Fri, 11 Apr 2003

Al A'zhom blends Sundanese and Arab architecture

Multa Fidrus, The Jakarta Post, Tangerang, Banten

Residents of Tangerang, about 25 kilometers west of Jakarta, are anxious to see their Rp 43 billion (over US$5 million) grand mosque completed soon.

The Al A'zhom Grand Mosque built on a 2.5-hectare plot of land in front of the new Tangerang mayoralty office on Jl. Daan Mogot is expected to be one of the largest in the world.

Aside from the size, the mosque, the construction of which began in 1997, has a unique design.

The giant dome -- 44 meters high with a diameter of 63 meters -- is in fact a fusion of five lesser domes and functions as the building's roof. Opened to the public in February, it needs only a few finishing touches before it will be completed.

"This is a daring concept for a mosque construction," said Junaedi Nawawi, an official overseeing the project.

The dome configuration was designed by PT Binatama, a private company specializing in dome designs. It is made with steel plates covered in layers of glass wool, wire netting and aluminum sheets, which together make a five-inch thick plate.

The main architect of the grand mosque is Slamet Worasonjaya of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

The plate is expected to be able to withstand heat and deaden the reverberations from the powerful sound system inside. The dome is built to last 100 years.

Once you set foot inside the mosque, you will feel the cool air and sober atmosphere.

There is no ceiling between the floor and the giant dome that is decorated with calligraphy that can be viewed from the floor, nor is there a main column that supports the dome.

From the outside, the dome looks like a gigantic hat placed on a square box.

"We have never seen any dome with a joint-configuration as large as this one in the world," Nawawi said, adding that he was considering registering the dome as the world's largest with the Guiness Book of Records.

So far, the world's largest dome in a mosque noted in the book is the Aya Sofia Mosque in Istanbul, Turki. "It's diameter is 30 meters," Nawawi said.

In Indonesia, the mosque with the largest dome is Al Akbar Mosque in Surabaya with a diameter of 40 meters.

Nawawi said that his team had conducted comparative studies on mosques in Istanbul, Selangor in Malaysia and Surabaya.

In each of the four corners of the main building of the Tangerang grand mosque stands a 55-meter tall tower. The 4,845- square-meter floor area can accommodate 7,500 male members of the congregation. While female congregation members are accommodated in two 600-square-meter balconies, which can accommodate 1,000 people in all.

Tohirrudin, a member of the mosque's project committee, says the mosque blends Sundanese and Middle Eastern architectural styles. To accentuate the Middle Eastern and Sundanese nuances, 18 date palms from the Middle East and 180 of local sadeng palm trees have been planted in front of the mosque's plaza.

The plaza can also accommodate another 10,000 devotees.

"The five joining domes symbolize the prayers that Muslims are obliged to perform five times a day. While the four towers symbolize the four pillars of Islam, the Arabic language, syariah, history and philosophy," he said.

Shades of green dominate the entire building.

The mosque is equipped with various facilities such as a four- meter high pulpit, a library, 400 faucets for ritual ablutions and a parking lot for 400 cars.

The mosque that will also be used for Tangerang's Islamic center has so far cost Rp 28 billion to build; 70 percent of the funds were taken from the administration annual budget and another 25 percent was donated by community members. The project will require another Rp 15 billion.

According to Nawawi, the committee also plans to build a 99- meter high tower near the five-story auditorium right beside the Grand Mosque. The facility is meant for recreational purposes.

"Visitors will be able to see the Kepulauan Seribu resort from the tower. Various religious activities will be offered to visiting families," Nawawi said.