By the bend of a little tributary off the Pahang River, in walking distance from the Museum Sultan Abu Bakar and Pulau Bugis sits the Muzium Masjid Sultan Abdullah, resplendently.
Malaysia's first mosque turned museum, Muzium Masjid, is a stunning reflection of Islamic culture, religion and history in the charming town of Pekan.
Pekan is brimming with interesting historic buildings, a reflection of its status as the State of Pahang's Royal Town; turn down any small lane and you'll undoubtedly find an interesting architectural detail or an unexpected color adorning a traditional Malay home.
Yet the Muzium Masjid Sultan Abdullah is unmatched; its crisp white graceful curves contrasts vividly with the lush greenery and rich cocoa colored river along its banks. A dainty white minaret rises just to the right of the Muzium's entrance, where it has traditionally called the faithful to prayers.
This is Pekan's newest museum launched with great fanfare with the Pahang Royal family and Pahang notables all in attendance in the Fall of 2016. Batik&Bubbles was invited to attend the launch of the new museum, after a delightful preview during an earlier visit to Pekan whilst exploring the tradition of Tenun Pahang DiRaja textiles.
At the launch party and via a subsequent interview, Batik&Bubbles had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Nagata Tamegoro, Managing Director of Nagata Arch, the architecture firm tasked to lead the renovation of Muzium Masjid Sultan Abdullah.
When asked about his experience as a Japanese architect on the renovation of such a sacred Islamic space, Mr Nagata Tamegoro noted that their design concept started from the standpoint of designing an Islamic Museum rather than a renovation of the mosque itself.
Since there were no plans to extensively renovate the original building itself, the building would retain its core Islamic essence.
Nagata Arch worked closely with the Pahang Museums' Director Dato' Ahmad Farid bin Abdul Jalal and the local Pekan architecture office, under the Government's East Coast Economic Region Development Corporation Initiatives.
The resulting renovation and design was formed through a very collaborative process to ensure the space was respectfully redesigned to fit its new purpose – one that included creating a new museum whilst maintaining an active prayer and community space for museum goers and local residents.
Mr. Tamegoro was told that mosques often serve as a social space within the heart of Muslim communities and thus, they were eager to ensure that this museum continued to provide a place of gathering within Pekan.
Mr. Tamegoro explained that the renovations were extensive including the restoration of damaged areas of the building, strengthening the opening areas and exterior walls, and creating new floors. There were other improvements that were necessary for a museum space including providing a new air conditioning system to protect all the artefacts and also creating a landscape that matched the beauty of the mosque.
Muzium Masjid is spectacular in it's all white form - a mini Taj Mahal smack dab in the heart of Pahang. A jewel in Pahang's crown.
The beauty of the Muzium Masjid is the openness that pervades the mosque, as the air floats freely from space to space with light bouncing off the white walls throughout the museum.
There are no dark spaces, all is open, light and exudes peace and calm.
There are spaces for gathering and spaces for quiet reflection. Reading nooks and a thoughtfully curated resource section gives visitors a chance to browse to their hearts content.
Amidst the antiquities there are also state of the art touch screen consoles that give visitors a chance to explore the collections in more depth. This is a favorite among the museum's youngest visitors as an interactive way to understand and explore the different modules. We got the chance to see that first hand during a joint field trip with local Orang Asli children last year!
Mr. Tamegoro shared that while they were careful to maintain most of the architectural elements to preserve the beauty of the mosque, they removed the old aluminum windows and decided to repeat the original design arches instead. The idea of creating a series of repeated arches were inspired by the architect's impressions of the famous Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur.
A lot of attention given to elevating the landscape design to match the brilliance of the Mosque by creating new water features, a gazebo and adding trees - all important elements in the creation of an Islamic garden. In lieu of the old public road out front, the entrance was redirected to provide space for the new gardens along the museum.
One of the most striking features is the purity of the all white design element. While the original mosque was white, it had other colors including black reflected in the floor tile patterns, calligraphy relief and parts of the exterior. The decision to make the entire mosque white was not taken lightly and the specific type of white was carefully chosen to ensure both beauty and consistency across the materials.
They certainly succeeded, the museum is stunning and that's without even considering the myriad of interesting exhibits on display, whether a gorgeously curated selection of traditional instruments or an arrangement of Tasbih, Muslim prayer beads.
The Muzium also maintains an sacred mihrab space, where the words Muhammad and Allah are beautifully engraved in copper, alongside the museums crest. Recognizing that museum goers come from all walks of life and faith, the museum has thoughfully provided robes for visitors that would like to take a closer look at the intricate carvings in the white marble of the mihrab.
We don't want to give up all of the museum's secrets; the exhibits ought to be explored in person but even the architecture and design itself warrants a visit!
You'll be pleased to know that Pekan is surprisingly accessible from Kuala Lumpur; it's an easy few hours drive or a quick domestic flight for those who prefer to fly. Similar to Melaka, it's possible to undertake it as a long day trip but we do recommend staying at least a night or even an entire weekend there.
Alongside the notable art and history contained in the two side-by-side museums, the town of Pekan is so charming ~ the relaxing pace of the town mimics the slow wind of the Pahang River.
We recommend you stay at Ancasa Royale Hotel, a modern and luxurious hotel situated along the riverbank and in walking distance of the old town. You can even hire a small boat, as we did, to cruise along the Pahang River and explore some of the smaller inlets and islands in the river.
We came to Pekan and thought it'd be a town we'd explore just the once, but in fact it has drawn us back time and time again. It's a welcome respite from the hustle of KL. It's a chance to slow down and for avid foodies, it's also a chance to try unique local delicacies that will have you scouring KL later for similar flavours!
And because its a small town, if you happen to visit a couple times, folks tend to remember you as we found out when we stopped at a local favorite cafe on our second trip. We were so touched when they remembered how much we loved their tapai and set aside a handful of taipai bundles for free for us to take back as a sweet memory of Pekan.
This is truly the essence of Malaysian hospitality!
- We would like to thank Dato Ahmad Farid bin Abdul Jalal of Muzium Pahang for providing us with this unique opportunity to visit the Muzium Masjid Sultan Abdullah and Mr Nagata Temegoro of Arch Design for providing us with the background context of the museum design and refurbishment.
- The Muzium Masjid Sultan Abdullah is also located at Jalan Sultan Ahmad, Pekan. Tel: (09-422 1371, 09-422 1459). Entrance is free!
- More information can be found athttp://pahangmuseums.com
- Where to Stay: Ancasa Royale Pekan Hotel http://www.ancasahotels.com