Located next to the monumental Jakarta Cathedral in the northeast side of the massive Merdeka Square, Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta was built to commemorate Indonesian Independence and was appropriately named Istiqlal, an Arabic word for independence. Considered the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and the sixth largest mosque in the world in terms of worshipper capacity, the mosque was designed by architect Frederich Silaban in 1954 and was opened to the public on 22 February 1978. The idea of constructing a grand Indonesian national mosque was proposed after the proclamation of Indonesian Independence in 1945 and a committee for the construction of the Istiqlal Mosque was founded in 1953. Consequently, in 1954, the committee appointed Sukarno, the first President of Indonesia, as the technical chief supervisor of the proposed project.
Initially, it was suggested by Mohammad Hatta, the first vice president of the country and known as the Proclamator, the proposed mosque should be built near residential areas on Thamrin Avenue. But President Sukarno insisted that a national mosque should be located near the most important square of the nation, because in accordance with the Javanese tradition, the Merdeka Palace, the king’s palace and the grand mosque should be located around the main Javanese city square, which is the Merdeka Square.
He also suggested that to symbolize religious harmony and tolerance as promoted in Pancasila, the foundational philosophical theory of the country, the national mosque should be ideally built near Jakarta Cathedral and Immanuel Church. After a series of discussions, it was finally decided that the national mosque would be constructed in Taman Widjaja Kusuma, formerly Wilhelmina Park, in front of the Jakarta Cathedral and consequently, to make room for the mosque, the Citadel Prins Frederick, also called Fort Prins Frederik, a fortification built in 1837 by the Dutch, was demolished. Although the foundation stone was laid by President Sukarno on 24 August 1961, it took 17 years to complete the construction and was inaugurated by President Suharto as the national mosque on 22 February 1978.
Covering a massive area of 986,286 sq feet (91,629 sq m), the building of the Istiqlal Mosque consists of two connected rectangular structures, the main structure and the smaller secondary structure. The smaller one serves as the main gate as well as stairs and prayer spaces and the main structure is directly connected to the arcades, spread around the large courtyard. The arcades are connect to the main building with only a single minaret in the southern corner, which is unlike most of the Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Indian mosques with multiple minarets.
Its 218.70 feet (66.66 m) tall minaret symbolizes the divine oneness of God, while the 98.42 feet (30 m) tall, stainless steel pinnacle on top of the minaret symbolizes the 30 juz', one of the 30 parts of the Quran. There is a huge 6.56 feet wide and 9.84 feet long (2 m x 3 m) wooden drum made of cow skin, locally known as bedug, located on the southern side of the minaret, the beats of which are known as adhan, calling the Muslims in Indonesia for prayer.
According to the seven heavens of Islam, the Istiqlal Mosque is equipped with seven entrance gates, named after one of the 99 Names of Allah.
Among the three main gates, Al Fattah or The Opener, located opposite of the Jakarta Cathedral, serves as the main entrance for visitors and leads to the main parking area, while Ar Rozzaq or The Provider, located at Jalan Perwira, leads to the main parking area and As Salam, The Peace, is used as entrance for the important guests, clerics or ambassadors. The other gates include, Al Quddus, The Holy, located on the northeast of the mosque complex, Al Malik, The King, located on the west of the mosque complex, used by the president of Indonesia or other important guests, Ar Rahman, The Compassion, located near the entrance gate of Al Malik and Al Ghaffar, The Forgiving, located just below the minaret of Istiqlal Mosque.
The massive dome, crowning the rectangular prayer hall, measuring 45 m (147.63 feet), is an allusion to the year 1945, when Indonesia became independent, while the smaller dome of the extension measures 8 m (26.24 feet), signifies the month of August, the month in which the country earned its independence. The main dome is topped by a stainless steel pinnacle in the form of a crescent and a star, the universal symbol of Islam and the smaller secondary dome is also adorned with a stainless steel pinnacle with the name of Allah in calligraphy. The main dome is supported by twelve round columns, representing the birthday of Prophet Muhammad on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-awwal, while the five floors of the prayer hall, including the galleries, represent the Five Pillars of Islam and also Pancasila. There is a Mihrab, a niche in the main wall indicating the Qibla, the direction towards the Kaaba in Mecca and the Minbar, the pulpit where the imam stands to deliver sermons.
The Istiqlal Mosque underwent a major renovation between May 2019 and July 2020, when apart from polishing and cleaning the marble exterior and stainless steel geometric ornamentation, the plumbing and electrical systems were upgraded, along with the construction of a new Mihrab and Minbar, new kiosk for vendors and the two storey basement parking space were also added. Added to the beauty of the mosque complex, there is a large pool and a grand fountain in the southwestern corner of the garden surrounding the mosque that spouts water 45 m (147.64 feet) high on the Fridays and on the Islamic holidays. The newly renovated mosque was inaugurated by President Joko Widodo on 7th January 2021, illuminated by LED lighting, when the 3,375 light fixtures installed on the mosque’s main façade, main dome, small dome, façade of the minarets, corridors and the main prayer hall, created an exotic effect.