Hajjah Fatimah Mosque

Hajjah Fatimah Mosque is located at 4001 Beach Road, in the historic Kampong Glam area. Built between 1845 and 1846, the mosque was named after Hajjah Fatimah, a wealthy businesswoman. It is one of the few mosques in Singapore to be named after a woman. Combining Eastern and Western design, the mosque is known for its unique minaret, which resembles a church spire, as well as for the noticeable tilt of the minaret that has earned it the nickname “the leaning tower of Singapore”. The mosque was gazetted as a national monument in 1973.

Hajjah Fatimah was born in Malacca and married a Bugis prince. After his death, she became a businesswoman of great wealth. In the 1830s, while she was away from home, thieves burgled her house and set it on fire. To demonstrate her gratitude to divine providence for having spared her life, Hajjah Fatimah donated money and the land where her residence had stood to build a mosque that was eventually named after her.

Hajjah Fatimah Mosque was designed by an unknown British architect. However, because the minaret resembles the steeple of St Andrew's Cathedral, the designer is believed to be John Turnbull Thompson. The mosque was built between 1845 and 1846 by French contractors supported by Malay labourers.

Several periods of reconstruction later added to the design of the mosque. Hajjah Fatimah's great-grandson, Engku Aman, was instrumental in the mosque's reconstruction work in the 1920s. In the 1930s, French contractors Bossard & Mopin, with the design from architects Chung & Wong, rebuilt the main prayer hall.

After her death, Hajjah Fatimah was buried in a private enclosure behind the mosque, together with her 
child Raja Siti and son-in-law Syed Abdul Rahman Alsagoff. Ownership of the mosque passed to the Alsagoff family and later to Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS). Besides commemorating Hajjah Fatimah's death anniversary, significant celebrations held at the mosque include the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

The mosque was designated a national monument on 6 July 1973. Much-needed preservation and renovation works were undertaken around this time, including making the mosque’s dome watertight and strengthening the foundations of the building.

Painted in brown and cream colours, the mosque is a unique blend of both Malaccan style and European classical elements. Its key elements include the entrance gate, the minaret tower, the ablution area, the prayer hall, the mausoleum, a garden and the imam's residence. Next to the mosque are ancillary buildings.

The minaret has a unique design that reflects the shape of a church's spire. It is most often compared to that of St Andrew's Cathedral although others suggest it is influenced by Portuguese design, particularly as Malaccan mosques also have similar three-tier forms. The minaret consists of two octagonal towers, a square base and an elongated pyramid. European elements incorporated into the design include pilasters with Doric capitals on the first three levels of the minaret tower. Chinese features are also incorporated into the design. These include the Chinese glazed parapet grilles on the windows and woodwork, and the green-glazed patterned porcelain located on each level of the minaret tower and the top walls of roof parapet. The minaret, together with its European-style flanking houses, form the entrance along the gate.

Built on sandy land, the minaret leans about six degrees towards the onion-shaped dome and has thus gained fame as Singapore's "leaning tower". Preservation works undertaken in the 1970s stopped the gradual tilt of the minaret but a slight inclination is still visible.

The ablution area was designed to look like a Malay house. Originally intended for use as a library, the area is now used for ablution and has an adjoining office nearby.

Lancets take prominence as the main pattern marking the interior design of the mosque. The design is found in the large openings of both sides of the prayer hall enclosure, the doorways comprising the façade of the prayer hall, the six bays at the back of the prayer hall and the 12 lancet-shaped windows, located below the onion dome. The mosque interior also features Malay-Muslim traditional woodcarvings.

Edian Azrah and Joanna Tan

Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1982, January 27). Traditional carvings and changes involving the art. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1987, April 16). Minaret adds beauty to the mosque. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Beamish, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city (pp. 58-59). Singapore: G. Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA)

Fatimah Mosque preservation guidelines (pp. 22-23, 28). (1991). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 FAT)

Kulatissa, S. (1984, August 31). Building domes among skyscrapers. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Lee, G. B. (2002). Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faith of our forefathers (pp. 84-87). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 726.095957 LEE)

Lim, S. J. (1996, November 30). Places of worship steeped in history. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 10. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1991, July 17). State of the heart. The Straits Times, Life!, pp. 1-3. Retrieved on
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Mosque brings memories of Malacca. (1981, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Mosque with a woman's name. (2002, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Sights and smells of Kampong Glam. (1987, May 12). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

The Leaning Tower of Singapore. (1996, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved on August 18, 2010, from NewspaperSG.

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Singapore: Then and now (p. 269). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapores 100 historic places (p. 30). Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)

Further readings
Hajjah Fatimah Mosque. (2010). Retrieved November 4, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website: http://www.pmb.sg/

Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore (pp. 93-97). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)

Singapore Preservation of Monuments Board. (1972-1973). Report. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 15.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 PMBSR)

Wan, M. H. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 182-183). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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