When I was a child growing up, my family lived in quarters reserved for government employees at Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak, Johor Bahru. Located just next door to Saujana, the official residence of the Menteri Besar of Johor, it was a very much sought after address as it was conveniently close to the town centre (walking distance actually) as well as being within 5-10 minutes walking distance from several schools notably the Sekolah Sultan Ibrahim Girls’ School (both primary and secondary), St Joseph’s School (all three primary, secondary and Chinese-medium), Convent Girls’ School (primary and secondary) as well as a host of other primary schools.
The quarters where we lived was also within walking distance from a mosque that I have great affection for – the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque. Why, you might ask? And whats so special about this mosque that you won’t find in any other mosque?
In response to all these questions, I can only say that its one of those things, I guess, having a mosque that you have an affinity for. The same as some people have this thing about a certain brand of coffee (instant, mind you!) or a certain kind of tea and what else have you.
But please don’t get me wrong. I have performed my prayers at many a mosque, in Malaysia and elsewhere, all of whom have given me that feeling of expansiveness as well as a sense of eternal peace and serenity. But like I said, its one of those things and that said, the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque is special to me.
Ever since my childhood days, I have read a lot about the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and the Sultan whose name it carry, the 21st Sultan of Johor, HRH Sultan Abu Bakar.
The Sultan, who reigned as Sultan from 1886-1895, is recognized as the driving force behind the modernization of Johor and for precisely that reason, was widely acknowledged as “The Father of Modern Johor”. It was during his rule that Johor first became an economic powerhouse as well as a politically developed state.
It was also during the Sultan’s reign that the order to build the mosque went out, with the foundation to the mosque first laid in 1892. To be located on top of a hill facing the Straits of Tebrau, the mosque was designed by Tuan Haji Mohamed Ariff bin Punak and is often described as “being a combination of Western Neo Classical and Moorish Islamic architecture”.
The mosque was built over eight years, from 1892 to 1900, and overseen by Dato’ Yahya bin Awalluddin (he of Jalan Yahya Awal, for those familiar with Johor Bahru that is).
Unfortunately, by the time the mosque was completed in 1900, Sultan Abu Bakar had already passed away and succeeded by his son, Tunku Ibrahim Iskandar. Tunku Ibrahim Iskandar who later reigned as HRH Sultan Ibrahim ibni AlMarhum Sultan Abu Bakar, declared the mosque opened in 1900.
With a capacity for 3,000 people at any one time, the mosque has gone through several renovative works of late including the upgrading of facilities for the convenience of Muslims gathering at the mosque to perform religious obligations as well as to attend religious programs, be it held within the mosque itself as well as within its perimeter.
Being The State Mosque, official events eg prayers for Hari Hol, Eid Fitr, Eid Adha, as well as to coincide with the birthday celebrations for the reigning Sultan are held at the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and are normally attended and officiated by the reigning Sultan himself.
As a child, one of the most awaited official events had to be Maulidur Rasul (Celebrations to commemorate the birth of the Holy Prophet Mohamad pbuh), when at the end of the celebrations, there will be a big feast to be had for all. Being kids, that was the highlight as we tuck in whatever dish was served for the occasion. Truly, it was a day to look forward to and to enjoy, especially with your friends.
There are, of course, many a story linked to the mosque. One of the stories most often told is of the time when, during the mosque’s construction, it was discovered that they ran out of materials to finish the mosque’s ceiling.
As the story goes, what they did to finish the job was to use egg whites. Pretty ingenious that. Not only the job got done but the use of the egg whites added a certain kind of sheen to the finished article, the effect of which can still be seen to this day.
However, nothing was mentioned with regards to the price of eggs then nor was there any mention of demonstrations of people frustrated being denied their daily ration of half-boiled eggs for breakfast.
Anyways, being perched on top of a hill and facing the Straits of Tebrau contributed to the naturally cooling system of the mosque, even on terribly hot days. That’s the advantage of being on top of a hill, I guess. Nothing to block the air circulation.
On most days, the mosque also offers a clear view across the Straits of Tebrau, of Singapore as well as that other significant landmark of Johor Bahru namely The Causeway. Good feng shui, say the Chinese, the mosque being perched on top of a hill facing a vast body of water.
Except during that time of year when the haze makes its annual appearance from across the Straits of Melaka. Then the view from the mosque’s grounds of the Straits of Tebrau offers a different perspective, one of WHAT IF.
It is interesting to note that the mosque’s grounds allows access to the Iskandar Islamic Complex as well as the medical complex that is the Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA). Adjacent to the hospital complex is the Mahmoodiah Muslim Cemetery, which also houses the Royal Mausoleum.
The fact that the mosque being connected to the HSA complex does give rise to several jokes best not repeated especially at nights. Especially when you are writing this in the dead of the night.
Jokes aside, the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque is a special and a significant landmark of Johor Bahru. A landmark of the times when Johor was developing fast into an economic powerhouse and to the days when Johor was developing politically as well.
That and the memories of growing up, revelling in His Expansiveness whilst taking in the sight of that body of water, the Straits of Tebrau, and appreciating the cool evening breeze for all its worth.
The mosque is open to visitors (me think!) but you need to check with the mosque authorities before entering the mosque. As it is with buildings of religious significance, there are rules to observe eg attire, and for women, you may need to check your personal calendar when planning a visit to the mosque.
Like I said, its special The Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque. One of those things I guess. Either you have it or you don’t. And the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque definitely has it. At least for me, it is.
Date : 18 May 2013