04.02.2015 - 04.02.2015
We walked toward the National Mosque and the Islamic Arts and Culture Museum. The museum, which we didn't know much about before visiting, had an impressive collection of intricate dioramas of mosques from around the world, including the Middle East, India, Malaysia and China. The architecture gallery was likely my favourite. The beauty of the mosques had me wishing I could visit many of the countries some day, once many conflicts were resolved. Mosque architecture was designed to display humility and simplicity.
According the museum description, the towers were built so that one could call to prayer and be heard. Most had domes that we now associate with mosques, designed for ideal acoustics, and others had courtyards. The first mosque built as an annex to his house by the Prophet in Medina was a model for mosques to follow. Mosques featured a sheltered portico courtyard used for congregational prayer, a minbar: raised steps where the khatib addressed the congregation, a minaret from which the mu'azin called for prayer, a qibla a wall accented by a Mihrab or niche which faces the Kaaba in Mecca and finally the dome to provide shelter and encourage spiritual unity. Later on the Dikka, a platform raised on columns, Kursi, a raised chair with a book fold for the Quran and the Maidha'h, the water source for the traditional ablution before prayer.
Along with the architecture was the Ottoman Room, a reconstructed interior of an Ottoman Syrian room dated 1820 - 1821 AD that was impressive as well. It had beautiful painted wood paneling and few windows.
The museum itself was beautiful with spectacular domes ceilings. The tiles inside were from Iran while the outer stucco was from Uzbekistan.
The museum also had a collection of beautifully scribed and illustrated Qurans and manuscripts. Authors and illustrators went to school for years to qualify to be part of the process. Calligraphy was highly respected in society and leaders also liked to show off their prowess. There were fragments of the Quran that dated date back to the 8th century from either North Africa or the Middle East. The museum collection featured Qurans from different centuries and different countries. Those from India, Persia and the Ottoman empires were far more embellished than those from the Middle East.
There were also collections of Islamic articles and items from the three main cultural groups in Malaysia: Chinese, Indian and Malay. Islam was prevalent in Northern India. Many Indian items were from the Mughal era (1526-1828) when many items were embellished and there was much attention to beauty and extravagance.
In China, Muslim emissaries arrived during the Tang (618-709) dynasty, but the exact date Islam arrived is unknown. It is thought to have come either through the trade route from Southeast Asia or across the Silk Road trading route.. Trade cities like Xi-an and Guangdong welcomed Islam and it later spread to China's western provinces. By the Song dynasty (960-1279), mosques were built throughout China. Muslims had unprecedented political influence during the Ming era (1368-1644). They also produced a number of goods with calligraphy and Islamic text for export. Items like ceramic pen boxes, alien to the Chinese market, were created for export too. There were even ceramic hookahs. Today there are ten ethnic Chinese Muslim minorities, most of who live in the Northwest. Hui Muslims are spread throughout the country.
The Malay World, encompassing much of Southeast Asia from Southern Thailand to Indonesia and stretching east as far as the Southern Philippines, were influenced by nature. Plant, cloud and fruit often showed up in the work either concretely or abstractly. Qurans were also made in the Malay world. People were well known for their woodworking and metalworking skills, beautifying Quaran boxes, prayer screens, and weapons (which even included ladies daggers).
We had hardly explored the second floor which featured ceramics, jewelry, weapons and textiles among other displays, when the lights turned off to let us know that the museum was closing. We still got to marvel at the impressive paintings inside the dome ceilings and see a nice fountain. An interesting aspect of the museum was seeing how far and long Chinese influence as a trader, distributor and producer has spread. Some of the mosques included lotus flowers to show China's influence in the ceramics.
Even though we hadn't had enough time to finish the Islamic Arts museum, we thought let's cram in one more visit to the National Mosque. When I was in Malaysia in 2012, Justine and I went to visit it together and it was time to return. There were still thirty minutes left before tourists would be kicked out so it could be used for its intended purpose of prayer. We had to put on purple robes so we'd be able to explore. I believe Ryan's shorts were the reason he had to wear one as well. I also got to wear an orange hijab. After going up the stairs, the open halls had wonderful view of the city including its famous KL tower.
The mosque was built in 1965 to celebrate the country's recent independence. It was quite large and could hold up to 15,000 people. There was a turquoise star dome with eighteen points representing the thirteen states of Malaysia and the five pillars of Islam. A 74 metre minaret that broadcast the call to prayer as far as Chinatown. That was one of the first aspects that had struck me about being in a Muslim country, hearing the call the prayer several times a day.
We ventured over the prayer room, which wasn't open to non-Muslims to enter, but the doors were open wide enough that you could still look in from afar. Volunteers from Islamic Outreach stood outside to chat with us and answer any questions that we had about Islam. It was always refreshing to see someone with so much passion and confidence in their beliefs. He walked us through the five daily prayers facing Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), the cleansing ritual of ablution before prayer, how woman are respected and valued in Islam and how extremists do not represent their faith. They valued human rights and equality. I still have a bit of struggle with the fact that woman should not promote or distract others with their sexuality while men were not subject to equal treatment, but I appreciated hearing his honest views. I'd imagine it would be hard to see your religion blamed and bashed in the news constantly. It would also be hard to see how the same book that supports your beliefs is also blamed for extremist actions like the recent burning of the Jordanian pilot.
For supper, we found an Indian restaurant with vegetarian food near KL Sentral. I ordered butter vegetable masala curry and a samosa. Ryan went for a potato dosa and roti. We swapped a few pieces of our monster meals. It was really good, though the curry was on the spicier side.
After that, we took the rapid KL line and monorail to get near the KL tower. No matter the hour, the streets of KL were quite lively. The telecommunications tower stood at 421 metres with an antenna, 335 metres if you were measuring to the top of the observation deck. At the tower, we waited for the shuttle to the base until time convinced us that it would be faster to walk to the entrance.
At the ticket office they tried to talk us into the upper deck, which cost twice the price, but we were fine looking out through the glass of the lower level. The elevator ride up was fairly quick. Kuala Lumpur was lit up brightly at night. From the top, we could see the Petronas Towers, though the view wasn't as perfect as we'd anticipated. We checked out what was happening on ground level and at the towers with the binoculars. In the end, it probably wasn't worth the cash to go up there, but we could say that we'd done it. Watching videos of people base jumping from the tower was pretty cool.
We walked over to the Petronas Towers afterward, passing plenty of bars and restaurants. The towers were busy as usual with every group or couple waiting to get their pictures. We got ours quickly, admired the bright silvery towers and did some people watching, always fun when pictures were involved. The towers stood at 452 meters high, taller than KL tower and certainly more beautiful. There was a sky bridge between the 41st and 42nd floors that connected the two towers and tourists could visit an observation deck at the top for quite a price, if the tickets weren't sold out, which was why we'd chosen KL Tower. Plus I imagined looking at the exterior was more interesting. The towers' floor plan was designed keeping the Islamic eight point star in mind and the five sections of each tower represented the five pillars of Islam.
After a walk back to the hostel, we discovered half of our clothes had gone missing, mainly Ryan's half. Perhaps doing laundry here wouldn't be as much of a bargain as we thought.