Masjid Abdul Gaffoor, or Abdul Gaffoor Mosque, is located at 41 Dunlop Street in the Little India conservation district. It was named after its founder Shaik Abdul Gaffoor bin Shaik Hyder.1 Completed in 1910, the mosque was built to replace the former Al-Abrar Mosque that had stood on its site. Abdul Gaffoor Mosque was gazetted as a national monument in 1979.2
In the mid-19th century, the Kampong Kapor area was an active business hub for Indian merchants and for those who worked at the old racecourse at Farrer Park. Kampong Kapor thus became a natural enclave for South Indian Muslim merchants and Bawanese syces and horse trainers. To serve the religious needs of the community, Masjid Al-Abrar (Al-Abrar Mosque) – a wooden structure with a tiled roof and made of brick and chunam – was built in 1859 at the same site of the present Abdul Gaffoor Mosque. In 1881, the Dunlop Street Mosque Endowment was established, with Ismail Mansor and Shaik Abdul Gaffoor appointed as trustees of the mosque.3
Abdul Gaffoor, a Muslim Tamil, was the chief clerk at a law firm at the time. As a mosque trustee, Abdul Gaffoor obtained a permit to construct shophouses around the mosque. Eight shophouses and nine sheds were constructed in 1887,4 followed by another set of shophouses in 1903.5 Some of these shophouses and terraces on Dunlop Street and Mayo Street remain standing today as properties of the mosque. As income from these shophouses accumulated, the construction of a new mosque began in 1907. Upon its completion three years later, the old mosque (Al-Abrar Mosque) was no longer used for religious purposes.6
At the time of Abdul Gaffoor’s death in 1919, he was the only trustee of the mosque and its properties.7 In 1927, the Muslim and Hindu Endowment Board took over management of the mosque,8 and it is currently owned by the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. Abdul Gaffoor Mosque was designated a national monument on 5 July 1979.9
From its early decades up to 1980s, the mosque was at times referred to as Dunlop Street Mosque;10 in subsequent decades, however, it became predominantly known as Abdul Gaffoor Mosque11 (though it is occasionally misspelt as Abdul Gafoor Mosque12).
Standing on a total area of 2,449 sq m, the mosque’s unusual symmetry, layout and incorporation of Moorish details set it apart from other mosques. Architecturally, it is modelled after Saracenic and Roman designs. Apart from Islamic details, many Western classical motifs are also used in the architectural decoration of the mosque. The prayer hall is raised above ground level and surrounded by verandahs and balustrades on all sides. Its interior features fine Arabic calligraphy and stained glass. The balustrades are carved with circular and lancet-shaped openings at the base and are roofed with cinquefoil arches with elaborate designs.13
The main entrance to the prayer hall is flanked on either side by a pair of graduated cinquefoil arched openings, and the entrance structure is decorated with elaborate carvings. Just above the entrance, there is a panel with calligraphic inscriptions, above which is a sundial flanked by miniature Corinthian columns that emits 25 rays of the sun decorated in Arabic calligraphy. Above the sundial is an onion-shaped dome, with a square minaret and a series of miniature columns and arches on each side.14
At the centre of the prayer hall is a cupola, a hexagonal shaped tower that protrudes from the roof deck. The cupola has three levels: At the base are coloured glass window panes, followed by capitals and balustrades with bottleneck-shaped carvings. At the top is a large, onion-shaped dome with a star and crescent moon at the pinnacle, accompanied by minarets at the corners. The cupola sits on the rooftop directly above the prayer hall. A staircase located at the back of the building leads to the rooftop, which is a flat deck encircled by a parapet with at least 22 mini-minarets continuing the pattern of onion domes, crescent moons and stars. Inside the prayer hall, a panel with a passage from the Koran inscribed on it hangs above the mihrab. Next to the mihrab is a three-step wooden mihrah.15
The structure is supported by clusters of large Corinthian columns at the four corners of the building. In addition, a number of pilasters and columns of Doric and Corinthian designs can be found at both the interior and exterior parts of the building. Another feature of the building is the single-leaf windows in some of the arched openings along the verandah. A pool near the mosque was replaced by a modern ablution area.16
A fundraising campaign launched in 1994 and headed by A. G. Mohamed Mustapha, chairman of the mosque management committee, raised S$2.5 million for a meticulous restoration of the unique mosque. About S$1.9 million was used to convert the associated shophouses into the Miftahul Ulum madrasah.17 Restoration work on the main prayer hall commenced in 2000.18 The work included strengthening the foundation of the building and converting the basement to support an air-conditioned prayer hall. Four minarets with mini-domes that had been part of the mosque’s original blueprints but had disappeared over time were reinstated at the four corners of the flat roof. The mosque was also given a new coat of green and yellow paint. Restoration works cost at least S$5.5 million. The mosque was officially reopened on 16 May 2003, and can now accommodate up to 4,000 worshippers, most of whom are Tamil-speaking Indian Muslims.19
In October 2003, Abdul Gaffoor Mosque received the Architectural Heritage Award from the Urban Redevelopment Authority in recognition of its innovative restoration and conservation works using a combination of traditional and modern architectural elements.20
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S A. Yeo, Toponyomics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2003), 31. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Rahma Sankaran, ed., History in Silence: Masjid Abdul Gaffoor (Singapore: Masjid Abdul Gaffoor, 2003). (Call no. RSING 297.355957 HIS); Preservation of Monuments Board Singapore, National Monuments (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 1985), 19. (Call no. RCLOS 722.4095957 NAT)
3. Sankaran, History in Silence, 15, 29, 83.
4. Ida Bachtiar, “Help Wanted: Funds to Restore a Little Mosque,” Straits Times, 11 September 1994, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, 2002), 90–93. (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE)
6. Sankaran, History in Silence, 19, 30.
7. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 129–30. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
8. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 129–30; “Matters Muslim,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 16 July 1927, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Preservation of Monuments Board Singapore, Abdul Gaffoor Mosque Preservation Guidelines (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 1991), 4–5, 10–11. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 ABD)
10. “Matters Muslim”; “Singapore’s Oldest Kathi Dies,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 15 May 1940, 2; “9 Endowments of $1,305,501 in Property and Incomes,” Singapore Free Press, 17 May 1951, 5; “Page 28 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 19 September 1982, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Peter Keys, “Classic in Design, Rich in History,” Straits Times, 10 January 1982, 10; “Breathing New Life into an Old Mosque,” Straits Times, 26 November 1998, 52. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Najib Ahmad, “This Is Not Just a Mosque,” Today, 8 June 2001, 4; “Abdul Gafoor Mosque,” Straits Times, 9 February 1990, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Sankaran, History in Silence, 40–42.
14. Sankaran, History in Silence, 40–44.
15. Sankaran, History in Silence, 40, 44–46.
16. Sankaran, History in Silence, 39–46.
17. “Breathing New Life into an Old Mosque.”
18. “Work to Restore Mosque Begins,” Straits Times, 19 November 2000, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Tracy Quek, “Mosque Gets New Look Just Llike in the Old Times,” Straits Times, 15 May 2003, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Karl Ho, “Awards Laud Fusion,” Straits Times, 17 October 2003, L3. (From NewspaperSG)
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