Malaysia's Stunning Crystal Mosque

Masjid Kristal
••• Patrick Foto/Getty Images

In a number of senses, it's accurate to say that most people in the world have the wrong idea about Islam. From the assumption among some presidential candidates that they should be banned from entering the United States, to the ignorance among non-Muslims RE: the age-old Shia-Sunni feud, misunderstandings about Islam account for at least as many problems as Islam itself.

Another common mistake people make when it comes to Islam is thinking all Muslims live in the Middle East—in fact, a near majority don't.

To the northern parts of India (which is home to the world's largest population of Muslims), to Asian Muslim-majority countries like Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslims are very far from being limited to the bazaars of Baghdad, the camel traders of Cairo or the spice markets of Sana'a.

Neither Muslims nor Islamic architecture, at least not Islamic modern architecture. In fact, one of the great wonders of the contemporary Islamic world is located more than 4,000 miles away from Mecca.

History of the Crystal Mosque

Known as "Masjid Kristal" in Bahasa Malaysia, the Crystal Mosque opened in 2008 after two years of construction. The mosque is located in Kuala Terannganu, a city on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, located very near the Islamic Heritage Park that opened during the same year. Although the mosque borrows many design elements from tradition (more on those in a second), its importance is more to the city of Kuala Teranggunu than to Islam itself.

Like many cities and towns in Malaysia in the not so recent past, Kuala Terangganu was a sleepy fishing village. Then, someone discovered oil nearby and the rest, as they say, is history. The Crystal Mosque, glitzy, glamorous and modern but with some nods at tradition, perfectly embodies the trajectory of the city around it: A nearly overnight Cinderella story.

Crystal Mosque: Architectural Specifications

Although there is some actual crystal present within the structure of the Crystal Mosque, much of the clear material you see as you approach it is glass. In order to get the full effect of the mosque's crystalline appearance, it's best to visit at nighttime, when it's lit up and almost looks surreal.

Aside from this, the Crystal Mosque is reinforced with steel, which in combination with the glass and crystal gives it a sleek-modern look you don't usually associate with mosques, let alone with the Islamic religion. Although the Crystal Mosque is a far cry from some of the older, grander mosques you find across the Islamic world, the sheer uniqueness of its construction makes it worth the visit.

The Crystal Mosque can accommodate up to 1,500 people at once, although many more might be outside it at a given time—if that given time happens to Ramadan, which I'll talk more about in the next section. The mosque boasts four minarets, which are the most traditional design features it has.

How to Visit the Crystal Mosque

Kuala Terannganu is accessible via bus and car, but the fastest and easiest way to reach it by taking a flight via Kuala Lumpur, either on AirAsia or Malaysia Airlines.

 The Crystal Mosque is the most ubiquitous in Kuala Terannganu, by a long shot, so once you arrive in the city center, it's a quick and easy taxi ride (or, depending upon where you stay, how much time you have and what the weather's doing, walk) away.

One of the best times to visit the Crystal Mosque (and one of the most fascinating times to visit Malaysia, or any Muslim country for that matter) is during the Holy Month of Ramadan, during which huge crowds of faithful create not only a special, palpable energy, but also amazing photo opportunities. Click here to learn when Ramadan is for the year you're reading this article.