Among the grand mosques in East Java, the mosque of Sunan Ampel in Surabaya is the most significant after the Great Mosque of Surabaya. Right next to the Ampel mosque is the tomb of one of Java’s early missionaries, the holy Sunan Ampel who passed away in 1481. Surrounding the mosque is Surabaya’s Arab town where the largest part is inhabited by Arabs from Yemen and Chinese who have lived and traded here for hundreds of years. The atmosphere in Arab town feels very similar to that around the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
During the Ramadhan fasting month, the Sunan Ampel mosque a most favored site for people to come and pray. The number of people who come here usually doubles from the average 2,000. Especially around “maleman”, which are the evenings of the 21, 23, 25, 27, 29 of the month of Ramadhan, congregations can grow to 10,000 people and sometimes even to 20,000. During the fasting month, the mosque provides food to break the fast, paid from contributions given by the faithful.
Besides coming to pray and reciting the dzikir in a quiet and peaceful place, many come for pilgrimage to the tomb of Sunan Ampel. Tourists from China, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brunei Darussalam, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, and Korea have also visited the mosque to admire the building, but also to visit the tomb of Sunan Ampel.
The Ampel Mosque was built in 1421 by Sunan Ampel, assisted by his close friends Mbah Sholeh and Mbah Sonhaji, and their followers. Built on an area of 120 x 180 square meters in the village of Ampel (today the subdistrict of Ampel), in the district of Semampir Surabaya, it lies 2 km east of Jembatan Merah – the Red Bridge. It is not known when the mosque was actually completed. Sunan Ampel also built a religious school known as Pondok Pesantren Ampel. In 1972 the Sunan Ampel grand mosque area was designated as religious tourist site by the municipality of Surabya.
Ampel is located in the north of Surabaya, where the majority of inhabitants are of Arab descent. Here you will find a distinct Middle East atmosphere where typical Middle Eastern food and goods are sold in the markets. The mosque is the center of Ampel, with its address at Jalan Ampel Suci 45 or Jl. Ampel Masjid 53. Built in the 15th century it is one of Surabaya’s main religious tourism destinations.
The architecture of the mosque follows ancient Javanese style with Arab Islamic features. The Sunan Ampel mosque shows the fusion between local and Hindu-Buddhist architectural styles. In those early days this is where the missionaries (wali) and religious leaders (ulemas) gathered from around Java to discuss the teachings of Islam and its proselytizing across Java.
The Ampel mosque is built of strong teak wood sourced from East Java, and is believed to possess “karomah” (power of protection). Locals recount that when foreign troops invaded Surabaya from all sides with their heavy artilleries, the Ampel mosque was left completely unscathed and undisturbed.
Sunan Ampel is one of the nine Wali’s, known as Wali Songo (the nine early Islamic missionaries) who spread the faith of Islam on Java. Originally named Raden Mohammad Ali Rahmatullah, he was a devout, wise and a charismatic personality, who quickly won the affection and respect of the local population.
Born 1401 in Champa, Cambodia, history notes that Sunan Ampel was a descendant of Ibrahim Asmarakandi, a prince of Champa, who lived and stayed in the town of Tuban, in East Java. At the age of 20 years, Raden Rachmat decided to settle in Java, in Surabaya, East Java, which at the time was under the reign of king Brawijaya of the Majapahit Empire, who in his old age embraced Islam. Even as a young man of 20, Sunan Ampel was already known as a religious teacher, who was entrusted by king Brawijaya to teach and spread the Islam religion in Surabaya. His special task was to morally educate the aristocracy and the youth of Majapahit.
For this purpose Raden Rachmat was loaned a 12 hectares swathe of land at Ampel Denta, present day Surabaya, to become the center for learning and teaching of the Moslem religion. It is for this reason that Raden Rachmat became known as Sunan Ampel. From here he led the proselytisation of Java to Islam. And, together with his followers he built the Ampel Mosque. Here he spent his entire life until his death in 1481, when his remains were laid to rest in the tomb located on the right hand side of the Ampel mosque.