Singapore mosques get modern to keep up with times

Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:12am EST
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By Kash Cheong

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Rooftop gardens, a shiny aluminum exterior and an environmentally friendly design: this is not a new mall in Singapore, but a mosque that is trying to put a modern face on a traditional faith.

The Al-Mawaddah mosque, a S$14 million ($9 million) space-age structure in a new housing estate, is due to open next month, and is one of several in this Southeast Asian city-state that has a Muslim population of around 15 percent.

Mosques that incorporate modern architecture, and that do away with the traditional domes, are becoming more popular in Singapore, and officials say they hope this will put forward the progressive face of Islam.

"Mosques have to change their outlook to stay relevant to Singapore's modern context," said Zaini Osman, head of mosque Development at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

"This is what Islam is all about: co-existing with society at large," he said, adding this mosque would appeal to the young.

The Al-Mawaddah mosque still features a minaret, but this is a sleek and minimalist tower without the traditional onion-shaped dome, while the building has an imposing metal facade.

"Domes are not a must-have, they are mostly used for acoustic purposes during prayer," Osman said, adding that such domed mosques were first built by Arab migrants in the early 1800s, who brought their architecture along with trading goods to Singapore.

But these big domes are prone to wear and tear in the tropical country's weather, costing each around S$50,000 to maintain every three years. Instead, new mosques are being built in geometrical shapes to make them easier to clean and paint.   Continued...