The Sultan Mosque is located at 3 Muscat Street, where it is the focal point of the historic Kampong Glam area. Also known as Masjid Sultan, it was named for Sultan Hussein Shah.1 The mosque was first built in 1824.2 However the original structure was demolished about a century later to make way for the current building, which was completed in 1932.3 The mosque holds great significance for the Muslim community and is considered the national mosque of Singapore. It was designated a national monument in 1975.4
In 1819, Sultan Hussein signed an agreement with Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company allowing the British to establish a trading post on the island. Hussein then requested for a mosque to be built near his istana (Malay for “palace”) in Kampong Glam. Raffles agreed and contributed $3,000 to the construction of the mosque. Completed in 1826, the original mosque was a single-storey building with a double-tiered roof.5
In 1879, the mosque received gifts of land from Tunku Alam Sultan Alauddin Alam Shah, Sultan Hussein’s grandson, and Tunku Aleem, an unknown benefactor. Tunku Alam appointed a five-man committee to look after the mosque; this was later replaced by a board of 12 trustees in 1914.6
By 1924, the almost-century old mosque was in need of repairs. The trustees proposed the construction of a new and larger mosque at an estimated cost of $200,000.7 The new mosque was built in phases, partly due to a lack of funds (fundraising was ongoing during construction) and partly to avoid disrupting worshippers.8 During the mosque’s construction, North Bridge Road was extended beyond Arab Street and had to bend around the mosque.9 The mosque was formally opened on 27 December 1929, though the building was two-thirds completed at the time.10 It was eventually completed in 1932.11
In 1968, repairs to the mosque were undertaken, including painting and the installation of new floor tiles. The renovation took place in phases, as and when funds were available. The renovations amounted to S$145,000, almost S$108,000 of which was raised through donations from the Muslim community and about S$37,000 donated by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.12
Due to its historical and cultural significance, the mosque was gazetted as a national monument on 8 March 1975.13
In 1987, an extension to the mosque was built. Donations for the project included S$53,000 from the World Muslim League in Saudi Arabia.14 Designed in a style similar to the main mosque, the S$4.2 million annexe was officially opened by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 10 July 1993.15
In August 2014, the mosque underwent a major facelift under the Mosque Upgrading Programme led by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, or MUIS). The restoration works included restoring broken doors and windows to their original design and colour; rewiring; retiling; and replacing appliances such as fans and chandeliers. The new and expanded amenities include elderly friendly facilities such as lifts and an auditorium that can accommodate 390 people. The restoration and upgrading cost an estimated S$3.65 million. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled a plaque on 16 January 2016 to mark its completion.16
Standing on a site of 4,109 sq m, the mosque is oriented in the direction of Mecca instead of being aligned with the urban planning grid. The compound is enclosed by a boundary wall of cast-iron railings. Designed by Denis Santry of Swan & Maclaren, the architecture of the mosque is influenced by the Indo-Saracenic style.17
The most striking features of the mosque are its two gold onion domes above the east and west facades, each topped by a crescent moon and star.18 The base of each dome is adorned with glass bottle ends that the sultan collected as donations from poor Muslims. He wanted all Muslims, not just wealthy ones, to contribute to the building of the mosque.19 The roof parapet is edged with merlon cresting. At each corner of the mosque are minarets with staircases leading up to calling towers with balconies.20
The west facade of the mosque facing North Bridge Road is also the entrance to the mausoleum of Tunku Alam, who died in 1891 and whose remains lie in an honoured position beneath the dome. Two eight-storey minarets flank the east facade, where four Doric columns support the entrance foyer.21
Within the mosque, the rectangular prayer hall is defined by 12 octagonal columns. Two storeys high and large enough to hold 5,000 worshippers, the central atrium of the hall is enclosed by a second-storey gallery. The mihrab, or pulpit, is framed by a lancet arch with gold-plated floral motifs, topped with a panel of calligraphy.22
Separated from the mosque by a courtyard and an old bunga tanjung tree is the comparatively modern annexe. While its façade was designed to be similar to that of the main mosque, its interior houses more modern amenities. The building has a 425-seat auditorium equipped with simultaneous translation facilities, a 200-seat conference room and two multipurpose halls.23
Events and activities
Some events of historical interest have taken place at the mosque. In January 1937, the Malay Regiment, led by Malay officers for the first time, made its first public appearance in a march from Victoria Theatre at Empress Place to Sultan Mosque to attend prayers. The march-past was observed by the sultans of Perak and Trengganu and Governor Shenton Thomas.24
In 1950, due to its location in Kampong Glam, the mosque found itself at the centre of racial riots sparked by the Maria Hertogh case.25 Rioters hid in the mosque and were later dispersed by Muslim police officers who entered the mosque with the permission of the Chief Kathi (Kadhi).26
Over the years, the mosque has been an important focal point for religious, cultural and social activities. During Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, a popular night market with numerous food stalls springs up in the vicinity of the mosque, where Muslims gather to await the prayer call to break their fast at sunset.27
The mosque is also involved in charity work such as food distribution and blood donation drives, and conducts social outreach programmes such as providing opportunities for Indonesian domestic workers to study the Quran and learn English.28 The mosque also organises seminars and talks, and hosts visiting dignitaries and religious scholars.29 It welcomes a stream of tourists, many of whom are non-Muslim. To communicate more effectively with non-English speaking visitors, some staff members have, for instance, taken up the Japanese language.30
Joanna HS Tan
1. “Matters of Muslim Interest – Kampong Glam Mosque,” Singapore Free Press, 7 July 1932, 7; “Sultan Mosque Repairs,” Straits Times, 22 June 1948, 8. (From NewspaperSG); Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2002), 94. (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE); “Visitor Information,” Sultan Mosque, n.d.
2. “New Larger Sultan Mosque will Be Focal Point in Kampong Glam: PM,” Straits Times, 11 July 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG); “History,” Sultan Mosque, n.d.; Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1996), 108. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
3. “The Masjid Sultan – Completion of a New Singapore Mosque,” Straits Times, 5 April 1932, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Panel to Raise Funds for Preserving Old Mosques,” Straits Times, 3 January 1998, 37; “A Focal Point for Muslims,” Straits Times, 13 December 1981, 10. (From NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 94; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 108; “A Monument for All,” Straits Times, 12 January 1985, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 94; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 108.
7. “Matters Muslim – Masjid Sultan, Kampong Glam,” Singapore Free Press, 4 November 1926, 11; “Matters of Muslim Interest – Death of M. H. Dawood, “Builder” of Sultan Mosque,” Singapore Free Press, 25 November 1931, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “Matters of Muslim Interest.”
8. “Masjid Sultan”; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 94; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 108.
9. “Monument for all.”
10. “New Sultan Mosque at Kampong Glam,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 30 December 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
11. ‘Masjid Sultan’: Work Completed at Last,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 3; “The Masjid Sultan – Completion of a New Singapore Mosque,” Straits Times, 5 April 1932, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “King Faisal’s Gift to Mosque,” Straits Times, 11 April 1968, 4; “Mosque Repairs Cost $145,000,” Straits Times, 12 April 1968, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Panel to Raise Funds for Preserving Old Mosques”; “Focal Point for Muslims.”
14. “Muslim Group Gives $53,000 to Mosque,” Straits Times, 23 October 1988, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “$4.2 M Annexe for Sultan Mosque,” Straits Times, 8 July 1993, 22 (From NewspaperSG); “New Larger Sultan Mosque will Be Focal Point.”
16. Faris Mokhtar and Liyana Othman, Singapore’s Iconic Sultan Mosque Completes Restoration, Upgrading Works,” Channel NewsAsia, 16 January 2016 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Melody Zaccheus, “Sultan Mosque to Get $4M Facelift,” Straits Times, 9 February 2014, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Focal Point for Muslims”; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 94; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 108, 110.
18. “New Sultan Mosque at Kampong Glam”; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 110.
19. Eliza Teoh, “Let the Poor Contribute Bottles,” Straits Times, 20 March 1997, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “New Sultan Mosque at Kampong Glam”; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 110.
21. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 110.
22. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 110; “$4.2 M Annexe for Sultan Mosque.”
24. “Malay Regiment’s First Public Appearance Here,” Singapore Free Press, 23 January 1937, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Five Dead, 100 Hurt in Riots,” Straits Times, 12 December 1950, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Only Muslim Police Went into Mosque,” Straits Times, 17 December 1950, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “A Place to Break the Fast Together,” Straits Times, 16 October 2004, H3. (From NewspaperSG); Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 94; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 110.
28. Arlina Arshad, “Mosque Extends Helping Hand to Maids,” Straits Times, 11 August 2002, 21; “Muslims Getting Food Gifts from Mosque,” Singapore Free Press, 13 February 1962, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Talk on Islam,” Straits Times, 14 January 1982, 10; “Famous Egyptian Koran Reader to Recite Here,” Singapore Free Press, 28 February 1962, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Rohaniah Saini “Sultan Mosque Staff Learn Japanese to Guide Tourists,” Straits Times, 5 November 1993, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to 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.