The Muslim population of Vietnam is utterly modest, but there are around a dozen mosques in Ho Chi Minh City across downtown districts. Read our guide to learn more about Islam in Vietnam and what is special about an international mosque called Musulman Mosque in the heart of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Islam in Vietnam
Despite being the second biggest religion in the world, Islam is not popular in Vietnam. Most Muslims in Vietnam belong to an ethnic group called Chams, or Cham people, mostly living in certain provinces of central and southern Vietnam. The population of the Cham ethnic group in Vietnam is around 160,000 (2009), and about half are Muslims. Besides Islam, Cham people also followed other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.
The history of Islam in Vietnam
As investigated by Vietnam’s Government Committee for Religious Affairs, Islam entered the Cham people community as early as the 10th century through trading activities of the people with merchants from central and eastern Asian countries. However, it did not develop until the 15th century, when the main religion of the Cham people (called Balamon) weakened, following significant changes within Cham society. The spread of Islam during this period was primarily thanks to a group of Cham people who adopted Islam through their close contact with Cambodian, Malaysian, or Indonesian Muslims.
The Muslims in Central Vietnam (in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan provinces) adopt a more synthetic approach to their religious practice, making modifications that match local customs and the Cham’s traditions rather than strictly following the formal ceremony of Muslims around the world. However, the diet rule ‘halal’ is strictly observed in all regions. The ‘halal’ rule essentially prohibits pork consumption and discourages the use of animal fat and blood in general. Halal restaurants are typically available in the vicinity of a mosque.
Cham Muslims establish a representative body in their respective residential area. In Ho Chi Minh City, the official representative body of Muslims is the Ho Chi Minh City Muslim Representative Committee, which was officially founded in 1992.
Why do so few Vietnamese practice Islam?
Vietnam is not a very religious country; even the major religions in Vietnam, i.e. Buddhism and Catholicism, account for only 19% of the population. Instead, another form of spiritual practice omnipresent in Vietnam is praying to the family’s ancestors or other ‘local’ deities. This can be referred to as folk religion.
Islam in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few provinces/cities with mosques, and the number of mosques here is surprisingly high. There are around a dozen mosques in Ho Chi Minh City, with many Islamic residents, like in Districts 6, 8, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, and a part of District 5 bordering District 1.
Muslims in Ho Chi Minh City are also predominantly of Cham ethnicity, but their hometown is actually in An Giang Province from the Mekong Delta. After migrating to a new big city, the Cham continued residing in clusters for convenience in religious practice and to maintain solidarity.
The significant difference between mosques in Ho Chi Minh City and those in An Giang is that they welcome a more significant proportion of international Muslims, many of whom come from India. Another difference is that Muslims in Ho Chi Minh City adopted patrilineality while those in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan who followed Bani Islam, adopted matrilineality.
Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City
Address: 66 Dong Du Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Visitors are welcome to visit and take pictures of the mosque but must wear formal clothes (which means no shorts and revealing clothes) when visiting the mosque.
Prayer time (Salah time): At Musulman Mosque, daily prayers take place at 4:22 AM, 12:30 PM, 3:30 PM, 6:25 PM, and 7:34 PM. Friday prayer at 12:30 PM is the “Jumu’ah” congregational prayer time, the most important one of all.
A board showing prayer timings is hung on a post on the right of the gate right after you enter
Opening hours: 4:30 AM – 9:30 PM. But if you want to see the main prayer hall, you should come around after 12:30 PM since the doors are closed before this time.
Parking: free for motorbike riders. Cars should be parked in the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel right next to the Musulman Mosque.
Overview of Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City
Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City, otherwise known as Jamia Al Musulman Mosque, was built in 1935 by Indian expatriates and is the biggest mosque in this city, occupying an area of 2,000 square meters. Turning 88 years old this year (2023), but the green mosque with its immaculate look proves the good maintenance it enjoys. However, few people know that the mosque was built in 1900 and got its cover retouched 35 years later by a French architect.
Musulman Mosque with a stunning backdrop – Caravelle Hotel in District 1
The initial purpose of the Musulman Mosque was to cater to the religious practices of Southern Indian Muslims who lived as expatriates in Ho Chi Minh City. Since then, as the number of Muslims in the city grows, more and more visitors come to the mosque.
Within the premises of the Musulman Mosque are Noorul Imaan Arabic School and Haji Jmm Ismael Library. These names are carved on two golden boards on the left pillar at the entrance.
The gate of the mosque and the two golden boards on the left pillar write: Noorul Imaan Arabic School and Haji Jmm Ismael Library
Noorul Imaan Arabic School down the stairs on the right of the main prayer hall, hidden deep behind the courtyard
At prayer times, male Muslims in the surrounding area get themselves cleaned and washed, go to the mosque dressed in their traditional apparel to chant the Quran (Islamic scripture), and pray for health and peace for their family. Praying to their God (Allah) at the 5 salah times is a quintessential ritual of Islam and is compulsory for all Muslims; at least once during these five times, men must go to the mosque to say the prayers. Females are not encouraged, or to be more precise, not allowed, to go to the mosque to pray, except during Ramadan – the fasting month of Islam. This is because praying must be done with a pure soul and mind, not disturbed by any unrighteous thought, while women are believed to be a source of distraction for men.
The Designs of Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City
Musulman Mosque possesses an impressive but friendly look, with the primary theme color being green. Its design is delicate and characteristic of mosques in Southern Asia.
The typical components of a mosque are present here, but with its distinctive touch: a spacious courtyard (called ‘sahn’ in Islam), a large prayer hall, a ‘mihrab’ (a niche in the wall) representing Allah (meaning ‘god’ in Islam) and the door to Mecca – the holy city of Islam, and ‘minaret’ (tower) symbolizing the power of Islam.
Mihrab is positioned at the center point of the main prayer hall of the Musulman Mosque, and two minarets stand conspicuous to visitors from the outside. The main prayer hall is large, with fascinating green-and-orange doors. It resembles a Vietnamese house in that its walls are covered with pure white marble tiles, and the floors have colorful geometric patterns, a regular feature of Islamic design.
The two conspicuous minarets – towers that embody the power of Islam
Prayer Hall, with mihrab at the center
A closer look at the Prayer Hall center, bookshelves of over 100 Islamic holy books on both sides
Many doors to the prayer hall and spacious corridors on both sides
Stars and crescents are frequent symbols one can spot everywhere in Musulman Mosque. Crescents represent the Islamic calendar, and stars represent adherence to Allah’s will.
Crescents and stars are regular symbols. 1935 is the foundation year
Besides, one of the highlights of the Musulman Mosque must be a large ablution area (for ritual cleansing before prayer times).
The ablution area with a big pool where Muslims do the ritual cleansing before praying
Faucets and handwash for the convenience of cleansing for Muslims
Let’s take a look at the different corners of the Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City
To the right of the main doors to the Prayer Hall, a notice board for announcements of religious events in the year
5 clocks with Arabic words on them, indicating the 5 salah times of a day
A painting of Mecca, the holy city, hung on the wall of the right corridor of the Prayer Hall
Spacious corridors with donation safes and drinking water
At salal time 3:30 PM, a man chanting prayers to the microphone
A Vietnamese Muslim is checking the dates of religious events of the year
A sign outside the Prayer Hall reminding visitors and Muslims to leave their shoes there
There is a halal restaurant on the other side of the street
Conclusion on Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City
The presence of mosques in Ho Chi Minh City again proves the diversity of this city. Musulman Mosque is a friendly religious site for all visitors and is considered by many an excellent shelter from the heat of Ho Chi Minh City, especially at noon.
Related article: Ho Chi Minh City Attractions and Activities
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