Part I: The Ar-Raudah Mosque in Pekojan

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Ar- Raudah Shahabudin Mosque in Pekojan. Photo credit: Hamdis /IO

IO – Ar-Raudah is a small mosque located on Gang 3, Jalan Pekojan I which is also known as Jalan Pekojan Masjid because of the many old mosques in the Pekojan quarter just outside what was once the intramuros Old Town or Kota Tua of the VOC. It is a lovely and well-preserved little mosque from the 19th century. We know this from a plaque in the mosque which says that it was built on the 28th of April in the Hijri year of 1304 or 1886. The Hijri or Muslim calendar is calculated by observing the cycles of the moon. It consists of 354 or 355 days and is used to calculate the dates of Islamic rituals and feast days.

The plaque with the date of the establishment of Musyolah Ar-Raudah. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

In Indonesian the Ar-Raudah is referred to as a musyolah and not a masjid. What is the deference? Both are mosques however, a musyolah is a small mosque unlike a masjid which is a large mosque. Friday prayers and special prayers such as the prayers held at Eid after the fasting month of Ramadhan, may not be held at a small musyolah but must be held at a masjid. Mosques are often known as Masjid Jami or a ‘Jami Mosque’ meaning a congregational mosque. Jami means ‘one that assembles the parts and gathers them together’ in order to preserve the unity of Muslims. This is because in Islamic belief a congregation should not be divided.

Ar-Raudah means ‘the Garden of Heaven’ and in the past the small mosque no doubt had a garden as according to Soleh S. Pd, who is the guardian and caretaker of Ar-Raudah, when the land for the mosque was first acquired there were still woods in the surrounding area.

Four generations of Taufik bin Salim bin Abdul Aziz’s family have lived in Pekojan from as far back as the 19th century. His great grandfather Hamud bin Salim bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Batavia as Jakarta was then known, from Hadhramaut in Yemen in 1880, bringing with him his son Salim bin Hamud bin Abdul Aziz.

Taufik bin Salim bin Abdul Aziz with the guardian of the Ar-Raudah Mosque, Soleh S. Pd standing in the small mosque, July 2022. Photo credit: Hamdis/IO

His grandfather later became the assistant to the ‘Kapitan Arab’ or leader of the Arab community and consequently, a lot of knowledge about the Arab community and its history has been handed down through the generations in his family. For many years they still kept the old registers from his great grandfather. In 1886, Pak Taufik’s great grandfather married a local Muslim lady in Pekojan, and in 1888 had another son, Abdul Habib bin Hamud bin Abdul Aziz who became later Pak Taufik’s grandfather. His grandfather was a merchant in the sheep and goat trade in Pekojan. Middle Eastern and Moorish mutton dishes such as nasi kabuli are very popular amongst the Arab community in Pekojan. In the past the goat and sheep traders were gathered around Jembatan Kambing or the Goats’ Bridge area of Pekojan. The family still have the permit or besluit from the Netherlands Indies government given to his grandfather in 1936, granting him permission to sell mutton and beef. Pak Taufik’s father Salim continued the trade and even now Pak Taufik’s older brother, Abdul Habib bin Salim bin Abdul Aziz still sells goat and sheep mutton in Pekojan.

Veterinarian Service of the Netherlands Indies government for Abdul Habib bin Hamud bin Abdul Aziz as a merchant for goats and sheep. Photo credit: Hamdis /IO.

Both Pak Taufik and Pak Soleh explained the history of Ar-Raudah to the Independent Observer last week but to better understand the history of the mosque it is necessary to have an understanding of something of the history of Pekojan and the Arab families living there. Pekojan was known as ‘Kampung Arab Pekojan’or the ‘Arab Village of Pekojan’.

After the VOC subjugated Jayakarta with its port of Sunda Kelapa, they brought many different peoples to settle in Batavia for the VOC had a shortage of labour as well as skilled craftsmen, to build and maintain the city. First, they brought in Chinese from Banten, West Java who first worked as labourers. They built the city with its canals and buildings, and created the vegetable gardens, fruit orchard and sugarcane plantations surrounding the city. They also conducted the trade in ceramics with China, as China refused to trade directly with the VOC. They later, also became the contractors who built large parts of the city walls, the canals and buildings in Batavia for the VOC. At first, the Chinese lived within the walled city but after the Chinese Massacre of 1740, they were no longer allowed to live in the city and had to live outside the city walls in areas like Pecinan or Glodok. Some also settled in Pekojan, and live there till today. There are not only many old mosques in Pekojan but also some old Chinese temples.

Beside the Chinese, the VOC also brought Indian slaves to Batavia mostly from the Coast of Coromandel where the VOC had seized Portuguese settlements such as Nagapatnam, Marsulipatnam and Pulicate. The Indians were mainly Muslims and later after they were manumitted, they were also required to settle outside the city walls. They mainly settled in Pekojan and were referred to by the Dutch as the Moors. Gradually, they intermarried with the local Muslim population and assimilated. The Moors built the two oldest mosques in Pekojan namely, Masjid Al Anshor and Masjid Kampung Baru, both of which are 18th century mosques.

It was really only in the 19th century that the Dutch allowed Arabs to live in Batavia but even then with many difficulties and restrictions. The Arabs who settled in Batavia came mainly from the Hadhramaut in Eastern Yemen and they chose to live in the Muslim quarters of the Moors. Many of the first Arabs to arrive in Batavia, were traders and had trading connections to India and felt comfortable with the Muslim Indians.

The elegant 19th century brackets of Ar-Raudah Shahabudin Mosque in Pekojan. Photo credit: Hamdis /IO

Taufik Abdul Aziz explained that there were Arabs who came from the Hadhramaut whose ancestors originally came from Saudi Arabia via Basrah in Iraq and finally, settled in the Hadhramaut. They are descendants of the Prophet Muhamad who are referred to as the sada. They carry the title syed or said. However, there were also Arabs who came from the Hadhramaut whose ancestors were originally from Hadhramaut and they are given the title sheik or syeikch

One such sada was Habib Abu Bakar bin Umar Shahab who was a descendant of the well-known preacher Ahmad bin Isa al-Muhajir (820-924) who moved from Basrah in Iraq to the Hadrahmaut in order to avoid sectarian violence. He was the founder of the Ba ‘Alawi sada group which played an important role in spreading Islam to India, Southeast Asia and Africa, and he had many descendants in Hadhramaut. The land for the Musyolah Ar-Raudah was donated by one of his descendants, Habib Abu Bakar bin Umar Shahab.

Taufik Abdul Aziz says that Habib Abu Bakar bin Umar Shahab arrived in Indonesia at the beginning of the 19th century. He sailed to the Indies on an English ship and brought with him his son Ali bin Abu Bakar bin Umar Shahab. With them also came Syeikh Abud bin Ali Busab’ah, Syeikh Mubarak bin Muhammad Marbas and Syeikh Umar Hablil. Following in the footsteps of his renown ancestor, Habib Abu Bakar came to Indonesia to help spread Islamic beliefs, but also to trade. “In those days, people who were descendants of the Prophet were very respected and loved by the local population and the people asked Habib Abu Bakar bin Umar Shahab to settle in Pekojan where he was provided with land. He was a wealthy man and later, he donated or wakfkan part of the land to build a small mosque which became the Musyolah Ar_Raudah.”

Musyolah Ar-Raudah is on a small lane that has retained an atmosphere of days gone-by. Photo credit: Hamdis/IO

“Which is why the proper name of the musyolah is actually Musyolah Ar-Raudah Shihabudin. Shihab and Shahab are the same name in fact,” explained Pak Soleh.

The three syeikhs who accompanied Habib Abu Bakar bin Umar Shahab from Yemen to Indonesia also settled in Pekojan, and their descendants still live there today.

In the past many different ethnic groups settled in Bataiva. Some originated from other lands such as the Chinese, the Moors and the Arabs. Others came from different parts of Indonesia either brought to Batavia by the VOC as slaves or they served in the colonial army. When they were not fighting, they needed a place to live so, the VOC gave the different ethnic groups land to build villages for themselves where they lived in-between fighting, or as a place to stay after the slaves were all manumitted. Each community had a leader responsible for their ethnic group known as a kapitan so there was a Kapitan Arab, a Kapitan Cina, a Kapitan Melayu, a Kapitan Bugis, a Kapitan Ambon and so forth.  Later, there was also a Luitenant der Arabieren to assist the Kapitan Arab. Taufik bin Abdul Aziz grandfather, Abdul Habib bin Hamud bin Abdul Aziz was wijkmeester and assistant to the Kapitan Arab besides being a goat and sheep merchant in Pekojan.

The small, white Ar-Raudah mosque, is built in a European style with the sort of elegant wrought iron brackets that were popular at the end of the 19th century. It is trimmed with wooden doors and windows painted at times turquoise and at the moment in green. All its original teak doors and windows are intact, as are the great teak beams that span across the room which are worth a small fortune now. Ar-Raudah has always had its own spring providing water for ablutions before prayers and this has never run dry, nor has it become contaminated with salt water as so many natural springs in the north of Jakarta have.

Pak Soleh with the spring that never dries up at Ar-Raudah. Photo credit: Hamdis /IO.

Another thing that is special about the mosque is that in the past the Muslim women of Pekojan complained that they had no place for taraweh prayers (non-obligatory evening prayers during Ramadhan) whereas the men could go to any mosque for taraweh. Consequently, Ar-Raudah had the special feature of being open only for women during Ramadhan, and this has remained so till today.

By the 1990s, Ar-Raudah had become dilapidated and neglected. People ceased to use the musyolah for prayers. Pak Soleh’s father, H. Solihin seeing it in such a sad state was moved to help the mosque and restored it between 1997 and 1998. Pak Solihin did a very fine work in restoring rather than renovating Ar-Raudah. Consequently, those interested in heritage and history can still experience the mosque and the atmosphere surrounding it as it was long ago. After the restoration, Pak Solihin took over as caretaker and guardian of the musyolah. After his father’s death a few years ago, Pak Soleh now holds those positions and takes care of this very sweet, little mosque with an important history in Pekojan. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Next week’s article will be about the Jamiat Kheir organization which began at the Musyola Ar-Raudah, and a little about Kampung Arab Pertojo.

Ar-Raudah Shahabudin Mosque in Pekojan. Photo credit: Hamdis /IO