The beautiful Masjid Sultan as you may not have seen it

10 06 2021

Designed in the Indo-Islamic1 style by the prolific Denis Santry of Swan and Maclaren in 1924, the beautiful Masjid Sultan or Sultan’s Mosque stands today as a focal point of the Muslim community here in Singapore. Work commenced in 1928 and the first part of the mosque was completed around 1930. T he mosque replaced an older mosque that was built in a style that is commonly found across the Malay archipelago featuring a multi-tiered roof. The older mosque was built for Sultan Hussein Shah around 1824 with a contribution of 3,000 Spanish dollars from Sir Stamford Raffles. The photographs below, many of which were taken from the roof, belong to a set that I took in 2016 during a visit to it organised in conjunction with the URA 2016 Architectural Heritage Awards – at which the mosque restoration project was awarded a prize for restoration.


1 The style of the Sultan’s Mosque has widely been described as Indo-Saracenic. However, architect and historian LaI Chee Kien would rather have the style described as Indo-Islamic rather than Saracenic. The reason provided was that the British used more elements from the Mughal period there in India than in Arab-Muslim or Turkish-Muslim areas.

The older Sultan’s Mosque

Masjid Sultan, 1846, by John Turnbull Thomson
Hocken Pictorial Collections – 92/1155 a12134


Maghrib at Kampong Gelam

9 01 2020

There is no better time of day than maghrib, or sunset, to take in Kampong Gelam. The winding down of the day in Singapore’s old royal quarter is accompanied by an air of calm brought by the strains of the azan – the Muslim call to prayer, and, as it was the case last evening, made a much greater joy by a colouring of the evening sky.

Masjid Sultan against the evening sky.

Viewed against that dramatic backdrop, Masjid Sultan – the area’s main landmark – looked especially majestic. The golden dome topped National Monument, Singapore’s principal mosque, stands just a stone-throw’s away from the former Istana Kampong Gelam. Erected by Sultan Hussein Shah’s heir Ali, the istana or palace, served little more than a symbolic seat of power which Hussein had all but relinquished in signing the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1824. Now the Malay Heritage Centre, the istana is a showcase of the Malay world’s culture and a reminder perhaps of the last days and lost glory of a once mighty Johor-Riau-Lingga Empire.

Istana Kampong Gelam.

More on Masjid Sultan and Istana Kampong Gelam and the Johor Empire can be found at the following posts:


Masjid Sultan.


A Ramadan trail at the Sultan’s Mosque

28 08 2011

I had the privilege of participating in a Ramadan trail at the Sultan’s Mosque or Masjid Sultan recently during which I was able to not just learn more about Islam, but also appreciate the observance of Ramadan and the significance of the practices involved a lot better. Islam I guess for me is somthing that I have understood only on the surface, having lived and worked amongst people of the faith all my life, but nothing more, and the short but informative programme at Singapore’s main mosque and one that traces its history to the early days of modern Singapore.

The Sultan's Mosque lighted up during Ramadan. The mosque traces its history to the early days of modern Singapore.

Ramadan as most of us in Singapore know, is a month during which Muslims observe a strict fast or Puasa from sunrise to sunset, an observance that culminates in the celebration of what is known locally as Hari Raya Puasa or Eid-ul-Fitr. I was to learn that the month is a lot more than just the observation of a fast, but a special month, the significance of which is that Ramandan is the month during which the Angel Gabriel revealed the Holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammed. Besides the fast, the month is also one of repentance, increased prayer, and increased charity for Muslims, and a month which Muslims believe every good and beneficial action is spiritually multiplied.

Ramadan is a special month in the Islamic calendar during which the Angel Gabriel revealed the Holy Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammed. Besides the observation of a fast, the month is also one of reflection, repentance, increased prayer, and increased charity for Muslims.

For Muslims, the motivation for fasting, is to attain Taqwa or “God consciousness“ through self-discipline, the word “Taqwa” is in Arabic and comes from the root word “wiqaya” which means prevention or protection. Fasting brings with it spiritual benefits and helps Muslims to be drawn closer to God through the increased recitation and reflection of the Qur’an and additional prayers, aiding with the increase of iman (faith) and ihsan (sincerity and righteousness) as well as humility and in the purification of the heart and soul. And it is in the practice of Ramadan and fasting that a believer is trained to act with charity, kindness, generosity, patience and forgiveness. One of the beautiful things about Ramadan that was brought to attention is that it is in fasting that a person experiences some of the hardships of the less fortunate in the world, those especially in the context of Singapore where food is in abundance, we often forget.

A lamp in the Masjid Sultan.

The main prayer hall of the Masjid Sultan.

Fasting for a Muslim begins at the break of dawn and ends at sunset and depending on where it is practiced in the world, can vary from 12 to 17 hours. It is not just food that one denies oneself in the observation of a fast, but also from drink and intimacy during fasting hours, and from blameworthy thoughts and acts at all times. Fasting is applicable to all Muslims with the exception of children, unhealthy adults (mentally or physically), adults travelling long distances, and women who are menstruating, in post-childbirth care, pregnant or breast-feeding.

Islam is about a relationship with God and one of peace through surrender to the will of God.

A typical day during Ramadan for a Muslim begins before dawn with the Sahoor, during which one has a meal and says the first prayer of the day. The breaking of the fast Iftar is at sunset and coincides with the fourth daily prayer (a Muslim says a minimum of five prayers daily). Other activities after the Iftar, includes Ziarat – social gatherings during which visits are made to relatives, food is shared with neighbours, friends, and the poor; and also the Tarawih (optional Prayers in early night), Qiraat; the reading of the Qur’ãn during free time; Qiyam (optional late-night prayers during the last 10 days).

Ramadan is an observance that revolves around prayer and fasting.

The trail, which is held during Ramadan every year, also offers the participant an opportunity to participate in the breaking of fast, during which food is eaten from a common plate using the hands, a practice that symbolises brotherhood, and is run by a team of docents at the mosque, one of whom, Brother Ibrahim or Jason, who hails from the state of Indiana in the U.S. was kind enough to share the information contained in this post with me. Besides Ramadan trails, the mosque also allows visits from tourists and members of the public who may enter the mosque daily from 10 am to Noon and from 2 pm to 4 pm (except on Friday afternoons) and docents like Jason would be on hand to take questions, provide guidance and share a little history of the mosque. More information on the Sultan’s Mosque is also available at the Masjid Sultan’s website.

Jason Wilson whose Muslim name is Ibrahim is a docent at the mosque and guides visitors on mosque tours and Ramadan trails.

The call to prayer

20 07 2010

As a child I had always been captivated by the Adhan or the Islamic call to prayer. I would wake up just to listen to it echoing through the relative silence of the dawn with the crowing of cockerels as an accompliment in the welcome to the ligthening day, the voice of the muezzin filling the morning with an air with the distinctive melodic strains of the Adhan, whenever I am in the vicinity of a mosque on the many trips I made to Malaysia as a child. There were occasions when I could help the overlap of calls, reaching out to the faithful from the numerous pointed minarets rising out in the landscape, seemingly in competition with each other. However, the overlap of calls rather than complicate the otherwise sedate air somehow complement each other, ringing out in a surprisingly harmonious mixing of the distinctive voices of the muezzins. The call is made five times a day, calling upon Muslims to turn towards the Ka’aba in prayer, once as day breaks (Subuh), once at noon (Zuhur), once in the mid-afternoon (Asar), once as the sun sets (Maghrib), and the last at night (Isyak). This I guess, is something that we don’t often hear in Singapore. Here the call is not amplified through loudspeakers as it would be across the causeway, save maybe for one that rings out from the Sultan’s Mosque in Kampong Glam area. I am sometimes drawn to the are around the Sultan’s mosque at dusk, just to listen to the call ring out as day turns to night, engulfing the area in a sense of calm. As the strains of the Adhan fills the air, accompanied by the glow of the colours of the sky cast on the golden dome of the mosque, I am transported away from the world for that short moment when life seems to come to a standstill.

Waktu Maghrib at Sultan's Mosque in Singapore