Kuala Lumpur, Capital of Islamic Culture for 2009


“Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu” (Unity Is Strength)


A country deeply steeped in history and one which boasts a unique geographical position, Malaysia has been for long not only a privileged destination for people wanting to settle in it, but also a scene of trade rivalries between Asian and European countries. Its peninsular position has made of it a melting pot of Southeast Asian populations, religions and civilizations. This cultural and religious diversity has been cultivated by the Government, keen as it is on building a modern State without breaking with its cultural traditions. Hegemonic powers had long coveted the chance of seizing the Malaysian peninsula and the Borneo Island, which stood as the main engine for trade in the South China Sea, thanks to their rich resources in wood and spices. Wood has had a strategic importance for sailing, as it was used in the making of vessels. Spices were the main tradable commodity in the world from the 16th through the 18th centuries. Yet all hegemonic plans were met with fierce resistance from a population displaying an unflinching determination to preserve their independence and their resources.  Islam was first introduced in this land during the 11th century, on the back of advanced sailing techniques which had made it possible for the States of the Arabian Peninsula to establish trade relations with Southeast Asia, particularly the trade of spices and wood. Islam gained strong ground first in the Sultanate of Melaka, a territory now shared by Malaysia and Thailand. In its golden days, Islam made a rich cultural and intellectual contribution in this land, as evidenced by the numerous architectural vestiges (mosques, mausoleums, princely residences, etc.,) and the thousands of manuscripts written on paper and banana leaf.

Night view of the minaret of a mosque in Kuala Lumpur

Today, Malaysia is a federation with 13 states (negeri) and 3 federal districts (wilayah persekuan): 11 states including 9 sultanates are situated in the Malay Peninsula, and 2 states are in the Borneo Island, including the capital, Kuala Lumpur, which espouses an ambitious modernity and preservation of the values of civilizations, including the Islamic civilization, still felt across the country.

Kuala Lumpur is home to the first camp of Raja Abdullah who gave it the evocative name of “bundle of mud”, which it preserved till now. Its history is marked by the discovery of tremendous tin deposits in the middle of the 19th century. Since then, the city has witnessed a huge expansion propelled by that new wealth, and attracted large numbers of migrants from many Southeast Asia countries. European countries (Portugal, the Netherlands and Great Britain) looked at it with great envy. During World War II, it became the scene of several deadly clashes over its strategic position in the China Sea.

Masjid Jamek, the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur

Most emblematic of the Islamic civilization is the architecture of Moorish-Indian historical monuments in Kuala Lumpur, the finest model of which is provided by Masjid Jamek Mosque. This architectural style reflects the mixture of cultures in the peninsula, which continued to inspire major buildings such as the Old Train Station, the High Court of Justice and the Museum of Islamic Civilizations.
The building of Masjid Jamek, the oldest and the largest mosque in the city, is primarily an act of faith of the Sultan of Selangor, who inaugurated it in 1909. Yet the Negara national Mosque was inaugurated in 1965, Masjid Jamek remained the major venerable mosque of Malaysia.
Today, Kuala Lumpur (or most commonly KL) has 3 million inhabitants; more than 50% of them are Chinese, 1/3 Malays, and 15% Indians. Espousing traditionalism and modernism, this capital cherishes a pronounced ambition to match global metropolises with large industrial and architectural projects, and positions itself as one of the leading hubs of the Knowledge Society, thanks to its performance in the field of informatics.
As part of its festivities as Capital of Islamic Culture for 2009, Kuala Lumpur will organize with ISESCO several national, regional and international meetings,  as well as exhibitions on the Islamic heritage (see the attached list of events).

A modern district of Kuala Lumpur with its mosquenestling under the skyscrapers

KL City of the avant-garde: the Petronas Twin Towers, the highest in the world