Jakarta mosque moves with the times

Mobile Masjid, which hit Jakarta roads last Tuesday, is a truck that has been converted into a Muslim prayer space for 20 people and is equipped with prayer mats and ablution facilities. The mobile mosque, the second of its kind in Indonesia, is aime
Mobile Masjid, which hit Jakarta roads last Tuesday, is a truck that has been converted into a Muslim prayer space for 20 people and is equipped with prayer mats and ablution facilities. The mobile mosque, the second of its kind in Indonesia, is aimed at helping Muslims perform their prayers when mosques are not easily accessible.ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

Mobile mosque offers convenient prayer space, with driver doubling up as both the imam and muezzin

A new mosque has opened in Jakarta, but this one runs on wheels.

The Mobile Masjid, a sand-transport truck that has been converted into a Muslim prayer space for 20 people, comes complete with prayer mats and ablution facilities for special cleansing rituals.

It also carries 15 rolls of carpet to turn any public space into a prayer spot for a congregation of up to 100. The driver doubles up as the imam who leads prayers and the muezzin who makes the call to prayer.

It is managed by Yayasan Masjid Nusantara, an organisation that builds and maintains mosques in the country.

Mobile Masjid is the second of its kind in Indonesia - the first mobile mosque made its debut last year in Bandung, West Java. It was aimed at helping Muslims perform their prayers when mosques are not easily accessible, organisation director Hamzah Fatdri Ulhaq told The Sunday Times.

The mobile mosque has travelled to parks, local attractions and even concerts to meet event organisers' requests for a portable place of worship. "We have received positive feedback in Bandung. People say the mobile mosque has made it very convenient to perform their prayers anywhere," Mr Hamzah said.

Mosques are a central feature of Islamic life in majority-Muslim Indonesia, which is home to more than 200 million Muslims. They become a hive of activity on special Islamic months such as Ramadan, when they blare Quran recitals and religious sermons, as well as host pre-dawn meals and fast-breaking dinners.

While there are around 800,000 mosques and smaller mushollas or prayer rooms across the country, the mobile mosque is a new way to bring the religion closer to Muslims dealing with modern-day inconveniences like traffic jams, Mr Hamzah said.

The Jakarta mobile mosque, which hit the roads last Tuesday, will ply parks and the business district on usual days but is available for bookings for public events - ranging from special festivals to football matches - on a first come, first served basis, he said.

The service is free, and is kept afloat by donations from corporate sponsors and the public. An insurance firm supplied the Mitsubishi truck, covering most of the 700 million rupiah (S$71,900) cost, and will support running expenses for a year.

The vehicle has 2m-long doors on either side that are reinforced with steel plates so they turn into a sturdy platform. Canvas awnings can be rolled out to block the sun and rain, while taps installed on a 500-litre tank at the back allow worshippers to perform their ablutions.

There are sarongs for men and special robes for women that are available for borrowing.

A microphone and speakers help to project the voice of the driver, who wears many hats. Mr Hamzah said the biggest challenge was finding the right person to operate the mobile mosque.

"The driver not only navigates the truck, he is the logistician who sets up the mosque. He also needs to have a deep religious knowledge to be both the imam and the muezzin. He will also give religious sermons. Only our fourth interviewee met the criteria," he said.

In the future, he hopes to set up a second mobile mosque in the capital and one each in other major cities.

Bank officer Izwandi, 32, said he will no longer have any excuse to skip his prayers if the mobile mosque shows up near his workplace.

He said: "Everything is going mobile these days. Even mosques too. So if you can't go to the mosque, don't worry, the mosque will come to you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta mosque moves with the times'. Print Edition | Subscribe