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.
“Minarets at modern mosques certainly look more like contemporary art pieces nowadays,” said Bobby Wong at the National University of Singapore’s School of Design.
“The aesthetics of a mosque no longer look so value-laden. They look welcoming to even non-Muslims,” he added.
Not everyone is upbeat, especially given Al-Mawaddah and another planned mosque will tip the mosque building fund — pooled from mandatory contributions of several dollars a month from every Muslim — into a S$4.5 million deficit by 2010.
“Knowing that these new mosques will create a deficit doesn’t really settle well with me. The money could go into helping less privileged families or spreading awareness of the religion,” said Junaini Johari, a Muslim student.
The country’s Islamic council also said it had to allay public concerns that the Al-Mawaddah looked “more like a shopping center” than a worship facility.
Some Muslims, however, have embraced the change.
“The purpose of the mosque is a place of worship, its outlook doesn’t matter to me,” said M. Salleh B. Ahmed, a Singaporean Muslim who has completed his pilgrimage to Mecca.
Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Miral Fahmy