Unravelling the significance of Melaka’s Masjid Kampung Hulu

Photo used for illustration purposes only

MELAKA – No visitor to the Historic City of Melaka will be able to miss the charm of the unique architecture of its mosques that were built back in the 18th century.

The more familiar semi-spherical dome did not form the basis of mosque construction during that era in Melaka, which was then a prominent centre for the dissemination of Islam in Nusantara (now known as Southeast Asia).

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Instead, the mosques featured the pyramidal three-tiered roof – also known as the meru roof – and pagoda-shaped minaret that clearly reflected Chinese architectural elements.

The fusion of cultures in the architecture can be attributed to the traders who sailed to Melaka from the west and east, including China, as it was also a busy trading centre then.

Melaka’s three oldest mosques, Masjid Kampung Hulu, Masjid Tengkera and Masjid Kampung Keling, serve as a testament to the existence of Chinese architectural influence in mosque construction in those days.

It is interesting to note that these mosques used ceramic tiles from China’s Ching Dynasty era, with the tiles in Masjid Kampung Hulu, for example, featuring carvings of natural elements.

Significance

Masjid Kampung Hulu imam Zawawi Md Hanafi, 47, told Bernama each layer of the 300-year-old mosque’s roof and building structure held its own significance.

“From the foundation of the mosque to the uppermost tier, each layer has its own meaning, with the ‘crown’ of the mosque being the symbolic element signifying the link between the mosque and the universe with the Creator,” he said.

He said the building structure of each of the doors leading to the prayer area reflected the five principles of Islam while the mosque’s six windows reflected the six principles of faith and its rostrum, the “One God”.

Zawawi said the mosque’s square-shaped base, three-tiered meru roof and four main pillars provide ample support for the “crown” above the structure.

The mosque faces the qiblah (the direction of the Kaaba in Makkah) and also has a place at the back where worshippers can perform their ablutions.

“The amazing thing about the ceramic tiles used to build the mosque’s roofing is that they have lasted a few hundred years and still remain sturdy,” Zawawi said.

Most of the original building materials used in the construction of Masjid Kampung Hulu, such as the high-quality timber, shells of cockles and snails used in constructing the apex of the roof and the terracotta flooring, are now difficult to procure for the purpose of carrying out restoration works, he added.

Retain original design

Zawawi also said that the old mosque’s maintenance and restoration work involved high costs and that the management has to refer to the Melaka Islamic Religious Council and Melaka Museum Corporation (Perzim) before carrying out any restoration work.

Perzim assistant curator Fairus Mamat, meanwhile, said the federal government has gazetted seven mosques in Melaka as heritage mosques under the National Heritage Act 2005.

The mosques are Masjid Kampung Hulu (in Melaka city centre), Masjid Tengkera (in Tengkera), Masjid Kampung Keling (in Melaka city), Masjid Lama Machap (in Alor Gajah), Masjid Serkam Pantai (in Merlimau), Masjid An Nur (in Bukit Peringgit) and Masjid Laksamana Hang Tuah (in Duyong).

Fairus said another 56 mosques in the state have also been gazetted as heritage mosques under the Melaka State Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Enactment. Most of these mosques are more than 50 years old and feature the same architectural designs.

“Perzim is making an effort to restore the heritage mosques (gazetted under the state enactment) using materials that match the quality of the original materials that were used in order to retain their original appearance for the benefit of our future generations,” he said.

As for the mosques that are gazetted under the National Heritage Act, he said Perzim would monitor them closely to ensure that they are well maintained.