Kota Samarahan, Sarawak
Large government institutions will often have suraus or masjids built on their grounds, particularly if the institution has a resident population. The mosque where I most often make my Friday prayers is one such mosque, built on the grounds of a nearby maktab perguruan. It’s a lovely building, a modern rendition of the classic Malay mosque, which is square and tiered, with no dome. Unline the classic version, this one is built of rebar and concrete instead of wood, although the ceiling is treated with a hardwood veneer. The tall concrete minarets follow the mosque roof line, giving it a profile that can be seen all the way from my workplace, about a mile away, while the tiered roof blends in well with the acres of clay tile roofs in the surrounding subdivisions. The prayer hall of the mosque is surrounded on three sides by open-air hallways, taking advantage of the year-round warm weather, and there are large porches where worshippers can lounge before and after prayers. Ok, some of the young guys lounge there straight through the khutba too. The women’s section is a spacious mezzanine looking down onto the prayer hall, although as is the custom here, woman don’t come for Friday prayers. Since the mosque is in a workplace rather than a neighborhood or village, it clears out very quickly after prayers as people zip off to work or lunch. A few linger on to read Quran, meditate, or even take a short nap in the back.
There’s just one thing that nagged at me every time I prayed here: the calligraphy displayed in the mihrab. For some reason, the calligraphy reading “Muhammad” is set halfway below the calligraphy reading “Allah”, unlike every other masjid in the world I’ve ever entered, where the calligraphy is set side by side (or is absent entirely, as is often the case in our US masajid). Now, I understand the argument of those who do not like to display calligraphy at all – I don’t agree, but I understand their position. But what must you be thinking to feel that the word Muhammad must be placed lower than the word Allah? After ignoring it for years, I finally approached an imam after his khutba and asked him about it. He immediately smiled and said that he too thought it was a bit strange. In that case, I said, why not fix it? Because, he said, there are others on the e-board who would object. Object on what grounds, I wondered? They’re concerned that people might become confused as to who is the object of worship, he replied. Subhanallah! It makes my head throb just imagining that train of thought. It is precisely because it is inherently not the thing to which it refers that the written word became the supreme art of the Islamic world. If you feel you are clarifying the relationship between God and His Prophet by adjusting the relative heights of the Arabic letters… Phew. I don’t suppose there’s any benefit in continuing that thought. I left it at that with the Imam, too. Has anyone encountered this attitude before, or perhaps I should ask, has anyone ever seen the calligraphy displayed like this?