Kedah | Masjid Zahir, Alor Setar

Masjid Zahir is an icon of Alor Setar. Over a century old. Its contrasting black dome and white wall makes for a powerful visual.


Situated at the heart of Alor Setar, it lies alongside the Istana Pelamin and Balai Besar all making up a heritage complex of sort. Later on the Clock Tower, the Alor Setar Tower and the Royal Museum was built - all considered a part of this complex as well.


Masjid Zahir was first built in 1912 and was completed in 1915. It was modest in size back then, able to accomodate only 600 people.


The original designer for this mosque is believed to be James Gorman. He was aided by Malay draftsmen Pak Din and Ahmad Lebai Tambi.


The design for this mosque is of Moorish and Moghul influence, a common design languange adopted during the colonial era. It was also said that the mosque is heavily inspired by Masjid Azizi, located in Sumatera, Indonesia - a reminding architecture of the Langkat Sultanate.

If you browse and compare photos of the mosques online, the buildings' design are very very similar. 


One bit of interesting trivia Masjid Azizi was in fact inspired by another mosque - Masjid Al-Osmani built in 1854


One thing that many would notice when walking around this mosque is the massive number of concrete columns - 261 in all. Not all serves as structural elements, many are there just as decoration. 


There are 4 types of columns present here - the single column, the twin column, the identical triple column and the identical quadruple column. The picture above, located at the foyer shows an example of an identical triple column. 


It was only during renovations in 1959 that the now recognisable black bulbous dome was installed.  There are 5 domes in total, constructed upon an octagonal drum. 


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Around the domes are multiple low pitched roofs for smooth running of rainwater during heavy downpour. 

On top of each dome is a crescent shaped decoration - positioned in the direction of the Qibla.


The internal part of the internal dome is painted in blue with the word Allah in the middle. 


It is interesting to analyse the minute details of this mosque. For example this mosque has 13 doors in total - 3 major ones and 10 smaller, secondary doors.


Made out of hardwood with copper hinges, they are excellent for isolating noise.


As compared to its grandiose exterior, the interior design more specifically the main prayer area is very humble in comparison. The use of green, blue and orange is an interesting choice.


For me the most interesting apparatus to be found is this mimbar. Eversince the mosque was opened in 1915, this has been the exact same mimbar used since then.


The geometric carvings are inspired by Moroccan designs, customised by a local carpenter.


The patterns, composition and design language is all Moorish and Mughal with very little Malay influence. An example of a famous Mughal architecture is the largest mosque in India, the Deli Mosque.


Historically, the mosque is built on top of a cemetery of heroes who died during the Kedah - Siam Conquest in 1831. The war lasted from 1821 to 1843 and was infamous for the British's betrayal towards Kedah to side with the Siamese. 


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The gist of the story is in 1821, the Siamese divided Kedah into 4 territories - Kedah, Perlis, Satun and Kubang Pasu. Various battles were fought, and in the end the Sultan of Kedah only managed to secure back Kedah and Kubang Pasu. Perlis achieved an independance and Satun remained till this day a part of Thailand.


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