A Minaret Struck by Lightning

Text and photographs by Lau Sook Mei

In the morning of 24 March, while Hong and I were on our way to an appointment at St John’s Church we passed the junction of Jalan Mesjid (Hume Street) and Jalan Datuk Onn Jaafar (Cockman Street). Hong noticed something amiss with the minaret of the Dato’ Panglima Kinta Mosque. We had to investigate the situation; there was time.

Worker reaching the damaged crown of the minaret - 24/3/11.

We found a worker in a ‘cherry picker’ being hoisted up to his work place: the top of the minaret. We saw new brickwork, the crown was being repaired. We were told by a workman on the ground that the minaret was struck by lightning.

From left: Work in progress - 24/3/11.

Built in 1898 before New Town was even named, the Dato’ Panglima Kinta Mosque is set back from the east bank of the Kinta River, providing a beautiful vista from the embankment. Noted as “a very substantial, handsome brick building”, it is one of the 25 heritage buildings gazetted by the Ipoh Municipality Council or Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh (MBI). It was the tenth Dato’ Panglima Kinta Muhammad Yusuff who had the mosque built in memory of his wife Saaidah. In the grounds of the mosque is the family mausoleum and the Madrasah (religious school) Kamaliah.

Madrasah Kamaliah.

The mosque is a heritage building and any repair should be carefully considered. We ran a check.

According to reliable sources, MBI was not informed of the damage by lightning. MBI’s stand on maintenance of any gazetted building is clear: the property owner is entirely responsible for the cost of maintenance and all expenses on any repair. MBI need only be consulted on major work which affects the building structure. At any rate, the repair to the minaret would be considered minor.

Currently, the legislation on gazetted buildings is weak.  What is generally considered major or minor work does not necessarily apply to heritage buildings; all repairs, even so-called minor ones, can be critically important.

PHS often gets asked by owners about the benefits for buildings which are gazetted as heritage or historical. What do owners gain for “sharing” their gazetted property with the public? There is no money in it, so far. So is it fair to expect the owners to maintain their property without any governmental assistance?

Property owners are generally un-enlightened about preferred practices in conservation, especially when they have to foot the bills for maintenance and keeping the building in good repair. To buildings deemed heritage and historical, MBI must provide assistance, and incentives, to encourage adopting preferred practices for any work on the building, major or minor.

The cement plastered minaret - 31/3/11.

The damaged brickwork and mouldings on this 113-year-old minaret were patched up with mortar mixed with portland cement, which is alien to the original structure. Clearly, this is a case when MBI should intervene and assist, to recommend proper restoration method in preserving the building’s authenticity and integrity, however minor the repair is. For the relevant MBI department and its staff, experiencing the whole process of repair work to a gazetted building would be a learning curve to their benefit. The ‘minor’ repair to the minaret provides a perfect situation for an on-site study and observation.

Note the minaret on the right.

We suggest that a lightning rod be installed on the minarets to avoid any repeat, and spare the remaining original minaret from any damage and incorrect repairs. Will MBI make this request to the management of the mosque?

The end product - 5/4/11.

A check on the minaret on 5 April revealed that the repair job was completed. That was quick. If you have never been to the mosque, do stop by; you will be rewarded with a very pretty sight. For those who have checked out the repairs, why not tell us what you think? We would love to read your comment in this blog.

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