Masjid Raya Al Mashun, Medan

Thursday, September 03, 2015

There’s always something fascinating I could find in old historical buildings. They often brought me back to the past to see their glorious days. Sometimes, they shared the stories they had kept behind the walls.

In The Great Mosque of Al Mashun, Medan, not only did I hear it whisper in my ears some stories, but also find some puzzles. Some of them were revealed at the end, and some of them remained secret.

The city of Medan, the former capital of Malay Sultanate of Deli, once played a significant role in the Dutch colonial times because its high valuable tobacco, known as Tembakau Deli. It became prime export commodity to Europe, and brought back lots of cash to build the city.

The Sultan of Deli, having granted his crown land for the plantations, was rewarded a palace and a mosque by the Dutch. The glory of those days might have slowly faded away, but the mosque remained standing until today. It was not hard to locate it as it was situated in the heart of the city.

Many thanks to Bapak Ali Imran, the caretaker, who allowed us to explore the mosque and became our tour guide. Without him, we would hardly notice the David Star symbols painted on the ceiling of the mosque. Yes, it’s a Jewish David Star. According to Pak Ali, the star in that mosque was mere an ornament, not a religious symbol.

I browsed around in google to find out the architect of the mosque. It was Theodoor van Erp, a lieutenant of KNIL (Royal Dutch East Indies Army) who had designed that magnificent building at the first time before being commissioned as the lead architect in the early restoration of Borobudur temple. Not so much information could I find about him, particularly his faith. I personally was not sure if he was the one deciding to put the David star symbols in the mosque.

Actually, that was not the first time I found that symbol in a mosque. Few years before, I found it in some old mosques in Semarang, Central Java. So, apparently, the using of that symbol in the mosque, especially the ones designed by European architects, was rather common in the past. There was a possibility that the using of the David star in the mosque had nothing to do with Judaism. The beauty of its geometry was perhaps the true reason behind this.

Nearly all royal properties built by the Dutch that I had found in Indonesia were adorned with imported materials. The wealthy Sultan of Deli of course wouldn’t mind the mosque adorned with expensive imported goods such as European marbles, stained glass, Chinese ceramics, and French chandeliers. Those materials were mostly preserved until today. Sadly, some of the stained glass had been broken, and they didn’t seem to want to fix it.

I knew that it was going to cost them a lot to get a new stained glass which looked the same with the broken ones. But shouldn’t they have some sort of funds or let’s say savings from the golden times when money was not an issue?  

Like any other old mosques and old churches, this mosque had a burial ground on its backyard. Only members of Sultan’s family and relatives could be buried there. Commonly, tourists and visitors wouldn’t spend much time exploring the cemetery. But since I was informed by Pak Ali that there was a tomb of a Dutch lady there, I was determined to find it.

We started with the tombs of the royal family, the highest hierarchy in the cemetery, and found a tomb of a noble woman who came from the Sultanate of Perak (today, it’s one of Malaysia’s states). Inter-Malay-sultanate marriage had brought her to Medan.

While we were looking at the tombs of the former sultans of Deli, a man approached us. His name was Bapak Yose Rizal. He explained us about each sultan buried there. He knew all details about the royal family, like who married to whom, who succeeded whom, and the best part was, he knew where the Dutch lady was laid down.

A piece of land located separately from the royal cemetery was reserved for the royal extended families and relatives. It didn’t take long for us to find her tomb. Her name was Catharina Johanna Cornelia Haberham Sunkar. She was married to Datuk Sjarifoel Azaz Haberham, an engineer, and a relative of the royal family. We didn’t know much about her facts. I even tried to browse around in google and found nothing about her.

It was interesting to find however that despite the fact that she had lived in Medan for many years and been married to Sultan of Deli’s relative, the inscription on her tomb was written in Dutch instead of Bahasa like any other tombs in that cemetery.

In the dusk, many people rushed to the mosque as if to answer the call for the prayers. For these people who come to this mosque like everyday, there is no such thing as puzzles, secrets, or enigmas in that old historical building. I believe that the spirits from the past stay in that place to tell us more stories and secrets. All we have to do is just hear their ghosts speak.

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