Kampung Laut’s Old Mosque, Malaysia: the Evidence that Islam Came to South East Asia through China

Ahmad Sanusi Hassan
School of Housing, Building and Planning
Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: 60-4-653-2835; E-mail: sanusi.usm@gmail.com

Introduction

The existence of Kampung Laut’s Old Mosque as the oldest mosque in Malaysia becomes the evidence that Islam comes to the Malay Archipelagos from east in contrast to most written history text books in Malaysia which note Islam comes to this region from west. The spread of Islam in this region occurred through sea route’s trading activities. The primary trades were along port cities in Sumatra, Java, Malacca, Kelantan, and Pattani. Location of Champa port cities (Indo China) was at the middle route before reaching port cities in China. There were many Islamic Empires established in Indo China, Peninsular Malaysia, Java, and Sumatra.

 

Perspective view of KLOM and its minaret

Source (right): Drawn by M.H. Muhamad Jubri students year 2, semester 2, 2009 architecture studio, School of Housing, Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

This study attempts to prove by analysis of the building roof construction elements of KLOM that the spread of Islam comes much earlier to this region, not from the west but from the east. Ishak (1992, 67) noted that there is a written report during Dynasty Tang (618-905AD) that many messengers from the Abbasid Caliph were sent to China for political and economic relationship. Many Arab Muslims were awarded Chinese citizenship, and there were intermarriage between Arab Muslim and the local women. The Arab merchants also had participated in trades with South East Asian cities which were among important trading routes with China. The religion of Islam spread during the trading activities. In 878 AD, a rebellion however occurred in China by the Chinese people due to their jealousy to the Arab immigrants who were regarded as a noble and respective group (traders) in China because of their success in economy. About 100,000 immigrants were killed who were mostly Arab ethnic background. The tragedy had led the Arab immigrants to migrate to South East Asia and settle in this region.  

Azmi (1980, 144) besides in his study argued that in case of Kelantan is the discovery of ‘dinar’ gold schilling in Kelantan in 1914 AD. There are several Arabic texts inscribed with Arabic number ‘OVV’ which means the date of the schilling, 577 Hijrah equivalents to 1181 AD, much earlier than the existence of Islam in the Kingdom of Malacca, Peninsular Malaysia in 14th century, which becomes the centre of Islamic study in South East Asia. This archaeological discovery becomes the evidence that the population in Kelantan at that time were Muslims.  It also proved that Kelantan was one of the earliest regions located at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in South East Asia that populated by the local Muslims.

Ishak (1992) in his book titled Islam in the Malay World argued that Islam was introduced to the Malay Archipelago from China and Champa. Story tellers from the Chinese Muslims in the Republic of China noted that trades between Arab and Chinese people had established before the birth of Islam. The Arab Muslims had first contact to China when Caliph Othman ibnu Affan sent Saad ibnu Abi Waqqas as a messenger to China and he lived in Canton. Many messengers of the Abbasid Caliph were sent to China during Dynasty Tang (618-907) for political tie and economic relationship (Ishak, 1992). Many Arab Muslims were awarded Chinese citizenship and there were intermarriage between Arab Muslim and the local Chinese women. The Arab merchants also had participated in trade in South East Asian port cities which were located along trading routes with port cities in China. In 878 AD, the Chinese people rebelled due to their jealousy to the Arab immigrants who were regarded as a noble and respective group (traders) in China because of their success in economy. About 100,000 immigrants were killed who were mostly Arab ethnic background. The tragedy had led the Arab immigrants to migrate to South East Asia and relocate their trades in this region.

The location of Kingdom of Champa is at the present day known as Indo China. Champa architecture is grouped under Indo China building styles. The architecture is from Kingdom of Champa. In present time, Indo China consists of several countries which are Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. This region is located at the north of Peninsular Malaysia. The specific location of Champa Kingdom is at the present day South Vietnam and southern part of Cambodia. At that time parts of Indo China (North Vietnam and Laos) were under Kingdom of China ruled by Han Dynasty. Mohd. Akib (2003, 7-8) and Al-Ahmadi (1984, 67) argued Champa Kingdom had played a significant role in spreading Islam and having economic activities in Kelantan and Pattani in 16th century. Construction elements from Indo China were also introduced to many regions in the Malay Archipelagos along the trading routes to the Kingdom of Champa. The influence of Champa architecture can be traced at the traditional mosque architecture in several Malay Kingdoms such as Majapahit, Demak and Malacca. According to Wikipedia (2008), role of Champa people in spreading Islam to the Malay Kingdoms of Srivijaya, Majapahit, Demak, Malacca and Johore-Riau were significant through sea route’s trades and cultural relations. The date of construction of KLOM is about slightly later than the date of construction of the other two oldest mosques in South East Asia which are Kudus Mosque at Demak in Java and Kuno Mosque in Champa, Indo China. This means that these three mosques can be grouped as among the earliest surviving mosques built at the same period in South East Asia. They have similarities in their roof construction style.

Kampung Laut’s Old Mosque (Fig. 1) is the oldest mosque which is still intact today in Malaysia. It is also the oldest timber building in this country. From the folk story by the local villagers (Al-Ahmadi, 1990)  tells that this mosque was built by Muslim missionaries who were at the same generation to Wali Songo, known in Indonesia as the most popular nine local pious missionaries who had spread Islam in this region. These missionaries were from Kingdom of Demak, Java. They built KLOM while stopping at Kelantan on the way sailing to Kingdom of Champa in Indo China. At that time, Kingdom of Champa and Demak had a closed tie. Trading activities between these two nations and other port cities along its routes were grown rapidly. Muslim missionaries from Kingdoms of Champa and Demak also played their important role in spreading knowledge of Islam and teaching Islamic education at these port cities. Kingdom of Champa had played a crucial role in spreading Islam to Kelantan and Pattani in the 16th century  (Al-Ahmadi, 1984 & Newman and Sproull, 1979) as well as to other regions in South East Asia. The record from Indonesia describes the role of Champa Princess, Princess Darawati who influenced her husband, King Kertawijaya of Majapahit converted to Islam and the same role from Champa Kingdom was to Malacca when its king, Parameswara converted to Islam. The evidence is the discovery of tombstone belongs to Champa Princess in Trowulan, the archeological site used to be a capital city of Majapahit Kingdom, Java. This argument is supported by Emanuel Codinho de Eridia, the Portuguese who wrote in a report in 1613 that Islam was spread to Malacca from the east coast, Pattani and ‘Pang’. Many historians argue to the place referred to the word ‘Pang’ to two different places in this region which are ‘Pahang’ in Peninsular Malaysia and ‘Phan Rang’ in Champa, Indo China (Al-Ahmadi, 1990).

The influence of Chinese architecture can be traced at the traditional mosque architecture in the Malay Kingdoms such as Majapahit, Demak and Malacca. In case of KLOM, its date of construction is about slightly later than the date of construction of the other two oldest mosques in South East Asia which are Kudus Mosque in Java and Kuno Mosque in Indo China. This means that these three mosques can be grouped as among the earliest surviving mosques built at the same period in South East Asia. They have similarities in construction styles from Kingdom of Champa in the 16th century (Ambary, 2002). The style also has Nusantara influence, a mixture of Chinese and Malay architecture. KLOM today becomes a living gallery, still used as a mosque, a place for worships by the Muslims for Friday Khutbah (sermon) and congregational prayers. The definition of mosque is a place for prayers (Kuban, 1974). In Arabic language, the word ‘mosque’ is pronounced as ‘Masjid’. It means ‘Sujud’ (an act of prostration) and ‘Sejadah’ (prayer mat) (Nasir, 1984). In other words, it is an act of prostration on a prayer mat by a Muslim when he/she performing a prayer. Performing five times prayers a day is one of the five pillars in Islam (Antoniou, 1981) as stated in the holy book of Al-Quran.

KLOM today still functions as a mosque (a living gallery) for Friday khutbah (sermon) and congregational prayers. Like other mosques, KLOM is a place for worships by the Muslims. Kuban (1974) noted that mosques are defined as a place for prayers. The word ‘mosque’ in Arabic language is ‘masjid’ which means ‘sujud’ (prostration) and ‘sejadah’ (prayer mat) (Nasir, 1984). The combination of these two words means an act of prostration by a person on a prayer mat. It is due to an obligatory to all Muslims (Antoniou, 1981) to perform five times congregation prayers a day as stated in the holy book of Al-Quran. According to Nasir (1984), the mosques were also used as a discussion and conference centre in governing the nation during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The location of this mosque is at Nilam Puri about 15 km from Kota Bharu, the state capital of Kelantan. The original location of KLOM is at Kampung Laut. It is where the name of the mosque was derived from. According to Mohd. Akib (2003), the relocation of KLOM was restored after the 1966-67’s great flood occurred in Kelantan as well as other parts of Malaysia. During the opening ceremony of this restoration, Hamdan Sheikh Tahir, the chairman of Malaysian Historical Association had noted that the flood had risen to the roof level of KLOM. When the flood shrunk, the riverbank closed to the mosque had collapsed and damaged the pedestrian walkways. The floor and building structure had slanted, and it was dangerous for the local villagers to continue using KLOM for religious activities. This timber mosque was then disassembled by the State Government of Kelantan, and restored to a new site, Nilam Puri a distance away from Kelantan river to avoid from flood. The restoration was completed in 1970. The distance between Nilam Puri and Kampung Laut is about 18 km.

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