Chinese-style mosque: Symbol of Indonesia’s diversity

Masjid Cheng Ho, Surabaya. Picture: Darul Aqsha

By Darul Aqsha

FROM a distance people may not think that a building with Chinese-style architecture in the middle of Surabaya, Indonesia, is in fact a mosque.

Many people who pass by will definitely assume that the building is a Chinese temple because it does not have the usual dome and minaret.

Located in Jalan Gading in Surabaya, the busy capital city of the Indonesia’s East Java province, Masjid Muhammad Cheng Hoo is the first mosque in the country which uses a Chinese Muslim’s name. Mosque officials say that at least there are two mosques managed by Chinese Muslims in Jakarta, Bandung and Tretes, Pasuruan, East Java.

Cheng Ho or Zheng He was a pious Chinese Muslim explorer who served the Ming dynasty of China in the 15th century.
He was the “messenger of peace” of the emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It is recorded that the admiral had successfully led seven expeditions across the
great oceans, bringing peace and commerce to Asian and African countries.

These voyages opened a new ocean commercial route called “The Ocean Silk Route”.

During his visit to the Majapahit imperium of Java, the Ming admiral brought goods such as silk, ceramics, Chinese medicine and tea. A brochure published by the Construction Committee of the Masjid Cheng Hoo mentioned that in order to form close bilateral ties, admiral Cheng Ho presented the Princess of Champa to be the wife of the King of Majapahit. Their offspring was Prince Jin Bun or
better known as Raden Fatah, the founder and the first sultan of Demak, the first Islamic kingdom in Java.

Historian Sie Hok Tjwan of the East Javanese town of Malang revealed that before the arrival of European colonials, there was no racial problems between the
Chinese and the indigenous people of the archipelago. “Islam in Java, Palembang
(South Sumatra) and Sambas (West Kalimantan) came from Chinese ulamas who adhered to the “madzhab Hanafi”.

According to Tjwan, in 1451, Bong Swee Ho, who hailed from Champa, had built an Islamic dakwah centre for the people in the Surabaya area of Ampel. “That’s why for his popularity, Bong Swee Ho was later known as Sunan Ampel. His son, Bong Ang, was known as Sunan Bonang, who resided in Tuban, while his other son was known as Sunan Drajat in Lamongan. They were known as the ‘Walisongo’ (Nine Muslim Saints),” he said.

Sie Hok Tjwan apparently was referring to a book written by Prof Dr Slametmuljana , a philologist of the University of Indonesia, entitled Runtuhnya Kerajaan Hindu-Jawa dan Timbulnya Negara-negara Islam di Nusantara (The Fall of the Javanese-Hindu Kingdoms and the Rise of the Islamic States in the Archipelago, 1968). In his book, Slamatmuljana mentioned that Islam in Indonesia came from China and was spread by Chinese Muslims.

“The name of Muhammad Cheng Ho is to remind the younger Chinese generation in Indonesia that Islam was brought to the country peacefully by a respectful Muslim Chinese,” said mosque official Haji Soleh to The Brunei Times.

The construction of the mosque began on October 15, 2001, and was completed a year later. The mosque was officiated by the Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Prof Dr Said Agil Husain Al-Munawar.

Built on a 3,070-square-metre plot of land with cost of Rp3,3 billion, the mosque itself measured 21 x 11 metres with its main building 11 x 9 metres. A traditional drum (bedug) is located on the right side of the mosque. The
11-metre length of the main building is to remind Muslims that the length of the Ka’bah in Mekah is also 11 metres when it was first built by by the Prophet Ibrahim AS. While its nine-metre width meanwhile refers to the Walisongo who
spread Islam in Java during the 15th-16th centuries.

Besides that the form at the top part of the main building is octagonal or in the Chinese tradition is called “pat kwa”. The number “eight” (‘pat’ in Chinese) could also ean “victory” and “lucky”.

The mosque also has facilities such as kindergarten, sports centre, management office, canteen, and Mandarin language courses.

With these facilities, the management of the mosque hopes that it could help “to form good relationship among the communities.”

The Brunei Times
Saturday, August 28, 2010

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