FOR decades, the only call to prayer which pierced the silence of daybreak near Prang Besar, Sepang, came from a pint-sized loudspeaker attached to the rooftop of a surau.
The daily sermons, though sometimes muffled though these time-worn speakers, were the lifeline of the community which lived within the swath of former oil palm estates. Then in the mid-1990s, things changed; the vast and underdeveloped space became the base for a new chapter in the country — Prang Besar was renamed Putrajaya, the federal government’s new administrative centre, while the mass of land next to it earned the name Cyberjaya, reflecting the nation’s aspirations for a progressive, tech-driven hub.
Slowly, the landscape in Cyberjaya started changing — high-tech offices, universities, malls, housing estates, condominiums, and parks of sprawling green lawns with tranquil lakes replaced tired grounds and withering oil palm trees. As Cyberjaya expanded, people from around the world started settling into this new, emerging township. But off all the changes over the last two decades, one thing has remained the same — the surau was still the only place of worship for Muslims in the area.
“Since 1997, three attempts were made to build a mosque in Cyberjaya. Finally, after 20 years we have one,” says a smiling Azim A. Aziz, CEO of ATSA Architects, whose firm spearheaded the building of Masjid Raja Haji Fi Sabilillah in Cyberjaya.
Officiated in June last year by the Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, the mosque is not only the first in Cyberjaya but it’s also the first mosque in the world to be certified platinum in the Green Building Index (GBI).
“We built a green mosque because we wanted to reflect Cyberjaya’s aspirations of being a technologically-advanced green city of the future,” says Azim, who recently released a 133-page monograph of the iconic mosque. “And it was very challenging!” he adds with a hearty laugh.
The mosque harnesses some impressive features — the water harvesting system for a start, effectively acts as irrigation for the landscape, while rainwater collected is used for ablution and washrooms. Another water feature built in the direction of the qiblah (arrows pointing towards Mecca) wall acts as a coolant agent for the main prayer hall. The rooftop, which will eventually be covered by over 800 solar panels, can generate enough electricity to power up the 41 hectares site. The feature which stands out for Azim, however, is the main dome. “I’m very proud of that,” he confides.
The main dome, which Azim considers the mosque’s “most innovative element”, is situated just above the main prayer hall. “We used glass panels to allow for natural light. That way we cut down on having to use any artificial lighting. Plus, when you look up to pray, you can really see the skies.”
Initially, the idea wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm from the various stakeholders. Shares Azim: “Many people felt that having a glass dome would make it hotter but we engaged a specialist to use a kind of glass which allowed natural light in while blocking out the heat.”
The designing and conceptualisation of the mosque started in early 2012 within the confines of ATSA’s humble workspace in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Azim and his team of architects had to keep all six GBI criteria in mind when working out the plans — energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environment quality, innovation, materials and resources, and sustainable site planning and management.
“Surprisingly, the most difficult criteria to attain was sustainable site planning and management,” says Azim. The criteria, he explains, means every person is held accountable for keeping the building and its surrounding area clean. “This means we also have to educate everyone, from members of the team to the contractors, workers, mosque management and the public on cleanliness. During the construction period, the site has to be spotless — you don’t chuck materials aside and you keep everything in order. In fact even the materials have to be something which can be used or repurposed after the project is completed.”
This principle, as he aptly points out, is in line with Islam’s view of Mother Nature. “When I look at sustainability, it’s actually going back to one of the basic principles of Islam. Sustainability is about being pure in the way of living — what you eat, how much food, water or electricity you waste and how you take care of the environment.”
FEAST FOR THE SENSES
The environment is clearly a very prominent consideration of the Raja Haji Fi Sabilillah Mosque — an Islamic garden, at the suggestion of Sultan Sharafuddin, is where the minaret stands.
The feature, which Azim confides actually costs a hefty amount, was crafted specially to represent both Malay and Islamic cultures. “The speaker sits atop the minaret which has been designed in the shape of the keris. Below the handle of the keris is where worshippers can use the water for ablution.”
The Islamic garden is also designed to leave worshippers with a sense of appreciation for nature. “We are tree people. My team and I just love studying trees,” Azim admits with a wide smile. His team of landscape architects planted fragrant chempaka and kemboja trees, as well as pandan, kesidang and kemuning shrubs in the garden to heighten the senses.
In another section of the mosque, however, a solitary Bunga Tanjung stands tall in the courtyard. “The Bunga Tanjung is a fragrant tree that possesses medicinal properties. We rarely see it these days but in the past, the Malays were very fond of using it,” he explains, in reference to the tree which is commonly found in villages around the country.
But as Azim reveals, both the courtyard and the Islamic garden have an even bigger purpose: “Sultan Sharafuddin wanted people to interact with each other. All kinds of people from different backgrounds and levels of society come together to pray at the mosque. The courtyard and Islamic garden are public spaces where worshippers can meet, interact and exchange ideas — it’s also a way of bringing those walls of divide down.”
The unity of people is in fact at the heart of the Raja Haji Fi Sabilillah mosque. It is, after all, named after the Bugis warrior and king in Riau who was known for his ability to unite and protect his people. “Since the mosque is under the patronage of the Sultan, he wanted to name the contemporary mosque after an equally progressive leader,” confides Azim, adding that Raja Haji was also known for reminding scholars, rulers and people that in order to progress well, they had to function as a unit. “He was progressive of thought and knew the importance of staying united.”
For Azim and his team, Raja Haji’s spirit of unity is mirrored in the mosque’s concept. “This isn’t just a place of worship. Historically, mosques were also a place for learning and a centre for community activities. We’re trying to bring back that element and foster communities here,” he says, before pointing out that this mosque has a multipurpose event hall (which doubles up as a badminton hall), a zakat payment counter and classrooms. “Our vision for this mosque is that it becomes the an integrated community centre for all.”
It may have taken 20 years for this town to have a mosque of its own but for now, the soulful call to prayer will be heard loud and clear throughout the 2,833 hectares of land called Cyberjaya.