I had to double check I’d heard correctly when told we could go inside Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque. Tourists have the opportunity to not only look around but stay for prayer time. How other cultures in Southeast Asia value religion in their lives is something I find facinating. From Balinese offerings lining doorways to Thai businessmen stopping to bow their heads in front of a shrine, every country is different. If you’re planning a trip to Jakarta then I highly recommend a visit to the Istiqlal Mosque.
The Istiqlal Mosque is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. At capacity its buildings and terraces can hold 200,000 worshippers at one time. The main prayer hall is surrounded by four levels of balconies with natural light beaming in from the outside. Our friendly guides from Jakarta Good Guide led us to the cloakroom area where we had to remove and leave our shoes. We were supposed to stay in groups as we toured the mosque but I managed to become separated pretty quickly. The mosque just had an overwhelming captivating feel to it and I ‘wasted’ my time people watching.
You will be familiar with the call to prayer if you’ve spent time in a Muslim country. I find it quite beautiful (except when my hotel is next door to a speaker for the 4.45am call) I was inside the Istiqlal Mosque as the afternoon prayer call began. It’s loud and unique, almost eerie if you’re hearing it for the first time. But its message is prominent and signals to Muslims that prayer time is approaching. As this call was taking place worshippers began to trickle in from the hustle and bustle of the city. Women sit on one side, men on the other. I found it quite sweet looking down on not only a neat row of ladies but their handbags all placed precisely in an orderly fashion. I got nervous waves and giggles from the younger ones as they realised they were being watched.
Surprisingly, a Catholic architect designed the Istiqlal Mosque. Also noting a Catholic Cathedral sits on the opposite side of the road – good balance perhaps? I had a perception of Jakarta before arriving that dissipated within the first hour. I was expecting an obvious Islamic culture feel to the city but it was actually quite liberal. An Indonesian influencer in my group remarked that as Muslims they have been taught to be accommodating of others with different beliefs and not the other way round. I suppose this is likely why the mosque allows visitors from all over the world to peer into what is for the locals, part of their day to day life.
The outdoor terrace areas were full of kids waiting for prayer time to begin and they were more than happy to pose for a few photos. Some people were playing games, others sleeping in the hot afternoon sun. After watching the prayers, which actually didn’t last as long as I was expecting, I realised my group had gone. I was one of two people still wandering around Istiqlal Mosque taking in all its beauty and magic. We quickly retrieved our shoes, said goodbye to the smiling children and found our way out.
Things to note:
- The Istiqlal Mosque is located on Jalan Taman Wijaya Kusuma, Daerah Khusus Ibukota, Jakarata.
- Entry is free but non-muslim visitors must register.
- Visit during a prayer time to get the best atmosphere. Keep in mind Friday prayers will be much busier than other days.
- Take off your shoes before entering.
- Use the correct entrances for men and women.
- Dress appropriately (both men and women) clothing should cover your knees and shoulders. Robes are available if required.
- Ask before taking a photo of anyone.
- Be respectful – this is a place of worship.
Read more about my 12 days in Indonesia here
I was a guest of Indonesia Tourism for their Trip Of Wonders campaign. As always, the opinions are my own.