Not only is the Istiqlal Mosque, which can accommodate 120,000 people at one time, the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia: it is also an important symbol of Indonesian independence. Ideas for the construction of the mosque sprang up in 1949 when the Netherlands acknowledged the independence of Indonesia. It was to be a national mosque that would symbolize the nation’s freedom and at the same time display the people’s gratitude toward the blessings they received as followers of Islam.
The idea was first proposed by KH. Wahid Hasyim, who was the nation’s first Minister for Religious Affairs, and Anwar Cokroaminoto. Then Indonesian president Sukarno was so enamored with the idea that a committee to oversee the mosque’s construction was immediately formed, with Anwar Cokroaminoto as the head. In 1955, a competition was held for the mosque’s design. Sukarno was the chairman of the jury that judged the entries for the competition. The winning design was that of Frederich Silaban who, ironically, was a Christian. Having a Christian design the Istiqlal Mosque was a welcome idea to Sukarno, who promoted religious harmony in Indonesia.
President Sukarno’s vision to have a harmonious multi-faith nation is also the reason why the national mosque stands where it is now. Before the present location was chosen, other locations were proposed. One of them was along Thamrim Avenue where the mosque would be surrounded by a large Muslim community. However, the president, insisting upon his vision to have the mosque stand as a symbol of national harmony, said that the Istiqlal Mosque should be constructed near the Immanuel Church and the Jakarta Cathedral. The mosque was later on constructed across the Jakarta Cathedral, where it still stands today.
The mosque’s design has been criticized as being too modern looking and not keeping the traditional look of Indonesian mosques. However, the structure captures the idea of a national mosque that stands as a testimony to Indonesia’s independence. It was designed with seven entrances. Seven is an important number in Islamic cosmology because it indicates the Seven Heavens or the seven spiritual realms where angels and the souls of the prophets are found.
A large dome characteristic of all mosques covers the roof of the main prayer hall. The dome measures 45 meters in diameter. This measurement was not determined randomly. The dome was designed to be 45 meters across because Indonesia was proclaimed independent in 1945. The spherical dome was designed with the Islamic symbol of a crescent and a star. There are 12 pillars in the prayer hall, representing the 12th Rabi’ al-awwal.
The mosque is a grand structure. It occupies an area of 9 hectares. Having five levels, the mosque is constructed with more than 100,000 square yards of marble sheathing. Every design of the mosque was carefully crafted and every single detail was thoughtfully considered. Anyone who visits the Istiqlal Mosque will be in awe of its impressive structure. Aside from being a place of worship, the mosque is also used as a venue for organizations to extend social services to the poor.