Sacred Spaces: Interfaith Dialogue at The Pink Mosque of Putrajaya

the interior dome of the Pink Mosque

The Pink Mosque of Putrajaya, Malaysia

Sacred Spaces #5

Kuala Lumpur is the official national and royal capital of the Federation of Malaysia, but in 2001, the federal and administrative capital of the nation was moved to the newly constructed, planned city of Putrajaya. Putrajaya is located just 53 kilometers from central KL. As a matter of fact, you pass right by the city on the rapid express train which takes you to KL from the airport, though it's easy enough to miss it. Putrajaya is an easy day trip from Kuala Lumpur, and full of interesting things to see and do. It is home to the office of the Prime Minister, several government ministries, and the word-famous Masjid Putra - the Pink Mosque of Putrajaya.

Masjid Putra

I took a train to Putrajaya, arriving in late morning. Putrajaya is kind of a strange city. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, or indeed most other cities in the world, Putrajaya is a "planned city", meaning that it was built for a specific purpose (i.e. the purpose of being a beautiful and efficient national capital city) rather than growing organically. As such, the city has been meticulously planned out: picturesque, clean... and almost entirely empty. Though it is officially the federal capital, the population is under 100,000, with most workers continuing to commute daily from nearby Kuala Lumpur.

the government office 

Besides the government ministries and the office of the Prime Minister, there's not a lot in Putrajaya except for acres and acres of tranquil lakes and green parkland. It's actually a really beautiful city, but it is just a little weird how empty it is. I'm sure it will grow over time, and develop into one of Southeast Asia's great cities (like Jakarta or Bangkok), but for now it's got a bit of a ways to go. However, the subtle emptiness of the city lends to it an incredibly peaceful quality; one which cannot be found anywhere in neighboring Kuala Lumpur.

Presently, I arrived at the city's main square, which is home to both the office of the Prime Minister - an imposing structure which looks something like Agrabah from Disney's Aladdin - and the Pink Mosque, all surrounded by carefully-manicured wetlands. Putrajaya has even won awards as an "intelligent garden city", and one of the world's greenest and most eco-friendly cities.

a bridge in Putrajaya 

The main attraction that would bring a foreign tourist to Putrajaya is the Masjid Putra, or the Pink Mosque of Putrajaya. This world-famous mosque is one of the most impressive in the world, and one of the finest and most breathtaking examples of Malay Islamic architecture. That's what brought me to Putrajaya on that bright, sunny, and very hot afternoon.

I have visited mosques before, and had even attended Friday Prayer at the small little mosque in Waco, Texas with my World Religion class back when I was in university. But Masjid Putra was, without a doubt, the grandest and most impressive mosque I had ever seen.

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The awe-inspiring dome of the grand Pink Mosque rises high above the ground as the breathtaking pride of Malaysia. The mosque is relatively new; built in 1999 for the consecration of the new capital. It is built out of beautiful pink granite, which keeps the massive building cool year-round in spite of the oppressive tropical heat. The Pink Mosque's central dome soars some 50 meters above the ground, but the minaret, at 116 meters tall, is the most impressive feature. It is the third-tallest minaret in the world (as of 2022).

The mosque is huge; big enough to hold some 15,000 worshipers at any given time in this officially Muslim federated kingdom.

the Pink Mosque

Unfortunately, I had not timed my visit very well. I arrived just minutes too late to visit the mosque in the morning, and ended up having to wait for three hours. Foreign visitors, even non-Muslims are allowed and even encouraged to visit the mosques in Malaysia, but may only do so during certain vising hours. I arrived right before the Jummah, or midday prayer, and had to wait. During that time, the mosque was closed off to only the faithful; an agreeable compromise in this massively interfaith country.

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Fortunately, there was a shady promenade just outside the mosque with lots of shops, restaurants, and cafes, so I purchased a cool drink and sat down by the water. After some time, I decided to take a walk around the wetlands at the nearby lake as the sounds of the midday prayer rang out over the silent city.

Even as a Christian, the sound of the daily Muslim prayer resonates something within me. Though it is not a part of my faith tradition, I deeply respect the dedication and spiritual commitment to the five daily prayers of Islam.

Putrajaya Promenade 

At 2pm the mosque opened once again for non-Muslim visitors. It's free to visit, but of course there is a fairly strict dress code. To make sure that anyone who may want to visit the mosque is allowed to do so, the mosque lends out a set of maroon hooded robes to all visitors before they go inside. 

I collected my robe, took off my shoes, and stepped onto the surprisingly cool marble tile on the plaza outside of the great mosque. The beautiful pink dome of the Masjid Putra soared into the sky above me, and for a moment, I was almost at a loss for words.

tourists visiting the Pink Mosque

I entered the mosque. An exhibition hall had been set up in front of the main prayer hall with information placards to teach visitors about Islam and the Quran. There was also a special exhibition with verses from the Quran condemning terrorism, as well as exhibitions about the Muslim belief in Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. 

As I was reading the info boards, the woman who worked for the mosque's tourism office came up to me and began talking with me. I obviously stood out; most of the other tourists were Asian visitors from neighboring Thailand or Singapore. Her job, as an official English-language curator at the mosque, was to help foster understanding of Islam and interfaith relations.

inside the Pink Mosque

She asked me if I, as an American, knew much about Islam. I told her that it was actually one of my focus areas in university! I had studied comparative religion, Islam studies, modern Middle Eastern history, Arab studies, and more. I had even visited the mosque in Waco several times as part of my class trips. She seemed really impressed by that. She told me all about the amazing architecture of the mosque, then told me that I was free to take as many photos as I would like.

"Islam means 'submission to God', and a Muslim is a follower of Islam", she told me. "Islam is perfect, but Muslims are not." She also told me how she hoped that creating interfaith relations and fostering understanding would help make the world a more peaceful place.

in the main prayer hall

These are the sorts of interactions that stick with you when you travel. The people that you meet can give you a lasting impression of a place. While I was annoyed that I had to wait in the hot sun for three hours, sitting in the shade and drinking my iced coffee while listening to the sound of the midday prayer turned out to be a really beautiful experience. Standing under the great dome of the Pink Mosque while talking about architecture with the mosque's curator is something else that I'll never forget.

Previously on Sacred Spaces:


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