Kapitan Keling Mosque
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The Kapitan Keling Mosque is arguably the best known mosque in Penang. Situated on Jalan Kapitan Keling, formerly Pitt Street, it is the largest historic mosque in George Town. The Kapitan Keling Mosque is named after Caudeer Mohudeen, the head of the Indian Muslim community credited to have built it around 1800.
The name "kapitan keling" is used to denote the headman or leader of the South Indian Muslim community. The term "keling" is derived from the ancient Hindu kingdom on the Coromandel coast of South India, and the local Hokkien community corrupts the word to derive "keling-na" for Indians in general, particularly those from South India (The North Indians are pooled together with another term, "banggali", though they are not necessarily from Bengal). The title "Kapitan" is a corruption of the English word "Captain", and is used to denote the leader of the community. Similarly, the leader of the Chinese community during that period is called a Kapitan China.
The Kapitan Keling was the first Superintendent of the mosque. He brought in the builders and stones from India for the project. The original mosque structure was a single-storey rectangular building with a sloping roof on all sides and surrounded by a stone bench. It was surrounded by shophouses, with access through a narrow gateway.
It is generally accepted that the 18-acre plot of land on which the mosque stands was granted to the Indian Muslim community by the then Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Leith, in November 1801 for the building of a "Mohamedan Church for ever". This was not to be, however, as over the years, and as George Town grew, the government had to buy back parcels of land from the mosque, for the town's social amenities. This includes the land for the nearby police station and the Campbell Street Market. The Kapitan would not have to live to see this happening to his mosque, having died in 1834. His tomb can be found at Kampung Kolam, not far from the mosque itself. As I write this (February 2005), the tomb is in a rather neglected state.
Meanwhile, the land belonging to the mosque continued to shrink in size, brought on by encroachment and improper management. Private homes were soon within a few feet of the mosque itself. By 1903, the original 18 acres had reduced to only 8.
In 1905, the government set up the Mohammedan and Hindu Endowment Board, to supervise the administration of trust lands (tanah wakaf). An extensive urban renewal programme was underway. In the 1910s, the mosque was given a major facelift in the British Moghul Revival style, with the addition of Mughal domes and turrets, a large minaret and a madrasah, completed around 1916. The mosque complies with Kiblat, which rules that it must face the direction of the Ka'aba.
Another renovation in 1930 gave the Kapitan Keling Mosque its present appearance after the previous design was deemed impractical. In keeping with tradition, the mosque was not rebuilt, but only enlarged. Among the major work during this period included doubling the height of the central prayer hall, improvement to the ventilation system, and allowing more natural light to enter. The exterior is ochre yellowed while the interior had white marble floors and a high ceiling. The interior aisles are formed by a series of horseshoe arches, crowned with King Edward's plaques. The façade of the building and its interior were decorated with geometric designs, as human and animal forms are forbidden in Islam.
The Kapitan Keling Mosque underwent its most recent refurnishment in 2003, with a RM5 million grant, as water seepage and poor drainage were affecting the building, closing it down for a year. In this renovation, some alterations that do not compromise on the original aesthetics of the building were included. Among the new extensions was a covered walkway and a women's ablution area. Calligraphy was added to the interior of the main dome and walls, where once these were decorated with foral motifs. An Islamic Information Centre is also set up on the ground floor of the minaret.
The Kapitan Keling Mosque is used by Muslims five times a day, seven days a week.
View list of Penang mosques