Istiqlal Mosque

We’ve been here for a year and a we hadn’t been yet to the Isitqlal mosque.  This is a huge presence in the north of the city. It’s the largest mosque in south east Asia.

With the Presidents’ Day holiday, we had some time, so Mrs. S.A.M and I decided to check it out.

This mosque is right across the street from the Catholic cathedral which has stood since colonial times. The Indonesians waited a bit after independence to get started in their mosque.  They didn’t break ground until the early sixties. The stopped for three years starting in 1965, when there was some “unpleasantness with communists” which is the term the government used way back then for people they didn’t like, which were smart people, rich people and Chinese.

Anyway, they resumed work in 1968 and finished  in 1971. And when they finished they had not only the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, but the third largest mosque in the world after those at Mecca and Medina. It’s kind of a big deal.

Inside it is immense. Perhaps half the size of half a football field with a dome some 7 or 8 stories supported by columns.  A large golden inscription on one wall.  Walkways surround 5 floors on all sides. It is a pretty impressive structure.

This is what it looks like when it’s empty.

Our driver seemed quite proud to show off the place, though it’s not really his home mosque. He led us in and found a man of some importance or at least a name tag.  That guy led us into a room labeled guests. We stowed our shoes in little cubbies and he brought out a book for us to sign. Mrs. Sam filled out the columns. She likes living dangerously and so wrote John Hancock-style US diplomat”  under occupation.

The manager then says, “we usually collect donations from our guests to help with the upkeep of the mosque and to help the needy. Any amount is fine It’s totally up to you. We take rupiah, US dollars, Chinese dollars, whatever. “

I wanted to be generous and I’d heard amounts bandied about, so I took out 100,000 and handed it to him proudly. He took the bill and said, “100,000 rupiah is like 7 US dollars is that what you wish to give?”

“Um.. Yes.”

“Ok then.”  He closed up his book and said quickly that guests aren’t allowed on the main prayer hall and may only take photos from upstairs. Have a good day and he turned to walk away. Our driver, bless his soul chimed in rather uncharacteristically, “Don’t they get a tour? “

The guy said something about how it was kind of late and there were no guides available and walked away.

And so we wandered. Up and around a couple of floors, taking in the views.  Now, it wasn’t time for prayers, but if you believed my Facebook feed from back home, you might expect to see legions of jihadis massed in rabid fervor chanting derision about us diplomats and others, and waving knives of obsidian.

But instead we saw a few catching up on their prayers and many people napping close to a plug so they could charge their cell phones.  
We went back to get our shoes. The door was locked. Our driver came up with the manager, and they must of had words, because suddenly the guy was full of fun facts about the mosque.  He was pointing out some of the posters arrayed around the shoe cubby room giving some of the history.  

And with that we went shopping. It was quiet and solemn, but also kind of boring. Definitely something to see, but would recommend that you  plan around noon prayers on a Friday for the best experience.

What I imagine it’s like on Friday.

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