Sat, 15 Jan 2000

Old mosque a legacy of Chinese

By Aan Suryana and Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

After an absence of several Saturdays due to public holidays, Save Old Batavia appears again with a story of two protected mosques built by Chinese-Indonesian Muslims in the 1700s. They are the famous Kebon Jeruk Mosque on busy Jl. Hayam Wuruk and Al Anwar Mosque on Jl. Pangeran Tubagus Angke. Including an account of a mysterious incident which happened at the protected Al Muqarromah Mosque in Penjaringan, this is the 21st article in a series on Jakarta's historical sites and buildings in the Saturday editions of The Jakarta Post.

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesian history has proven that the ethnic Chinese, the minority, played significant roles in the daily life of the locals, the majority.

They did not only contribute to business. They did not only contribute to the culture which influenced local tradition.

Chinese-Indonesian Muslims have demonstrated their role until today in the construction of several mosques across the country.

In the old days of Batavia, many Chinese-Indonesian Muslims donated their money and devoted themselves to the building of mosques.

The Kebon Jeruk Mosque on Jl. Hayam Wuruk 83, located in the middle of the hectic Kota business district in West Jakarta, is one of the popular Chinese-Indonesian mosques which still exists.

Its history started in 1448 when the people of the area built a surau (small mosque), an opal-formed cupola with a thatched roof of palm leaves supported by four pillars embellished with carvings.

The news of the existence of the surau spread quickly across the island of Java. Its fame also crossed the oceans and reached other Muslims overseas, luring visitors from Asia for decades.

In the early 18th century, a group of Muslims from mainland China led by ulema Chan Tsien Hwu, who was accompanied by his wife, Fatimah Hwu, left their home to find the famous surau.

They were said to have left their home due to the oppression of then emperor Chien.

Upon their arrival, the group found that the beautiful surau was ruined by age and poor maintenance during the Portuguese, English and Dutch colonization periods.

Captain Tamien Dosol Seeng, also known as Chan, who chaired the Chinese-Indonesian Muslim community in Batavia between 1780 and 1797, then built a mosque to replace the old surau on the same location in 1786.

Sacred place

For years, the mosque was a sacred place for many Chinese- Indonesian Muslims living in old Jakarta.

The architecture is a rich blend of Indonesian, Arabic and Chinese elements. Its interior is decorated with Moorish and Dutch tiles emblazoned with animal and floral motifs. Some of the tiles even portray biblical scenes.

A beautifully decorated grave lies in the mosque's yard.

The grave is of Fatimah Hwu, who died in 1792. To fulfill her last wishes, her body was laid to rest in the yard.

The tomb's crypt is wonderfully decorated with Chinese writing and dragons, as well as Arabic and Chinese ornaments.

A timeworn wooden speaker platform, embellished with flowerlike cravings, was secured by the authorities and is currently kept at the Jakarta History Museum.

In 1972, the Jakarta Administration issued a gubernatorial decree which stated the status of the mosque as a protected historical building.

The semi-modern mosque, which has a floor covered with ceramic tiles, is known as a popular stopover for international congregations who want to study Islam further.

According to senior clerics at the mosque, muslims from Malaysia, India and the Philippines often come and stay for several days to learn, among other things, tasawuf teachings.

"On the other hand, we also visit other old mosques abroad in Asia and the Middle East several times to exchange knowledge at our own cost," one of them said.

From Jl. Hayam Wuruk, the next stop is the Al Anwar Mosque on Jl. Pangeran Tubagus Angke, which is only a few minutes drive away.

Supriyatna, chairman of the mosque's board of management, said that the mesjid (mosque) was built in 1751 by a Mongolian identified only as Tan, alias Liong.

"Tan escaped from a massacre (an uprising against the ethnic Chinese) carried out by the Dutch colonial under Jan Pieterszoon Coen in the 17th century," the 70-year-old man said.

Charging the Chinese-Indonesians with starting a rebellion against the Dutch occupation in the country, Coen and his men arrested and slayed many of them in Pejagalan.

Unfortunately, no further details of Tan or his family could be traced.

One of the original parts that still exist is a balcony in the middle of the mosque. Supported with four poles and accessed by a wooden staircase, the balcony was used in the past for the muadzin to recite calls to prayer for Muslims in the neighborhood.

Like many old mosques, the Al-Anwar Mosque also has several graves belonging to noted local clerics.

Sixteen years ago, the mosque's staff received a fund of Rp 21 million for restoration work from the Jakarta Administration. With the fund, they replaced the tiles on the walls and floors.

Supriyatna said they did not make any significant changes to the mosque, except for the replacement of the tiles and painting the walls.

Strange incident

Another mosque is the Al Muqarromah Mosque on Jl. Kampung Bandan in Penjaringan, North Jakarta.

In 1984, locals said they witnessed a strange incident at the site, which cannot be explained under normal circumstances.

Witnesses said one of the giant poles of a newly constructed flyover which passed through the mosque suddenly collapsed.

"For unknown reasons, it toppled a day after it was constructed," recalled Habib Ali As Syathri, a member of the mosque management board.

After a discussion with the mosque management, the project contractors agreed to move from its original site without disturbing the position of the mosque.

The mosque, he said, was built in 1879 by Said Abdurrachman bin Alwi Al Syadri. In its early days, it was called the Jami' Keramat Kampung Bandan Mosque. It was changed to its current name in 1978.

"He established the mosque simply after finding two graves at the site."

The establishment of the mosque was intended to pave the way for visitors to pray and ask for God's blessing," said Ali.

The graves were of two noted clerics in the area: Habib Mohamad bin Umar Alkudsi, who was buried in 1697, and Habib Ali bin Abdurrachman Alwi, who was buried in 1701.

Later, the founder of the mosque was also buried there.

Unlike many mosques in the country, the Al Muqarromah Mosque posts a number of big pictures of several habibs from Saudi Arabia, who they believe also brought Islam to this region.