Concept Of Prostration In The Traditional Malay Mosque Design

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


The first key word in this study is ‘sustainable elements’. In this study, sustainable elements mean integration of design elements which reflect to the regional climatic context influenced by religious, social and technological factors as noted in the Brundtland report, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (MacDonald, 1998). This research study is to test an argument from the research assumption that warm temperature, relatively high humidity, heavy rainfall, prevailing winds (Atmaca, Kaynakli & Yigit 2007) and tropical day lighting become the indicators which influence to the obedience symbol of sustainable elements constructed in the traditional Malay mosque design. These values have indirectly formed concept of prostration in the mosque design which portrays the Islamic and regional identity.

Mosques are one type of the buildings which symbolise Islamic architecture (Zaki 1995, 15). The word ‘mosque’ is derived from French language which means ‘mosque’e’. The origin of this word is from Spanish language, mezquita’. In Arabic language, this word is known as ‘masjid’ coming from the word ‘sajd’ (Gazalba 1975, 108), 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. This act of prostration is necessary when a Muslim is performing prayers. In architecture terminology, the word ‘mosque’ refers to a building used for the prayer activities. The existence of mosque is very important for the Muslims’ devotion to Allah as argued by Selamat (2002, 187) because without the mosque existence, the Muslims are leading to neglect the congregational prayer (solah). The mosque design therefore should portray symbol of prostration, which reflects to the meaning of ‘masjid’.


The other key words are ‘traditional’ and ‘Malay’. The word’s ‘traditional’ is an adjective word which refers to the meaning of customary, long-established or habitual, and ‘Malay’ is an adjective word of the specific ethnic background who live in Peninsular Malaysia and Malay archipelagos in South East Asia where the majority is Muslims. The traditional mosque design in Malacca has historical values of Islam and its development in Malacca. In 14th century, Malacca reached its glory as a great kingdom in this region. The kingdom had played an important role as the centre of Islamic study (Che Mat, 2010) as well as trades, politics and architecture. Its empire covers Peninsular Malaysia, and parts of Java and Sumatra. The kingdom became the trading centre and controlled the trading routes at the Straits of Malacca, South China Sea and Straits of Sunda.


The surviving traditional Malay mosques in Malacca today as argued by Mohamad Rasdi (2000, 106) illustrates the architecture of the Malay world with its uniqueness in its construction age of technology and climatic approach to integrate with the space function and elements of the mosque architecture.  The space function and elements are very important in the mosque design. Their main reference is originated from the Prophet Mosque (Omer 2004; Syed Ariffin 2005) known today as Nabawi Mosque in Madinah, which has the space function and elements as follows:


a)    Building orientation to qiblat direction

b)    Entrance gate

c)    Ablution (wuduk) area

d)    Veranda area (serambi)

e)    Prayer hall

f)     Niche area (mihrab)

g)    Sermon podium (mimbar)

h)    Main roof design

i)      Minaret


Concept of Prostration based on Islamic Perspectives

Concept of prostration (key word) in relation to the surrounding environment becomes fundamental considerations in Islamic architecture. In Islam, there are many verses in Al-Quran and Hadith mentioned about Allah (God), His created universe and environment. Concept of prostration is an expression to an act of devotion to Allah, the creator of the nature and universe. Stated in Surah Al-Nahl (a translation of verse 23)[1], saying that Allah dislikes whoever filled with pride. Therefore, an act of devotion to Allah becomes a primary subject in Islamic architecture. An act of devotion means an act of obedience to Allah. In architecture, the measurable factors of the building design therefore should be symbolised by concept of prostration to His creations, which reflect to ‘how the mosque is designed’ in relation to the existing surrounding environment.


Islamic architecture co-relates to an expression with an act of devotion in the mosque design. An expression of its physical form and space should reflect to the surrounding environment as its prostration values. Utaberta (2003) argued that without this expression, the building design does not fully able to deliver its sustainable devoted linkage, and it instead shows either an act of arrogance and pride, or ignorance to the God’s creation. The focus in this study is a physical and spiritual approach of sustainability related to an act of devotion to Allah, the creator of the nature and universe (Hassan 2004). The basis of architecture in Islamic point of views should comprise its concept of prostration, a design integrated with the natural surrounding environment as a symbol of devotion to the God’s existence (Mohamad Rasdi 2005, 19). Mohamad Rasdi (1998) in his journal has questioned the style of mosque architecture, which is important to describe Muslim architecture rather than Islamic architecture because the former can be the latter but not necessarily vice versa.

The issue in modern mosque design nowadays is that it connotes misleading appreciation of architectural beauty. The design portrays self-pride and arrogance over the contextual environment. It ignores the importance to the concept of prostration. The translation from Surah Al-A’raaf (verse 31)[2] is that “Allah dislikes people who cross the limits”. Integration of beauty and aesthetics in the building design from the surrounding context is therefore essential which can enhance the act of prostration and generate the growth of faith (Iman)[3] to the believers. Architecture is a combination of art and science, and art in Islam as noted by Idris (2009) is scientific connection of man-made design to the existing nature and living things.[4] Art in Islam refers to an expression, which shows a connection between human and God with reference to the natural surroundings and living things. A translation from Al-Hadith by Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood[5] quoted that Allah is beautiful and likes beauty.

4. Concept of Prostration to the Surrounding Environment 

Understanding geographical condition is important to identify a design, which is able to portray the concept of prostration. It provides an indicator to the designer to design a mosque with an expression related to the concept of prostration. The study on climatic approach in architecture currently becomes popular topics (Lin, Tan, Wang, Song, Zhu & Zhai 2004) among the researchers, academicians and architects to enhance comfort and healthy level to the building occupants. In addition to comfort and health factors, this study is also an important reference in Islamic perspective to design mosques and buildings, which are able to portray an act of prostration to Allah. The design should be conducive, harmonious and habitable which remind to the Muslims about the Greatness of Allah, and the goals in their livelihood. In Islam, the message of modesty in architecture is the first goal to be achieved as argued by Mohamad Rasdi (2001, Utusan Malaysia 02 April) which illustrates the building design adaptation to the existing place and its natural surroundings. The geographical condition therefore provides important indicators to the building design to relate its prostration concept influenced by the surrounding environment such as temperature, humidity, rainfall, natural air flow and sunlight.


The geographical condition in this region becomes a reference for the traditional Malay mosque design. It provides information how to portray an expression to the concept of prostration to the mosque design. One of the indicators is that the design should be adaptive to the regional warm temperature. The temperature ranges from 25oC at night to 38oC in the evening. Due to the warm temperature, sun shading and day lighting become important factors in the building design. In addition, the building design needs to comply with the constraint of humidity factor. This region has high humidity level because it has high annual rainfall (an average of 2500mm) and is surrounded by sea (with an average distance of less than 200 kilometres from the sea and a quarter of the region is land while the rest is ocean) (Robequain 1954). The wind direction is southwards (southwest monsoon) in January but gradually changes its direction to northwards (northeast monsoon) in July (Robequain 1954). Excessively high annual rainfall accelerates evaporation, which causes humidity. The vapour content has only a slight difference between day and night as well as throughout the year. The water vapour is normally from 19 to 24 grams per cubic metre which is twice that of England during the summer (Fisher 1964). The average humidity level is above 60%. All areas experience about the same duration of day and night, and have similar annual climatic patterns and seasonal weather (Fisher 1964). The sun path is at about an angle of 90o degree during the daytime from east to west direction. As a result, sun shading, air ventilation and rainwater discharge system become important design factors for an expression of prostration concept integrated to the mosque design.



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[1] Surah Al-Nahl  (verse 23), Al-Quran Al-Karim

[2] Surah Al-A’raaf (verse 31) from Al-Quran Al-Karim

[3]  Based on Chapter 8 – Art In Islam in Subject Tassawur  Islam (UDI3052) of IKIP College and Open University Malaysia  by lecturer Khazali Idris from source

*Fitrah means the basic human creation in terms of needs and capabilities.

[4] Based on Chapter 8 – Art In Islam in Subject Tassawur  Islam (UDI3052) of IKIP College and Open University Malaysia  by lecturer Khazali Idris from source

[5] Al-Hadith narrated by Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood.

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