Hidden Mosques

Surau Al-Hidayah is the pale blue building in the center
Surau Al-Hidayah is the pale blue building in the center
The azan can be heard all around Kuching from the suraus in most every neighborhood. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to find where it is coming from. Taking a shortcut through a secluded neighborhood on my way home late from work, I would often hear the azan called loudly nearby, see old uncles walking down the street in kain palikat and songkok, but never saw the mosque. I decided to explore one day on foot, and discovered the surau tucked away in a block of homes, with only a signboard Roadside Signboardat the alley entrance. From the air, it is easy enough to pick out: it is the only building not orientated toward the street, but toward the direction of prayer. The Surau Al-Hidayah is surrounded on all sides by homes, with two paths leading in between the neighbors’ fences. Gates in neighbors’ fences allow them to slip in from their backyards for the prayers.

Often, land for suraus is gifted by old landowners to a waqaf, or Islamic trust, as part of their will. approaching the surauPerhaps that’s what happened here. The surau is obviously well-endowed and looked after. The front entrance is tiled, and well-tended bougainvilleas bloom in decorative pots along the open space behind the mihrab. Several airconditioning units hang from the outside wall. Unfortunately, many urban suraus are locked before and after prayers to prevent theft. The anjung or front porch Since I arrived about an hour after Asr prayers, I was unable to go inside. Like most neighborhood suraus, it is a community gathering place as well as a prayer hall, as shown by the large covered front porch equipped with tables and chairs for relaxing and socializing before and after the prayers. This surau even had a pair of ping-pong tables in the back for entertainment.

Surau Al-Hidayah Suraus exist somewhere between the public and private sphere, open to the random seeker looking to catch his salat but populated by a core group of regulars. They all have their own atmosphere that makes them so enjoyable to visit and discover. The favorable siting of this one makes it feel particularly warm and cozy. Finding it is the hard part.

Full Surau Al-Hidayah Photoset on Flickr

Neighboring homesAnother occulted mosque in town is the Masjid India, utterly hidden from view. Photosets of other masjids and suraus around Malaysia. Previous entries about local suraus and masjids at Bin Gregory Productions.

Looking back down the front entrance

Front door

Social space with ping-pong

the rear entry

The alley entrance

Neighbor's fence adjoining the front entrance

5 Replies to “Hidden Mosques”

  1. I’m curious as to how you define “surau” as, by your pictures, these facilities look to be no smaller than some of the smaller masajid here in S’pore. Here, surau are tiny, usually no more than a small room (or two, one for women) in which to pray.

  2. Greg stuff, Zayn. You are really stoking my curiosity about Malaysia. I just gotta find the means to come. More later.

  3. Thanks Marc.

    JD – Masjids have Friday prayers, suraus don’t. That’s really the only hard and fast distinction. I think once a place is designated a masjid by the state, they get more funding, but I’m not sure on the details of that. There are hole-in-the-wall suraus here too, in shopping malls and such, but they’re no fun to photograph 😀

  4. Oh people are very into their landscaping, since things grow and flower year ’round. There is a preference for cement/tiled yards with potted plants, rather than a patch of yard with plants in the ground. I see three or four major reasons for that: ease of maintenance and weed control, saving space (most urban lots are tiny), drainage, and the very poor native soil in urban areas (it’s easier to buy hort soil for a few pots than to try to recondition a few square meters of tropical clay subsoil).

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