Prominent Mosques of Penang: Serving Communities Throughout the State

Masjid Batu Uban.

Penang’s mosques, apart from serving the communities around them, have unique identities. They may vary in size and location, but all carry the same message: Islam Rahmatan Lil Alamin – Islam is merciful to all mankind.

Masjid Batu Uban

Located at Batu Uban, Masjid Jamek Batu Uban is the oldest mosque in Penang. It was built in 1734, decades before the arrival of Captain Francis Light to Penang.

The mosque was built by noble Minangkabau who had fled Sumatra because of their differing views on adat perpatih, or customary laws. Tuan Haji Mohammad Salleh, famously known as Nakhoda Intan Nan Intan Ibni Almarhum Tengku Nan Sebatang, took to the sea with his relatives and settled in Penang with the mission to spread Islam. With the permission of the sultan of Kedah, who had control over Penang before the arrival of the British, these pious nobles settled near the shore and established the mosque, which became the centre of the community.

Masjid Jamek Batu Uban was built atop a big rock which, according to folklore, was known as batu ban, meaning “big rock” in the northern Malay dialect. Later, batu ban became batu uban. In the past, the mosque was frequented by sailors who stopped over in the area before sailing off to other places, and was well known for its well. According to Pak Syeikh, a member of the community and chairman of Masjid Jamek Batu Uban, “Amazingly, the water in the well is not contaminated with sea water although it is located near the sea.” The well is still in use today.

Masjid Jamek Batu Uban witnessed several conflicts in the mid-nineteenth century, for example when another mosque was built by Kader Meah, leader of the Indian-Muslim group, nearby. The community was split in two: the followers of Nakhoda Intan, and those of Kader Meah.

These two fractions were also influenced by two secret societies in Penang at the time: the White Flag and Red Flag societies. The British intervened to make peace, and the mosque built by Kader Meah was demolished, leaving only Masjid Jamek Batu Uban standing.

During the Japanese Occupation, Japanese soldiers trespassed into the mosque, using the compound to keep their weapons and food, and partying and imbibing alcohol – practices that are sinful to Muslims. According to Pak Syeikh, Syaikh Ali al- Khayyat, the imam of the mosque at the time, wrote a formal letter to the general to protest against the soldiers’ behaviour; Japanese goods were subsequently removed from the mosque.

Masjid Bukit Bendera.

The interior of Masjid Bukit Bendera.

Mr Shukri.

Today, Masjid Jamek Batu Uban buzzes with community programmes, religious sermons,formal religious learning and events, especially during the month of Ramadhan. “Almost every night, there will be a kuliah (religious sermon) by pious individuals from both within and without Penang,” says Pak Syeikh.

Life goes on for the almost-300-year-old mosque.

Masjid Bukit Bendera

Masjid Bukit Bendera is the highest mosque in Penang, located as it is atop Penang Hill. According to Mr Shukri, the retired station master of Penang Hill Railway, “The story began when Hamid Araby Md. Salleh, also a station master, grew concerned that the Muslim community working and living at Penang Hill did not have a place of worship. He made a request to then-governer, Raja Tun Uda Al-Haj, for a mosque to be built on the hill. His request got the green light, and on April 22, 1966, Raja Tun Uda officiated the opening of the mosque.

“Before 1990, there were many people living up on Penang Hill; most were working for the government, such as policemen, Penang Water Supply Corporation staff and city council staff, as well as those working at private estates on the hill. When the railway station was upgraded in 1990, many decided to move down and commute instead since commuting up the hill was no longer cumbersome,” says Shukri, who currently serves as guardian of the mosque.

Masjid Bukit Bendera is funded and is maintained by the Penang Islamic Religious Council (MAIPP). Several private organisations and individuals have also donated to the mosque.

Today, it caters to those still living and working on the hill, as well as tourists. While there are not as many denizens of the hill anymore compared to the past, the mosque is still an important place of gathering for Shukri and his old friends, especially during important religious days such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Aidiladha.

Masjid Abdullah Fahim.

Masjid Abdullah Fahim

Founded in October 2012, Masjid Abdullah Fahim at Kepala Batas is named after famed Nusantara Islamic Scholar Tuan Guru Haji Abdullah Fahim (1870-1961), who was born at Kepala Batas and widely contributed to the development of the Malay community there. It is one of the largest mosques in northern Seberang Perai and is known for its magnificence; according to Ustaz Zulkhairy, the grand imam of the mosque, “The landscape was funded by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi, who was member of parliament for Kepala Batas. The idea and concept came from Abdullah’s wife, Tun Jeanne Abdullah, who was chairman of the board of trustees of the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre.”

Because of its grandeur, the mosque is now a local attraction, and a series of tours for visitors are available. A historic moment was when a delegation of priests from the Penang Catholic diocese called on the mosque: “It was a way to build harmony and understanding among Muslims and Christians in Penang. The mosque is also visited by international delegations, such as a group of American students with USM, as well as a South Korean delegation attached to Think City,” says Zulkhairy.

Masjid Abdullah Fahim has many charitable programmes, such as “Program Gerobok Rezeki”, where the mosque committee provides a shelf for visitors to donate basic food items such as rice, oil and flour, which are then handed out to the needy, especially the poor families that come to the mosque. “The charity we do is not limited to handing out food; we also chip in in other ways as well, such as volunteering aid during the floods,” says Zulkhairy.

The mosque also has an online platform, e-qaryah, for the community to register for khairat kematian, or funeral services, which is of great importance to Muslims. E-qaryah, which is free, provides easy and fast access to the community to book a burial plot and burial services.       

Other proactive activities include monthly visits to help poor and needy families, as well as a biannual Islamic Bike Fest, which is aimed at attracting youths to visit the mosque. The festival is held over three days and even includes a superbike showcase!

Masjid at-Taqwa Taman Bertam Indah

Located in the heart of Taman Bertam Indah, Masjid at-Taqwa was named the third-best mosque in Malaysia in 2014 by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).

Since its establishment in 2009 the mosque has made great strides within the community through entrepreneurship and charity. A huge complex around the mosque compound contains a number of small businesses, including a book shop, barber shop and cooperative that sells Muslim product, and even a car wash.

Masjid at-Taqwa Taman Bertam Indah.

Blood donation campaign at Masjid at-Taqwa Taman Bertam Indah.

Small businesses at Masjid at-Taqwa.

Interestingly, there is also a motel called Taqwa Inn. According to Abdul Rahman, secretary of Masjid at-Taqwa, the motel is equivalent to a 3-star hotel, equipped with good facilities and operated by experienced staff. The complex and motel are managed by the Masjid at-Taqwa Corporation, with funds from Yayasan Waqaf Malaysia, personal investors and MAIPP. The mosque’s current chairman is Deputy Chief Minister 1 Datuk Haji Ahmad Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman.

“For the ease of management, the corporation is separate from the mosque committee. However, some core posts of the corporation, such as the treasurer and chairman, are filled by members of the mosque committee to ensure the corporation keeps in line with the vision and mission of Masjid at-Taqwa,” says Abdul Rahman.

One way the mosque generates income is through the collection and sale of recycled items, done in collaboration with the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai (MPSP). Profits from the sale go to maintenance and utilities. “We collect approximately RM300 a month this way,” says Abdul Rahman.

Just like Masjid Abdullah Fahim, Masjid at-Taqwa also provides a shelf for the public to leave basic food items for the poor and needy, who register with the mosque for record purposes. “If we see that someone is frequently taking items from the shelf, we go directly to their house to give necessary aid,” says Abdul Rahman. The mosque has its own team to monitor and help poor families who live around Masjid at-Taqwa. “We also include in our list Indian and Chinese families as well,” says Abdul Rahman.

The At-Taqwa Haemodialysis Centre.

Inclusivity is high on the mosque’s agenda, as can be seen from its open day held earlier in July. The event invited non-Muslims in the neighbourhood of Taman Bertam Indah for a dialogue on Islam and to witness a demonstration of how Muslims perform their prayers. “From this dialogue, we hope to solve misconceptions on Islam,” Abdul Rahman explains.

The mosque also has a haemodialysis centre with first-class facilities, and is the first mosque in Penang to provide this kind of facility. The haemodialysis devices were funded by the state government, governor’s office and private investors, and cost about RM1.5mil. “Our staff consists of experienced nurses and a doctor who voluntarily comes in once every three months. The At-Taqwa Haemodialysis Centre offers half price discounts to poor and needy patients,” says Abdul Rahman.

Nidhal Mujahid is an analyst with the Political Studies unit of Penang Institute. He is inspired by the unique history of Muslim culture in Penang. His research interests include politics of Shariah, Islam and Malay studies.

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