Masjid Istiqlal is the largest masjid in Southeast Asia. This national masjid of Indonesia was built to commemorate Indonesian independence and named Istiqlal, an Arabic word for ‘independence’. The masjid was opened to the public 22 February 1978. Within Jakarta, the masjid is positioned next to Merdeka Square and the Jakarta Cathedral.
The first President of Indonesia, Sukarno, actively followed the planning and construction of the masjid. He was the chairman of the jury for the masjid design competition held in 1955. The design submitted by Frederich Silaban, a Christian architect from North Sumatra, with the theme ‘Ketuhanan’ (Divinity) was chosen as the winner. The foundation stone was laid by Sukarno on 24 August 1961, the construction took 17 years. President Suharto inaugurated it as the national masjid on 22 February 1978. As of 2013 it is the largest masjid in the region of Southeast Asia, with a capacity of over 120,000.
The masjid has seven entrances, and all seven gates are named after Al-Asmaul-Husna, the names of God in Islam. The number seven represents the Seven Heavens in Islamic cosmology. The building consists of two connected rectangular structures. The rectangular main prayer hall building is covered by a 45 meter diameter central spherical dome. The number ’45’ symbolizes the year of Proclamation of Indonesian Independence, 1945. The main dome is adorned with a stainless steel ornamental pinnacle in the form of a crescent and star, the symbol of Islam. The smaller secondary dome is also adorned with a stainless steel pinnacle with the name of Allah in Arabic calligraphy.
The dome is supported by twelve round columns, and the prayer hall is surrounded by rectangular piers carrying four levels of balconies. Twelve columns represent the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 12th Rabi’ al-awwal. The main floor and the four levels of balconies make five floors in all. The number ‘5’ represents the Five Pillars of Islam and also Pancasila. The main hall is reached through an entrance covered by a dome 8 meters in diameter. The number ‘8’ symbolizes August, the month of Indonesian Independence.
The interior design is minimalist, simple and clean-cut, with a minimum of stainless steel geometric ornaments. The 12 columns are covered with stainless steel. On the main wall on qibla there is a mihrab and minbar in the center. On the main wall, there is a large metalwork in Arabic calligraphy, spelling the name of Allah on the right side and Muhammad on the left side, and also calligraphy of Surah Thaha 14th verse in the center.
Unlike many Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Indian masjids with multiple minarets, Masjid Istiqlal has a single minaret to symbolize the divine oneness of God. It is 66.66 metres tall to symbolize 6,666 verses, the traditional perception of the numbers of verses in the Quran. The 30-metre-high stainless steel pinnacle on top of the minaret symbolizes the 30 juz’ of the Quran. On the southern side near the minaret there is also a large bedug (large wooden drum made of cow skin). In common with the entire Islamic world, traditionally Muslims in Indonesia use the drum with the adhan (call to prayer).
Following US President Barack Obama and his wife’s visit to the Masjid Istiqal in November 2010, about 20 visitors per day have come to tour the masjid. Among foreign dignitaries who have visited Masjid Istiqlal are former US president Bill Clinton, President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Prince Charles of United Kingdom, Li Yuanchao, Vice President of the Communist Party of China, President of Chile Sebastián Piñera, Heinz Fischer, the President of Austria, Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of Norway and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2012.