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Masjid Kapitan Keling on Penang's "Street of Harmony"

After a morning meeting on Cannon Street, we wound our way through George Town on our way home. We passed down Masjid Kapitan Keling Road (Street of Harmony), in front of the masjid (mosque) of the same name, right when the caretaker unlocked the gate.

We had never been inside. Only a handful of mosques in Malaysia are open to visitors, so we had walked by  this one a hundred times thinking it wasn't any different.
Masjid Kapitan Keling is one of the oldest mosques in Penang, founded in 1801 by the Indian Muslim community, who were originally from Tamail Nadu state in southern India. Sitting in the center of the UNESCO World Heritage site of George Town, the magnificent building is impossible to miss with its striking white walls and black domes against Penang's blue skies.
We weren't dressed appropriately - shorts and t-shirts - but we thought we'd give it a try. As we approached the entrance to the mosque, an Indian man named Din welcomed us with a big hello, and a bigger smile. He asked us to put on a black robe that covered us from the shoulders down and then offered to show us around. 
 The only time Din doesn't smile?  In front of the camera.

As non-muslims, we weren't permitted in the worship hall, but the large, open archways allowed us a view inside of the rows of prayer mats between white pillars and decorative arches, and the intricate calligraphy and carvings on the walls.
Din, who grew up in George Town, told us he converted to Islam when he was 18. When he first visited the mosque in the early 90s, he was disappointed that it was closed to non-Muslims. He convinced the leaders of the mosque to embrace visitors of all faiths, so they could appreciate the historical and architectural significance of the site, and more importantly, be introduced to the Indian Muslim community of Penang.  Din is now the Information Chairman of Masjid Kapitan Keling, and promoter of Inter-faith Dialogues.
After the tour, Din brought us to the office, which was surprisingly located at the bottom of the minaret (tower outside the mosque that is used for the call to prayer).  We discussed everything from his childhood to his work now, life in George Town, and facts we didn't know about Islam.  I think everyone is aware that Muslims pray five times a day, but do you know the five places where Muslims can't pray?
  1. Middle of the street
  2. Camel field 
  3. Bathroom
  4. Graveyard
  5. On Kaaba (that's the black, cube shaped structure in Mecca, which is the holiest site in Islam, where all Muslims face when they pray no matter where they are in the world)
The best time to visit Masjid Kapitan Keling?  During George Town Festival on July 7th, the anniversary of George Town's listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site, when Masjid Kapitan Keling participates in the huge street celebration, presenting a number of Indian Muslim cultural activities and exhibitions. You will be amazed by the acrobatics of the teh tarik (pulled tea) demonstrations!

3 comments:

Christina Schweighofer said...

Beautiful pictures!

Sometimes I wish catholics were as protective of their places of worship as muslims of their mosques. European churches and cathedrals are bursting with tourists, filled with chatter; they lack the serenity and peace which used to make them the perfect refuge from the noise of a busy world.

Reese said...

Good point Christina. I think there needs to be a balance - it's great to welcome all visitors, but if the place of worship is overrun with tourists, than it's easy to forget the original meaning of the place.

Christina Schweighofer said...

Beautiful pictures!

Sometimes I wish catholics were as protective of their places of worship as muslims of their mosques. European churches and cathedrals are bursting with tourists, filled with chatter; they lack the serenity and peace which used to make them the perfect refuge from the noise of a busy world.