Kudus is a small town in Central Java Province, Indonesia, and is located around two hours drive to the east from Semarang. It is said that the town’s name was derived from Al Quds (Jerusalem’s Arabic name). Nowadays, Kudus is known for its kretek clove cigarettes.
The most known landmark of the city is an old mosque called Al-Manar Mosque or Masjid Menara (literally translated as the Tower Mosque) which was built in 1549. The mosque is also considered as one of the oldest mosques throughout Indonesia. It was built by Sunan Kudus, one of the Nine Islamic Holy Men of ancient Java known as “Wali Songo”, whose mausoleum which lies close to the mosque, is still an object of pilgrimage up till now.
The mosque is known as Masjid Menara (the Tower Mosque), because of its unique minaret. While the mosque itself is a Mogul-style building with its rounded dome and concrete pillars, the minaret is clearly not a common Islamic architecture. It is looked like a Hindu temple, instead. In my opinion, the minaret has a big resemblance to some ancient Hindu-Javanese structures from the Majapahit era of East Java (13th – 15th century). The minaret was made of red terracotta bricks, as also the wall that surrounded the mosque’s compound. At some places along the wall, there are several gateways at the form of “candi bentar” (a split temple like gate), which is also a typical gate of the Hindu Majapahit era palace complex.
From the appearance, it is clear that this is really a kind of acculturation of Hindu and Islam, which is a typical style of Islam spreading in Java at the era of Wali Songo. At that time, the Wali Songo spread their teachings of Islam without any violence, and still accepting the old values which had been grown among the local community long before that. That was why Islam can be accepted easily by the locals.
Even-though Menara Kudus is intended to be the mosque’s minaret, it was not intended to be used by a muezzin; instead it was used to place a big skin drum (“bedug“) which was used to summon people to pray. The drum was placed under a pavilion like shelter at the top of the minaret. On some spots, there are Ming’s style porcelain plates attached to the wall of the minaret for decoration purposes. The porcelain plates bear middle-east style pictures on them. Unfortunately many have been missing 😦