The famous floating mosque of Kota Kinabalu
I’ve visited many mosques, because in Turkey mosques have always been open to the public. In fact, I was shocked the first time I visited a Muslim country where non-Muslims were prohibited from entering. As a teacher and avid traveler, I believe that being open and sharing is the way to global understanding, so I do feel it a shame when there are any limitations put on travelers. I’ve also been to cities, such as Dubai, where you can take a guided visit to the Jumeirah Mosque and learn about Islam.
Religion is one of the most distinctive cultural identities in any country, and we try to make it a practice to visit some local religious institutions everywhere we go. Therefore, it was a given that we would want to visit the famous floating mosque or City mosque of Kota Kinabalu. Very much like some other mosques, like Kairouan in Tunisia, you can only enter with a guide and of course proper attire.
At the City Mosque, visitors must first check in at the kiosk where they register. At the same time, if you do not have appropriate clothing, you can rent it from the shop. To enter a mosque, one should be dressed very conservatively. Women must cover their head, hair, shoulders, arms to wrists, legs to ankles. The outfits to lend are a plum purple cape and hood that easily fits over the clothes you are wearing. In Malaysia, it is so hot and humid that most non-Muslim women are not dressed conservatively enough to enter the mosque.
The day before we visited, Devon and I stopped by a Muslim dress shop that was located right next to our hostel. We talked to the sales girls and each bought a headscarf called a “Tudung,” which is a one-piece, somewhat elastic, scarf you can easily pull over your head. So we brought these along with us to the mosque, and of course we were wearing long sleeve shirts and pants. When we produced the tudungs to the officials, they took them from us and helped us put them on correctly. We were then inspected by the lead man and given the okay to enter the mosque with our guide without having to rent an outfit. It was very evident from their conversation and smiles that they were very impressed that we had made the effort in attaining the appropriate attire, and that in turn made our day as well.
A young woman offered to guide us into the mosque. Her role was mainly to make sure we didn’t commit any faux pas, but along the way she also told us a few details about the building. It was opened in 2000, the same year that Kota Kinabalu was granted city status.
She led us around for about 20 minutes, showing us the entry, the washing areas, the main prayer halls, and left us to our own after a while letting us know that we were welcome to just sit or lay down, taking a rest from the oppressive heat outside. I thought this was a very welcoming gesture, and there were a few people just lounging around enjoying the quiet.
After our fill of the inside of the mosque, we left the building and enjoyed a walk around the man-made lagoon, enjoying the deep blue onion domes on the minarets.
We completely enjoyed our visit to one of Malaysia’s most beautiful and well-known mosques. We found the people welcoming and helpful, and the vibe very calm and peaceful. I would highly recommend visiting it to any future travelers.