Secret City: The oldest mosque in Singapore is not the grandest one

Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka today. Photo: Google Maps
Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka today. Photo: Google Maps

The oldest mosque in Singapore may not exactly be on everyone’s itinerary when visiting Singapore. 

Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, as it’s officially known, may not be as majestic as Sultan Mosque or an architectural marvel like Assyafaah Mosque but, hidden away in the heart of the city, it is the oldest mosque in Singapore. 

Located at 11 Keng Cheow Street in the Clarke Quay area, this mosque has been standing since 1820, surviving wars, colonial rule and modernization. 


The land where the mosque stands used to be Kampung Melaka, one of the two Malay settlements that was developed by the early British administrators to get more Malay settlers to come set up homes in the burgeoning trade center. 

A surau (small mosque) was built and named after its builder, a Yemeni-Arab merchant called Syed Sharif Omar bin Ali Aljunied. The mosque soon became a gathering point for Muslims from India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia as it was the only mosque that existed in Singapore at that time. 

The book maps out the history of the mosque through the years. Photo: Wardah Books
The book maps out the history of the mosque through the years. Photo: Wardah Books

In those early days, the building was just a humble structure built with timber and wooden planks with an attap roof. In 1855, it was rebuilt to replace the old structure with funding from Syed Omar’s son, Syed Abdullah bin Omar Aljunied. 

For over 100 years, the building remained the same – and was even left undamaged after the Chinese and Malay racial riots in 1964, which is notable since it is located in the middle of a large Chinese community. 

Looking to the future

After a century(!) without change, the mosques saw new additions in the 1980s. A minaret – the dome-shaped structure common in mosques – was built in 1985, and speakers to broadcast the adzan (call to prayer) were added. 

Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka was declared a historic site by the National Heritage Board in 2001, joining the likes of Beach Road Police Station, Clifford Pier, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple as places that have contributed to Singapore’s rich heritage. 

In 2009, new areas were also added to the compound including classrooms, a prayer area for women and a resource center for both Muslims and non-Muslims to learn about Islam. Features like air conditioning were part of the new revamp to keep up with the times. 

However, if you are alert, you’ll find some of the building’s original 1855 elements still preserved or incorporated into the current version of the mosque, such as its original pillars and columns.

The mosque remains standing but hidden, flanked by the Park Regis Singapore and the Ministry of Manpower building.

It’s remarkable to think about all of the people who have passed through its doors over the centuries, seeking solace and community. The mosque may be old, but it still serves a vital role in Singapore’s Muslim community, offering a peaceful refuge from the hectic pace of the city outside.

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