Category Archives: Observations

Islamic art I stumble upon in real life

Observation – Kota Kinabalu City Mosque Part 2

As a continuation from a post that I had written on the end of last April, we will discover more about this delightful city mosque. This time we are going to get inside the mosque and discover the Islamic art and architecture featured.

Approaching the mosque from the main entrance to the east, through five tall arches, we enter the courtyard of the mosque, where you can go to administrative offices of the mosque. Also, this is where artists displaying and selling their Islamic artwork. conveniently, there is an ATM installed just outside of the entrance of the courtyard on the left. We (me and my family) were rather shocked and confused to find this machine to actually be on the site of a mosque, as if it has turned into a mini shopping mall of some sort, especially considering the bazaar building outside next to the parking lots. It is almost like the mosque authorities are actually monetizing a religious place. This instance, of course, never happened in our country. In our confusion, we did not take any pictures in this area. However, I found a picture from Wikipedia, showing the tall arches as well as the ATM itself, partially hidden by a car and a pillar just left to the entrance.


Past the tiled, open courtyard bathed in blue due to the translucent roofing above, we step into the carpeted outer prayer hall, bathed in natural light, muted by yet another translucent roofing, designed with a large eight pointed star motif. The whole roof is supported by steel beams, that also holds drop down. Fans hung low from the ceiling, whirring slowly above our heads, though it provides little comfort from the harsh afternoon heat permeating the mosque.  The prayer hall is surrounded by the Mashrabia windows, with the repeating patterns of eight pointed stars that can be seen from outside the mosque.


The outer prayer hall is covered with carpeting that featured ten pointed stars, surrounded with five pointed stars. The carpet is in beige, grey and green. The mosque is already thirteen years old so perhaps the carpet looks dull and worn. This carpeting covered all the outer prayer hall right to the edges.


Inside the main prayer hall it was another different style. The floors are covered with tile instead of the carpeting used on the outer prayer hall. The colour scheme of the hall is white and gold, with hints of soft, pastel blues, greens, creams and earthy colours. As the exterior of the mosque have influences from the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah in Saudi Arabia, so does the interior.  The main, obvious influences taken from the Prophet’s Mosque is the two panels on the either side of the Mihrab. The panels’ design are actually based on the doors of the Prophet’s Mosque. Also, the Mihrab itself is based on the Mihrab of the Mosque in Madinah.


Above the Mihrab there was a triptych of stained glass windows featuring the same eight-pointed star patterns. With soft light shining through, it elegantly illuminates the rather dark areas below the main dome.


The main dome, which is beautifully decorated in blue on the outside, is also decorated ornately. The design, which features a geometric star design that blooms all over the dome, recalls of a blooming sunflower. The design recalls of the dome of Lotfallah mosque in Isfahan, Iran albeit less decorated. The all over design features calming colours of sky blue, mint green and cream accentuated with gold that reflects the scheme of the main prayer hall.

should you have the chance to visit Kota Kinabalu, don’t forget to pay a visit to this Islamic architectural jewel set to a breathtaking backdrop of the mountains and the sea.


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Observation – Kota Kinabalu City Mosque Part 1

Some of you might remember the post regarding the time when I went to Kota Kinabalu with my family for my  Semester Exam. When i finished the exam, we had a few days to tour the city I last visited several years before.

When i visited the city around the mid 2000s, we only went around the city centre; we have no idea about the surroundings except for the immediate areas we stayed in . Nowadays, plenty had changed, and for one, beautiful change is the mosque that was built to commemorate the proclaimation of Kota Kinabalu into a city.


The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is the second main mosque in Kota Kinabalu after the Sabah State Mosque, in the city centre. It was officially opened to the public  on 2 February 2000 to mark the commemoration of Kota Kinabalu as a city status. Back then, we obviously did not know the mosque exists, since it was situated a little farther into the city’s suburbs, almost approaching Mount Kinabalu.


The mosque general profile should be familiar to any Muslims – the building is based on the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina of Saudi Arabia. The mosque is surrounded by a vast lagoon, reminding me of our own Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Brunei.


The mosque grounds are covered with verdant gardens of tropical trees and palms. In front of the mosque, just outside the main entrance stood a building which holds a kind of bazaar that sells Muslim wear, food and drinks and the like. Apparently the mosque is a tourist attraction – there were literally busloads of tourists coming at the carparks, but did not enter the mosque itself. The bazaar served as retail theraphy to these travellers.

The pathways leading to the mosque winds through the lagoon. At first we thought that the entrance was under the main dome, turns out it was just a pathway to the mosque grounds. The only entrance that was open that particular time was the main gate in front of the bazaars. We had to detour around the mosque, taking in the scenery meanwhile.

There were plenty of Islamic visual art to be seen here. The minarets is of the octagonal type, with three tiers ending with an azure dome. At first glance, one might mistaken the underneaths of the tiers of the minarets to be Muqarnas, however on close inspection, it was nothing but painted on to resemble the hanging stalactites of Islamic architecture, aided visually with addition of square blocks.17082013638.

Very much of niches, arches, doorways and windows were decorated with Mashrabias of concrete, utilizing the eight pointed star on a grid of squares. However, the whole composition looks disjointed, as the pattern replaces octagonal shapes with eight pointed star, which makes the lines a little thicker around it.

On the next installment of this articles, we will look into this impressive mosque interior


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Observations – Masjid Universiti Sabah Malaysia

You might have recalled I had to travel to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia for my final exams….and already in a months and a few days time I will be sitting for yet another final exam! How time flies by, especially considering the menace of work and studies and assignments keep weighing me down, sometimes it makes you wish there is more than 24 hours in a day…

Anyway, since I am attending an online Islamic university, so naturally the exams had to be held at a local (well, local as in on the same island as my country, anyways) Islamic university. Therefore, as an Islamic University, an on campus mosque is a standard, and there is where I had my exams.


The mosque is aptly called Masjid Universiti Sabah Malaysia, and it is situated on top of a hill overlooking the whole campus.  The mosque style is a good example of a Post Modern Revivalist mosque . It does not conform to the traditional mosque floor plan (we actually got lost trying to access the main prayer hall, where the Islamic Studies department were) but traditional Islamic ornamentation and architectural designs were very much used – the hallmark of Post Modern Revivalism.

16082013618the whole building is in a pinkish hue, giving it the look of adobe clad building. The window grilles or Mashrabias in the traditional Islamic art vocabulary, is made of concrete, and favours the repetition of the ten pointed stars. This minaret have tall windows with ten pointed concrete stars lining down the building…

16082013617…as well as the rest of the main building. This large arch, which sits atop the mosque’s foyer staircase leading up to the main prayer hall, is decorated with a grill of ten pointed stars, again, in concrete. The Masrabia is strategically placed that the play of light and shadow in this area, coupled with the view of the whole campus and subsequently the city of Kota Kinabalu is simply brilliant.


The main prayer hall is very large and tall – it can perhaps hold a few thousand devotees at one time. The hall is three stories tall, some gives access to the several different departments of the university. The Mihrab wall is decorated with what looks like a wooden decorated facade or a concrete carvings painted brown.  Again, the light play of this hall is magnificent and the natural light flowing into the mosque draws the eyes towards the sky and gives the lofty hall an even taller impression. There are gigantic calligraphy installed under the cornice of the dome on the mihrab wall. I couldnt read it because it was too dark, and the calligraphy looks like it was burnt on big pieces of even darker wood.


The Mihrab of the mosque is unique. as you can see from the picture there is a floor fan in front of it, so you can actually imagine how tall it was – the marble dado is not as tall as your normal chair-rail dado. The Mihrab is framed with a peculiar design of eight pointed stars (I smell a Deconstruction post!) and an arch of diamond pattern design. There are seven eight-pointed stars made from glass set into the curved wall of the Mihrab. Under the sunlight, the stars glows blue, giving it an ethereal light in the generally dark hall.


Turning back to exit the hall, These delicate Mashrabia of wood and glass greets you.  The natural light from the outside creates a fantastic shadow for these doors, and the polished floors give it double impressions. The Mashrabias favours the slightly modified eight pointed stars features on the Mihrab.


A closeup of the gates shows the same blue glass panels similar to the ones set into the Mihrab

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Observation – Taman Jubli Perak Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah

I often find myself rushing from one place and another for my jobs and study and between these rush I would stop in one of the parks available in my town, Bandar Seri Begawan. The Bandar had plenty of green spaces, most of which are quite permeated with Islamic designs, especially with recent additions. There are much emphasis on Islamic design, playing along with Malay motifs, in buildings, public spaces and even recreational parks.

I find myself alone in the middle of the night, after one of my nightly study sessions, rushing to my work place only to realize that I am a few hours too early. Too lazy and tired to go back home, I went to a convenience store to buy some snacks and went to a park in the city center, close to where I work.


The official name of the park is Taman Jubli Perak Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah or in English, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Silver Jubilee Park. It opened to the public during the celebration of the Sultan’s birthday, 15th July in the year 2005. It is a fairly large park with amenities such as children’s playground, gazebos and an exercise yard equipped with simple gym equipments such as pull up bars and stationary bikes (which, unfortunately, many fell into a state of disrepair or succumbed to  attack of vandals). The park itself lies near a river bank, which one can walk alongside. It used to be some sort of jetty for the residents in the Water Village going to the city center. However, I rarely see boats coming here anymore, although many Bruneians come here in the late afternoon for their daily jog.


In the middle of the park features a large water fountain sitting on top of a terraced platform. The fountain supposed to symbolically represent the Sultan, with the flowing water supposed to mean his overflowing kindness to his subjects . Whoa.


Anyway, as I said before, there are plenty of what I like to think as ‘tributes’ to Islam, represented in the form of Islamic geometric art and architecture. For one, the main water fountain in the center of the park features Islamic arches with spiral columns, which is very similar to ones found in the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the state mosque of the country. The gazebos dotting the park are hexagonal , with similarly fashioned columns and arches.


But perhaps the most interesting are the walkways. At the entrance of the park (Actually, there are no entrance in the traditional sense, but the nearest to the basic amenities and offices, one can enter the park from almost any direction) there is a curious circular mound that features a large circular 12-point star. From there going to the main fountain, the walkway is decorated with a pattern of 12-pointed star with squares between them, featuring a stylized form of the 8-pointed star. I reckon the designer of the park did some modifications from a traditional pattern so it can be utilized for a walkway. Should the pattern be repeated or tessellated, it would be very imperfect, since the squares and the 8-pointed stars doesn’t actually fit correctly.


Even the sidewalks are not spared! Though it is done in a simple, paint-on-concrete method, the sidewalks features the ubiquitous 8-pointed stars, in its regular form.

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Observations – Masjid Ash-Saliheen

I am not really sure about the actual Romanization of the mosque’s name, but in Arabic it is مسجد الصالحين

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I went out for a little short excursion around the city. I always wanted to come to this mosque, because I knew that it was decorated with Moroccan or Andalusian theme which means…Zellige!

A bit of history of the mosque first – The mosque first open in July 2012. It was built in an area of 2,100 square meters, near government offices complex in the capital. It is much smaller than other grander mosques in Brunei but when it lacks in size it makes up in the decoration. it was built in the Moroccan and Andalusian style with decorations flown in specially from Morocco. when it was officiated, the presses claimed that the mosque was ‘a sight to behold’


A sight to behold indeed, it was. At the gate, you can clearly see the petite mosque across the green fields. The road leading to it is decorated with wrought iron lamps stylized with filigrees similar to Moroccan ones. As you can see here, it has two tall minarets, flanking the main prayer hall, with an azure dome in the middle.The whole building were made to look like it is constructed out of adobe, however it is not, considering Brunei is a tropical country and rain is in abundance, if it is constructed out of adobe it might wash away the building. Instead it is made of modern concrete.


This is the view of the southern minaret, seen from the parking space. The minaret looks more Turkish with its conical roof and sided body, which is different from the main building style. If it follows the Moroccan/Andalusian style it would be a tall, square structure with a small, shorter balcony tower on top. Also, there would be only one minaret.


Inside is a real life oasis. In the middle of the courtyard stands a marble fountain with authentic Zellige decoration, bathed in an abundance of sunlight, thanks to the retractable, clear roof above. the fountain is surrounded with palms and other desert plants, as well as large vases, invoking the spirit of North African mosques. Brass lamps sits next to the pillars, and more of them are hung across the ceiling perimeter around the courtyard, which is made out of trellis. The late afternoon sun shone through the trellis ceiling, giving a Mashrabia effect, light and shadow playing perfectly on the marble floor.


Every aspect, every room of the mosque were given the Moroccan treatment. Here we see the ablution room, where the walls are lined with Zellige in soothing, earthy colours, and even the taps were made of carved, hammered bronze taps! For your information, there are two ablution rooms (not counting the female ablutions, where I don’t think I was allowed in) and each of the rooms are given different coloured Zellige tiles ; the South ablution room is decorated with green hued zellige, while the northern one were given blue hued tiles.


This is the view of the Main Prayer hall itself. Clearly no expenses were hold while building this mosque. The Zellige tiles were hand made and flown in from Morocco. Al Quran verses were painted on a brown border  above the Zellige panels. The lamps, hanging from the tall, lofty ceiling are large, bronze lamps decorated with Arabesques. The shelves holding copies of the Holy Qur’an were made of wood with trellis design and arches. the Pillars are huge cylindrical slabs of marble, supporting arches of red and white – an apparent tribute to the Mosque of Cordoba. To be honest, this is the closest I get to Zellige tilework, and it was an awesome sight to behold.



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Observations – KL Visit – Islamic Art Museum – The Conclusion

I have actually finished the KL Visit – Islamic Art Museum series of articles after a year (the first article was posted on the 24th of February 2012) and honestly saying, I thought I would take longer than that. So what did  I learn from this experience? My first time in Kuala Lumpur, the Metropolitan city of Malaysia, and my first time visiting a museum, fully dedicated to Islamic art and Architecture, all while successfully dragging my not-appreciating-art family to it?


An Arabic themed restaurant in the Museum of Islamic Art and Architecture Compound

My first thought is – I want to return to Kuala Lumpur.

Unlike many (or most, if not all) Bruneians travelling to KL, I was more interested in cultural aspect of a vacation. People in Brunei are usually into shopping ; and lots of it, giving that things there are much more cheaper than back in hometown. My own family (my parents and my oldest brother) were more keen to go to shopping malls and avenues, which, may be interesting, spells a tiring, uninteresting day for me. And that is mostly the reason Bruneians come to Kuala Lumpur again and again.


Decorative headscarf pins on sale in an open air shop somewhere in the Jalan Masid India Avenue

I am eager to return to KL not because of the cheap, cheap stuffs and sale, sale, sale, but for the museums and other places I haven’t been able to visit during my vacation with my family. I wanted to revisit the museum with a better camera, naturally. Even if the museum to be honest, not as large as I expected, I wanted to see more. When I was there I was only floating by the exhibits for the fear of losing sight of my parents, who, again did not really share the same artistic interests as I do. I wanted to examine each and every artifact, to see closer the manuscripts and ceramics and armours and fabrics. I know I have more to learn from there.


A newer mosque at one end of the Jalan Masid India Avenue.

I also wanted to visit the mosques especially the older ones. I did not have the chance to visit any mosques since our days were mostly filled with excursions to the shopping malls. I only had a glimpse of the mosques around Kuala Lumpur which mostly obscured with large trees or more commonly, tall, tall buildings.

Perhaps, one day I can visit Kuala Lumpur again, and if that day comes, I am hoping to be able to visit the sites with Islamic cultural and religious significance.



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Observations – KL Visit – Islamic Art Museum Part 12

This is probably the last posting under this series of articles regarding my visit to Kuala Lumpur in 2011, perhaps I will add a conclusion posting after this. But to be exact, this will be the last I will write about the galleries because frankly we have reached the last gallery of the museum!

After visiting the Textile Gallery, we reached a rather interesting gallery – The Arms and Armour Gallery. As the name implies, this rather small niche gallery features a number of weapons and armour, mostly came from the 17th to the 19th Century. The armours exhibited here mainly helmets, breastplates, mails and  hauberks, and the weapons displayed are swords, daggers, knives, spears, axes, cudgels, maces and guns and rifles. There were also flag finials and toppers for the military standards.

As like other artifacts on display, these weapons and armours are very heavily decorated, unlike their western counterparts which are mostly plain or with little decoration. etchings and carvings are a common feature across the exhibits – detailed carving and inscriptions decorate each and every item, stones and gems shone on the hilts and scabbards, mixtures of metals and alloy that make blades and the barrels glisten under the museum lights, gold and silver mingle together in a harmony of colours.

To be honest, even after visiting this gallery I still wonder why people, not only in the Islamic cultures but other cultures throughout the world and across the centuries, have to decorate these weapons and armours…was it to hide the grim fact that they are used to kill? Was it to induce awe to the enemies who saw these intricately decorated pieces of armour? Visiting this place never gave me any kind of explanation, though I can only admire the work and skills put into these artifacts.


A fearsome looking mace head, with intricate carvings on each blade


One of the flagpost finials on display. This one feature religious inscription, surrounded by detailed arabesque border. Excuse my reflection!


Rifles, handguns and storage bags to put the bullets in. This is obviously made during the mid 17th century, 18th century onwards, where the technology on gun making were introduced by the Western World into the Islamic Empire (and the rest of the world)


A helmet with typical Islamic decoration. Next to it is a typical Arabic long sword with a decorated hilt and scabbard. There were shields there as well, but I couldn’t take a good picture of it

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