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Kapitan Keling Mosque, Pitt Street, George Town, Penang

Kapitan Keling Mosque at Pitt Street is the oldest and largest mosque in the heart of George Town.

Kapitan Keling Mosque at Pitt Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest and largest mosque in the city centre. Built in 1801 by Indian Muslims who migrated to Penang Island soon after its founding by Captain Francis Light, it was once used as Penang's state mosque, prior to the construction of the Penang State Mosque at Air Itam Road in the 1970s.

A large area had been granted to the Indian Muslim community in George Town by the then Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Alexander William Leith, for the construction of a 'Mohamedan Church for ever'. This led to the construction of Kapitan Keling Mosque, using stones and labour brought in from India. The mosque has been renovated several times, a renovation in the 1930s gave it its present appearance.

To this day, it serves the Muslim community within its vicinity. The mosque is also where Muslim festivals, such as the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, are celebrated.

History

Soon after the founding of George Town by Captain Francis Light in 1786, Indian Muslim troops of the British East India Company established a makeshift mosque at the site where Kapitan Keling Mosque now stands.

Later, the growing Indian Muslim community in George Town requested Caudeer Mohuddeen @ Kader Mydin Merican, who was the Kapitan Keling (leader of the Indian Muslim community) at the time, to construct a more permanent brick mosque.

In 1801, the then Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Alexander William Leith, granted an 18 acre piece of land to the Indian Muslim community for the building of a 'Mohamedan Church for ever'. The size of the land also allowed for a Muslim cemetery, as well as surplus lands to collect rent for upkeep.

Caudeer Mohuddeen was appointed the first Superintendent of the mosque. Together with other prominent Indian Muslims such as Habib Merican Noordin, he brought in workers and stones from India for the construction of the mosque.

When it was completed, Kapitan Keling Mosque was a single-storey rectangular building with a sloping roof and on all sides. A minaret stood at each corner. In addition, the mosque was built with an outer colonnade, a low scalloped wall and granite flooring. At the time, it was also surrounded by shophouses and can only be accessed through narrow gateways.

Kapitan Keling Mosque, George Town, Penang (1900s)

A picture of Kapitan Keling Mosque taken in the 1900s. This was the mosque's original architecture.

Throughout the 19th. century, the original 18 acre land allocated to the mosque was gradually reduced in size, due to encroachment and the purchase of some of the land by the George Town Municipal Council. In order to build more social facilities, the British administrators often had to buy back parts of the 18 acre land at great cost. For instance, the municipal council brought back the junction between Campbell Street and Carnavon Street from the mosque in the late 1890s, and subsequently built Campbell Street Market.

By 1903, only eight out of the original 18 acres of land remained as mosque property, including the surrounding shophouses at Pitt Street, Pitt Lane, Chulia Street, Buckingham Street and Campbell Street. Private residences also encroached up to within several feet of the mosque.

In 1905, Kapitan Keling Mosque came under the administration of the state Mohamedan and Hindu Endowment Board. Subsequently, a large-scale urban renewal programme was underway within the vicinity of the mosque, involving the replacement of slums with terrace houses and the creation of new roads.

Kapitan Keling Mosque, George Town, Penang (1920s)

Kapitan Keling Mosque in the 1920s

In 1910, Kapitan Keling Mosque was given a major facelift, carried out with funding from the Endowment Board. Architect N. A. Neubronner expanded the mosque proper, and added Mughal domes and turrets, a large minaret for the muezzin and a madrasah. When the renovation works were completed in 1916, the mosque had a distinctive British Mughal appearance.

Kapitan Keling Mosque, George Town, Penang (1930s)

Kapitan Keling Mosque during its renovation in the 1930s.

Another renovation exercise in the 1930s gave the mosque its present appearance. Other than the expansion of the mosque, the height of the central prayer hall was doubled and the mosque's ventilation system was upgraded. The exterior was painted ochre yellow, while the interior flooring was made of white marble. A series of horseshoe arches crowned with King Edward's plaques forms the interior aisles. The outer wall of the mosque we see today was also built.

After Malayan independence in 1957, Pitt Street was officially renamed Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling after Kapitan Keling Mosque. Nonetheless, the street's original name, Pitt Street, has stuck on with most local Penangites.

Kapitan Keling Mosque once served as Penang's state mosque, due to its central location and its historical significance as the oldest and largest mosque in George Town. That role has since been taken over by the Penang State Mosque at Air Itam Road, which was built in the 1970s.

Kapitan Keling Mosque, George Town, Penang

Kapitan Keling Mosque in 2016

Kapitan Keling Mosque was last renovated in 2003 with a RM5 million (Malaysian Ringgit) grant to repair water seepage and poor drainage inside the mosque. In addition, a covered walkway and a women's ablution area were added, as well as new Arabic calligraphy motifs replacing the floral motifs inside the main dome and on the walls.

Travel Advice

Access to the central prayer hall is forbidden for non-Muslims.

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
  2. Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.
  3. Cheah J. S., 2013. Penang 500 Early Postcards. Editions Didier Millet.
  4. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/kapitan-keling-mosque.htm
  5. http://wongchunwai.com/category/penang-history-my-story/page/5/

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