Post D: Masjid in Context

By Catherine Nguyen

A local mosque spotted on my travels to Banjarmasin (Nguyen, C. 2018)

Architecture is a reflection of our values, ideologies and lifestyles- and although fixed concretely at a certain space and time, its foundation allows for it to continue to live on and tell stories for the years, decades and possibly centuries to come. It seeks to challenge the ways of working, thinking and relating (Turpin, E. (ed.) 2013) in accordance with context; and it is also through this context that informs the structure and constitutes for the style and materials used in the first place.

Travelling to Indonesia and learning more about this beautiful country allowed me to realise how diverse their culture was, and how this was mirrored in their different styles of architecture. As an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands with seas and straits creating barriers between cities (Sadali, A. 1979), it was to no surprise that this diversity would have made its way to even the smallest of cities such as Banjarmasin. There was a unique juxtaposition of contemporary, high rise buildings against the traditional stilt houses by the waters- and even the places they prayed at, the masjid (or mosques), were designed with variation.

One may have easily recognized the difference in character between a mosque in Turkey and one in India, as they would have belonged to a specific architectural style influenced by their respective contexts (Sadali, A. 1979). But what about a mosque in Banjarmasin in comparison to a mosque in say, Jakarta? Or Bandung? Although they share the same country that is Indonesia, each city are their own individual entities; differing in lifestyles, beliefs and traditions. Hence, the architectural style of their homes, buildings and mosques would be decisions reflective of their own local tastes.

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Great Mosque of Banten on the left (Kharisman, I. 2012) and the Javanese Joglo on the right (MacMhathain, D.)

As the most populous Muslim nation in the world with the Islamic religion reportedly embraced by nearly 90% of their population (Indonesia Investments, n.d.), the abundance of mosques within Indonesia are significant in their portrayal of their different communities; their designs a depiction of their contexts. Whilst the Great Mosque of Banten prides itself on their ‘stacked roofs’, a design deriving from the traditional Javanese dwellings (Sadali, A. 1979), other mosques in Banjarmasin and other areas are inspired by sources beyond Indonesia. The ‘onion’ dome, arched windows and doorways found in the Masjid Jami Banjarmasin are architectural decisions influenced by Byzantine models (Pringle, R. 2010) and representative of the desire of Indonesian rules to emulate their observations during their overseas travels (Sadali, A. 1979).

Aside from traditional models, contemporary styles have also surfaced in Indonesia, where architects have sought to challenge the pre-existing beliefs of the definitive characteristics of a mosque. The ‘Salman’ mosque complex on the campus of the Institute of Technology in Bandung presents an evident case of how ‘modern thoughts and sentiments are being amalgated with Islamic concepts’ (Sadali, A. 1979). Despite lacking the stacked roofs and arched windows, the building still holds the same ideologies as any other mosque; serving as a place to unite, pray and worship.

The inclusivity of the Islamic religion has also realised the need to represent minority communities in Indonesia through architectural design as well. Islamic Chinese Indonesians, whom have previously been viewed as a ‘redundant legacy of history’ (Jacobsen, M. 2005), have recently begun to enjoy their ‘newfound freedom to express their culture’ within the last decade, the Reformasi era (Dickson, A. 2008). The Muhammad Cheng Hoo mosque in Surabaya was built in appreciation for this minority, and hence is the first mosque in Indonesia with Chinese inspired architecture. With an appearance seemingly reminiscent of a Chinese pagoda, there are features which correlate to Arabic and Javanese influences (Wonderful Indonesia, 2017)- highlighting the beauty and compatibility of Islamic and Chinese culture.

Throughout the Islamic world there is unity amongst diversity (Sadali, A. 1979); despite the diversity in ethnic backgrounds or distinctions in the architectural design depending on various contexts, their beliefs are practiced in unison. Architecture, although an old design profession, continues to reflect these similarities and differences physically- and though their styles may become outdated, the history, culture, values and beliefs captured in these works of art stay timeless.



Dickson, A. 2008, ‘A Chinese Indonesian Mosque’s Outreach in the Reformasi Era’, 17th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, Melbourne, pp. 1-11.

Indonesia Investments n.d., Religion in Indonesia, viewed 1 February 2018, <;.

Jacobsen, M. 2005, ‘Islam and Processes of Minorisation among Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia: Oscillating between Faith and Political Economic Expediency’, Asian Ethnicity, vol. 6, no. 2, pp 71-87.

Kharisman, I. 2012, Masjid Banten, Flickr, viewed 1 February 2018, <;.

MacMhathain, D. 2016, Javanese Joglos: Aristocratic Houses, Flickr, viewed 1 February 2018, <;.

Pringle, R. 2010, Understanding Islam in Indonesia: Politics and Diversity, Editions Didier Millet PTE LTD, Singapore, pp. 190.

Sadali, A. 1979, ‘In Search of an Islam-Initiated Architectural Identity in Indonesia’, Architecture as Symbol and Self Identity, pp. 87-90.

Turpin, E. (ed.) 2013, Architecture in the Anthropocene, vol. 1, Open Humanities Press.

Wonderful Indonesia, 2017, 10 Most Unique Mosques in Indonesia, viewed 1 February 2018, <;.


2 thoughts on “Post D: Masjid in Context

  1. So interesting to look at religion and culture through the style of design and architecture.

    The example of the different style of the Chinese-Indonesian mosque really highlights their specific local context and the manifestation of it, but also the fundamental similarities of human worship.

  2. I think the different architectures in Indonesia really allow it to be a visual representation of the locals taste and values, making the country very diverse in its design styles but it’s also really interesting to see how other cultures also influence their architecture. Would definitely love to see the Muhammad Cheng Hoo mosque in person!

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