Hajjah Fatimah Mosque

Singapore Infopedia


Hajjah Fatimah Mosque is located along Beach Road in the historic Kampong Glam area.1 Built between 1845 and 1846, the mosque was named after Hajjah Fatimah, a wealthy businesswoman. It is one of the few mosques in Singapore to be named after a female benefactor.2 The mosque used to be known as Java Road Mosque, after an adjoining road that has since been expunged.3 Combining eastern and western design elements, the mosque is known for its unique minaret, which resembles a church spire,4 and the noticeable tilt of its minaret, which has led some to refer to it as the “leaning tower of Singapore”.5 The mosque was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June 1973.6

Hajjah Fatimah was born in Malacca and was said to be married to a Bugis prince from the Celebes (Sulawesi). After his death, she successfully carried on his trading business and amassed great wealth. According to historical accounts, her house was twice burgled and set on fire. To demonstrate her gratitude to divine providence for having spared her life, Hajjah Fatimah built a mosque on the land where her residence once stood. The mosque was eventually named after her.7

After her death, Hajjah Fatimah was buried in a private enclosure behind the mosque, and was later joined by her daughter Raja Siti and her son-in-law Syed Ahmed bin Abdul-Rahman Alsagoff.8 Ownership of the mosque passed to the Alsagoff family and then to the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS).9

Hajjah Fatimah Mosque was designed by an unknown European architect, and built between 1845 and 1846. As the minaret resembles the steeple of the Church of St Andrew (precursor to the present-day St Andrew’s Cathedral), some believe that its designer was John Turnbull Thomson, though there is no documentary evidence to support this view.10

The mosque has undergone alterations and additions over the years. In the 1930s, French contractors Bossard & Mopin and Malay artisans rebuilt the main prayer hall based on designs by Chinese architects Chung & Wong, thereby contributing to the mosque’s syncretic look.11

The mosque was designated a national monument on 28 June 1973 by the Preservation of Monuments Board (known today as Preservation of Sites and Monuments).12 Much-needed restoration and renovation works were undertaken around this time, including the water-proofing of the mosque’s dome and minaret as well as strengthening the building.13 

The mosque is an eclectic blend of eastern and European architectural styles, as seen in the Indo-Saracenic-style, bulbous-shaped dome, the Moorish wooden balcony above the entrance gates, European-style pilasters with Doric capitals in the minaret, and Chinese glazed green tiles on the parapet.14

The mosque compound is bounded by a high wall. The complex consists of a minaret tower, a prayer hall, an ablution area, the imam’s residence, a mausoleum, small cemetery, gardens and ancillary buildings.15

The four-level minaret tilts at an angle of about six degrees, which led to it being called “Singapore’s leaning tower”. The tilt is caused by moisture seepage and shifting of the handmade bricks that were used in the construction of the tower.16

The main prayer hall is skewed from the main entrance to face Mecca. It is topped by an onion-shaped dome with 12 lancet-shaped windows fitted with yellow and green stained-glass panels. Lancet-shaped doorways and windows are found throughout the mosque’s architecture, providing ventilation to the interiors.17

The mausoleum behind the prayer hall houses the tombs of Hajjah Fatimah, her daughter and son-in-law, while a small cemetery in the garden inters the remains of Hajjah Fatimah’s other family members.18


Edian Azrah & Joanna Tan

1. Preservation of Monuments Board, foreword to Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines, vol 1 (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 1991). (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 FAT)
2. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 269 (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Liu Gretchen, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1996), 93 (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 2002), 84 (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE); Preservation of Monuments Board, Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines.
3. “Hajjah Fatimah Mosque,” National Heritage Board, accessed 2 November 2020; T.H.H. Hancock and C.A. Gibson-Hill, Architecture in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Art Society, 1954) (Call no. RCLOS 722.4095957 SIN); Ray Tyres, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 79. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 84.
4. Edwards and Keys, Buildings, Streets, Places, 269; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 93; Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985), 58–59 (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA); Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 84.
5. “The Leaning Tower of Singapore,” Straits Times, 30 November 1996, 11; “Plea for Cash to Help Repair S’pore’s ‘Leaning Tower’,” Straits Times, 17 May 1974, 9; “The Mystery of Singapore’s Leaning Tower,” Straits Times, 17 July 1991, 18 (From NewspaperSG); Ray Tyers, Singapore, Then & Now (Singapore: University Education Press, 1976), 180. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE)
6. Preservation of Monuments Order 1973, S 228/1973, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 1973, 377 (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS); National Heritage Board, “Preservation of Monuments Board Merges with the National Heritage Board,” press release, 8 July 2009, transcript, National Heritage Board. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 20090715004)
7. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore: 1819–1867, with introduction by Constance Mary Turnbull (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 564–65 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Liu, Granite and Chunam, 93; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 85.
8. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, pp. 564–65; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 93; Edwards and Keys, Buildings, Streets, Places, 269; Ismail Kassim, “A Relic of the Past is Spared by Builders,” New Nation, 27 April 1973, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, pp. 564–65; “Relic of the Past is Spared by Builders” ; Ismail Kassim, “The Old and New of Singapore…,” New Nation, 31 August 1974, 7; Mosque with a Woman’s Name, Straits Times, 27 July 2002, 7 (From NewspaperSG); “Annual Report 2015”, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, 73, accessed on 29 July 2016.
10. Edwards and Keys, Buildings, Streets, Places, 269, 371; Tyers, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, p. 79; “Hajjah Fatimah Mosque”; Preservation of Monuments Board, Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines, 20.
11. Edwards and Keys, Buildings, Streets, Places, 269; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 96; G. Uma Devi, Singapore’s 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 30 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); “Untitled,” Straits Times, 5 August 1933, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Preservation of Monuments Board, Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines, 22–23.
12. Preservation of Monuments Order, Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 377.
13. Edwards and Keys, Buildings, Streets, Places, 269; Tyers, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, p. 79; “Fund to Renovate Mosque Short by $162,000,” Straits Times, 5 June 1974, 23; “Public give $140,000 to Renovate Mosque,” Straits Times, 7 July 1974, 5; “Leaning Mosque may End Up with too much Tilt,” Straits Times, 30 August 1974, 10; “Leaning Minaret: No More Signs of Tilting,” Straits Times, 31 December 1975, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Edwards and Keys, Buildings, Streets, Places, 269; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 93–96; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 84–87; Beamish and Ferguson, History of Singapore Architecture, 58–59; “Hajjah Fatimah Mosque.”
15. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 93; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 87; Preservation of Monuments Board, Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines, 28.
16. Melody Zaccheus, “
Mosque to be Restored but ‘Leaning Tower’ to Stay,” Straits Times, 20 May 2016, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Liu, Granite and Chunam, 93–96; Preservation of Monuments Board, Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines, vol. 2 (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 1991), 9. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 FAT)
17. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 96; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 86–87; “Hajjah Fatimah Mosque.”
18. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 86–87;Hajjah Fatimah Mosque.” Preservation of Monuments Board, Fatimah Mosque Preservation Guidelines, 27.

Further resources
Mosque Brings Memories of Malacca,” Straits Times, 29 November 1981, 48. (From NewspaperSG)

Mosque with a Woman’s Name,” Straits Times, 27 July 2002, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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