The Kapitan Keling Mosque boasts its long history spanning more than 200 years. Located at the intersection between Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (formerly known as Pitt Street) and Lebuh Buckingham, it sits strategically at the heart of the heritage enclave of George Town and has been the spiritual and community congregational point for the city’s Muslim community for two centuries. The mosque has been recognised by UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site as one of the heritage buildings that needs to be preserved.
I am pleased to share with you this mosque’s history in brief.
The majestic mosque was first erected by the troops of the British East India Company who were of Muslim religion when they arrived on the island near the end of the 18th century. That was soon after Francis Light took formal possession of the island from the Sultan of Kedah in 1786. The troops of Indian Muslims were said to be led by an East India Company major named Nador Khan who cleared a piece of land to erect a small Chulier mosque besides setting up their burial ground.
The predecessor of the present Kapitan Keling Mosque was merely an attap-roofed structure. By 1798, the Chulier mosque had already appeared on the local map. Its first Imam or religious teacher was one Ustaz Mohamed Haniffa who died in 1213 Hijrah (around 1798 or 1799).
In 1801 Sir George Leith, who was then Lieutenant Governor of Penang, appointed a prominent Indian Muslim leader, Cauder Mohudeen, as Captain of the South Indian “Keling” community. He granted a piece of land to build a mosque on the south side of Malabar Street (Chulia Street). Cauder Mohudeen (born c. 1759) was a ship mandoor or foreman from Porto Novo, which the Tamils called Paringgipettai and the Muslims Mahmudbandar, about 50 kilometres south of Pondicherry in India.
As the trade and population of the Settlement increased, attracting many Mohammedan traders and mariners it became necessary to erect a more permanent building and to provide a larger burial ground. Cauder Mohuddeen, a wealthy Mohammedan Keling, took the initiative by collecting subscriptions to build the present mosque. With the authorization from the government and the Indian Muslim community, Cauder Mohudeen brought builders and stones (or bricks) from India to erect the brick mosque.
Thanks to his great contribution and selfless effort Cauder Mohuddeen as The Kapitan (Captain in English) Keling was thus regarded as the founder of the mosque. He died in 1834 leaving behind an invaluable legacy that stands strong until today and has been serving countless fellow muslims.
The Kapitan Keling Mosque went through several stages of development. From 1803 the year a brick mosque was completed the Kapitan Keling Mosque was skillfully extended in 1910 with some parts of the original mosque walls were retained within the larger building; the original minarets can still be identified. The spectacular new look of the mosque could be described as Moghul or ‘Indo-Saracenic’, with a fancy roof of domes and turrets, and the walls elaborately stuccoed and coloured to simulate the Moghul monuments of India, which employed different coloured stone and marble. The architect for this project then was a Malacca-born Eurasian of German descent, Henry Alfred Neubronner. The building of the minaret in 1916 marked the completion of this phase of expansion.
The shophouses immediately to the south of the minaret were cleared soon afterwards so that the mosque could be fully viewed from Pitt Street (now Jalan Kapitan Keling). Its minaret became the most prominent landmark in the neighbourhood. In the 1920s, improvements were made to the ablution areas with modern plumbing and reinforced concrete coverings. In the 1930s the Kapitan Keling Mosque was again expanded and assumed its present form. A somewhat simpler and more weatherproof hip roof was added and a perimeter wall was built.
Below are the photos of the mosque in its present form taken during the last Chinese New Year holiday.
I welcome any comment and criticism with open arms either about the pictures or the history on the Kapitan Keling Mosque.
You can also view the slideshow of the Kapitan Keling Mosque pictures here.