We visited Masjid Istiqlal on a Sunday. When we reached its entrance, the traffic was heavy (it was a Sunday morning!) and there were loads of people. We thought it was because of the Sunday mass held at the Jakarta Cathedral situated opposite the mosque (we found out later that the mass has not started at that time). It turned out that the hustle and bustle came from the masjid itself.
Amazingly the masjid entrance was rather busy. There was a steady flow of people coming into the masjid, little boys and elderly ladies selling drinks, kuih and plastic bags (to put our shoes in once we’re in the masjid), there’s a souvenir market in the compound, and inside there was a lecture going on. Around the main hall, there were booths set up by various charity organisations asking for donation. There were guides around the entrance and on the way to the main hall, approaching those (like us) who appeared lost. Young men and women held hand-written reminders for visitors to mind their belongings and to keep the masjid clean.
With the loud lecture going on at that time, it seemed that the masjid was hectic and crowded.
But things were different inside.
Yes, the lecture was loud. It was held in the main prayer hall. But the masjid still maintained its peaceful environment. The corridors were cool and breezy, the ambiance was relaxed, it seemed like anyone could do anything there. There were smaller religious classes going on in one of the corridors, men napping near the many columns of the masjid, kids running around, girls taking selfies and wefies, here and there were small circles of discussion on the floor.
I loved it there.
I took some time walking around and climbing upstairs (it is the largest masjid in South East Asia), taking photographs. My brother and his wife sat near one of those columns and talked. My sister sat and made a sketch, and after that fell asleep.
Nobody came to ask my sister-in-law about why she didn’t wear a hijab. Nobody asked my sister why she slept on the floor. Nobody reprimanded the kids for running around, neither were the girls told to stop taking selfies. The lecture went on and on.
I know not all Jakarta is like that. Just look at the issue with Ahok. But at least, I could definitely feel the freedom in that masjid, as it should be.