands with someone of the opposite gender if they are Muslim. If they offer, it is okay to shake their hand, but do not make the first move.
- Be aware of prayer times for the day of your visit and visit outside of those hours.
- Do not take pictures of people praying
- Avoid eating or drinking by a mosque during the month of Ramadan (there’s no rule against it, I just think it’s rude)
- Turn off your phone and do not talk on your phone while in the mosque
- If you must speak inside the mosque, do so quietly
- Avoid making loud noises or making inappropriate comments while inside the mosque
- If you are allowed inside the prayer room and sit down, sit on your feet with your feet pointing away from the main wall
- Do not be afraid to ask questions. Muslims are happy to explain about the mosque and their religion.