One of the most interesting was the Sultan Mosque, Singapore’s largest. Topped with a large golden dome, the mosque is open to visitors everyday except Friday, which is the Muslim holy day. As long as your knees and shoulders are covered – a long cotton over-jacket is provided for those women who haven’t dressed appropriately – you are welcome to walk around and take a look inside this majestic structure. Typically of most things here, it is very inclusive and Muslims from lots of different nationalities come to pray here. Originally built in 1852 it was re-built in 1928 in its present form and can accommodate 5000 people. Apparently when a mosque is being built the local Muslims are obliged to contribute. At the time, the poorest people in the area could not afford to donate money so they collected glass tomato sauce (ketchup) bottles and by lying them on their sides constructed – would you believe it – the dark ring upon which the golden dome sits. If you look closely (probably not visible in the photo) you can see the round bottoms of the glass bottles. An ingenious idea which in the true Singaporean spirit made sure that everybody could be part of the project.
As an interesting aside, before the Imams are allowed to give their ‘sermon’ each Friday it must first be read and approved by the Singaporean government to ensure that they approve with what is being preached. A very pragmatic solution to some of the shit-stirring which has been happening in other parts of the world, don’t you think?
We also passed the Kampong Glam Cemetery, which is actually a piece of Malaysian territory smack in the middle of the city. While it is no longer possible to be buried here it is bristling with the traditional Muslim grave markers, which I had never seen before. According to our guides the dead are wrapped in white cloth – 3 layers for men, 5 for women – and lowered into the ground on their right side (without a coffin) and facing Mecca. It was a remarkably peaceful spot amongst the buses and cars of busy Arab Street.