Istiqlal Mosque or Istiqlal Masjid is a grand building designed to house about 70,000 worshippers, though some, including the official Indonesia’s tourism board says that is it up to 100,000 people. Reportedly the largest mosque in South East Asia it was built in 1960’s but not officially opened by Sukarno until 1978. Its name means Independence Mosque as it was commissioned to be built to celebrate the country’s independence.
Plenty of parking available, you may visit Istiqlal Masjid provided you sign the visitor’s handbook and be respectful by removing your shoes and dressing appropriately. (Women will be given a large kimono style dressing gown to ensure that they are properly covered). Usually a volunteer guide will take you around the mosque proudly explaining the features, including the very large wooden cowskin drum called a bedug, which is used to signify the Islamic call to prayer, in the Indonesian tradition. Even US president Obama and his wife made a visit in 2010.
Istiqlal Masjid was built with a number of symbolic features, the main hall is five stories high, representing represent both the Five Pillars of Islam and Pancasila, the state ideology of Indonesia, , which has five main tenants. The main hall has a large 45 metre diameter bronze dome roof symbolizing the year 1945 which was the year of independence for Indonesia. This dome is supported by 12 large columns which represent the birthday of Prophet Mohammad who was born in the 12th of the 3rd month of the Islamic calendar. Unlike most Arabic mosque architecture that employs multiple minarets, Istiqlal mosque only has one minaret to symbolize the divine oneness of God. The minaret is 66.66 metres tall to symbolize the 6,666 verses in the Al Quran. There are seven gates to enter the mosque, each named after one of the names of God in Islam, or the Al-Asmaul-Husna, the number seven representing the Seven Heavens in Islamic cosmology.
Located at Jalan Taman Wijaya Kusuma in Central Jakarta, it is on one corner of Merdeka Square, and nearby Merdeka Palace, a Javanese tradition where the Kraton (palace), alun alun (city square) and masjid agung (Grand Mosque) should all be close by. It is also directly opposite the Main Catholic Cathedral, in order to symbolise the religious tolerance or ‘Unity in Diversity’ of Indonesia.