Turkish mosque stands after 2004 tsunami in Indonesia
BANDA ACEH-Anadolu Agency
Verses from the Quran were recited by the children echoed from the loudspeaker of a white mosque located near the coast of Lampuuk in Lhoknga district of Aceh province in Indonesia's western Sumatra Island.
The students in colorful clothes sat in rows to recite the verses of the Muslim holy book they memorized in front of the teachers.
Some of them were lying on their stomachs while writing Arabic calligraphy in their notebooks.
Those activities are among the daily routine following the afternoon prayer in Rahmatullah Mosque, which was hit by a 30-meter (98 feet) tsunami 15 years ago.
As the world will observe the Tsunami Awareness Day on Nov. 5, the Aceh region in Indonesia mourns the death of around 170,000 people.
Based on Aceh government's figures, out of 6,000 people living in the area, only around 700 people have survived the devastating disaster.
Miraculously, the mosque, established in 1997, is still standing strong despite the tsunami, while the nearby buildings and trees collapsed.
"It's like the meaning of its name, the grace of God," mosque's imam Sulaiman Muhammad Amin, 68, told Anadolu Agency.
Amin said he clearly remembers the incident of Dec. 26, 2004.
When a 9.3-magnitude earthquake struck the region, the people were having a feast near the mosque.
The earthquake was followed by a sound of explosion, blaring like a bomb, he said.
"I thought it was a bomb by the [separatist] Free Aceh Movement," said Amin.
The cleric said tsunami hit the area three times in a short interval.
"The 30-m [98-ft] tsunami destroyed all houses, buildings, and trees," said Amin, who worked as a boarding school administrator before the disaster.
"The waves were very high, higher than the dome of the mosque," he added.
Amin himself is a tsunami survivor after being swept three kilometers (1.8 miles) away.
"I had given up," he recalled, adding that he survived by holding on a sack of sago -- a starch extracted from the spongy center of various tropical palm stems.
Four months after the tsunami, he visited Rahmatullah Mosque and was amazed to see that the main building of the mosque did not collapse despite being located only 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the beach, he added.
The 1,600 square meter (17,222 square feet) mosque only suffered some minor damages in the inner pillars.
Together with the residents, he then performed a prayer in congregation inside the mosque, while being surrounded with the collapsed buildings.
"I was very happy to be able to perform prayers in the mosque again even though some poles collapsed," said Amin.
Now, 15 years after the massive disaster, the mosque with the capacity of 4,000 worshipers is still standing strong.
Amin said it is thanks to Turkish assistance through the Red Crescent that helped to renovate the mosque in 2006.
It became more beautiful with two new white towers, stand dashingly on the left and right sides of the mosque, while Turkish star and crescent symbols are displayed in front of the building.
In addition, Turkish government also built 700 houses around the mosque. That is why the village in Lhoknga sub-district was dubbed as "Turkish Village".
"God whispered Turkey to help us. If we don't receive their assistance, we wouldn't have a home," he said.
Amin said that actually, many countries offered to rebuild the mosque, but Turkey was chosen for its preferred design and concept.
"The design [of the mosque] proposed by Turkey was very beautiful, we thought it was the right one," he added.
On Dec. 26, 2006, then Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin traveled to Aceh to inaugurate several facilities built by the Turkish Red Crescent in a ceremony held in the courtyard of Rahmatullah Mosque.
Educational tourist attraction
Today, Rahmatullah Mosque not only functions as a place of worship but also as a tourist attraction.
To remind people of the enormity of the 2004 tsunami, the management maintained the original shape of damaged parts in the left side of the mosque. Two collapsed pillars were also left lying on the ground.
The mosque management also preserves the collapsed walls, detached windows, carpets and prayer mats left after tsunami and showcases them.
There is a sign that says "Do not forget tsunami" written under the broken poles.
"We want to share knowledge and wisdom learned from the tsunami," said Amin.
The management also established a special gallery displaying the pictures of the mosque and the surrounding areas captured right after being hit by the tsunami.
Some photos and newspaper archives are displayed to preserve memories of the devastating tsunami.
Nashrullah, the gallery assistant, said around 200 people -- from several regions of Indonesia and other countries including Malaysia, Australia, Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa -- visited the mosque and the gallery every day.
The tourists usually visit the mosque to learn about the history of the Aceh tsunami, he added.
Based on figures from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the disaster killed over 220,000 people in 14 countries -- including Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Yemen, and Bangladesh.
Aceh suffered the worst casualties with 170,000 death tolls.