- The royal beauty
Opened in 2012, the colossal Hazret Sultan Mosque in Nur-Sultan boasts the largest dome in Kazakhstan. At 11ha, it is one of the largest mosques in Asia, and can house up to 10,000 people. Highlights within the marbled interiors include a gigantic chandelier which weighs more than 2700kg and a silver Koran made in Moscow.
Admission to the gleaming white landmark is free. Visitors have to remove their shoes before entering the premises and will be given a cape to cover themselves. Women have to cover their heads as well.
2. The mosque with a stunning view
Set against the Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains, the Central Mosque of Almaty is another magnificent mosque that also offers a stunning view. Built in 1999, it features a Timurid architectural style and boasts a lavish finish of white marble and coloured tiles. For a decorative twist, Turkish calligraphers inscribed Koran verses on the base of the big dome in 2000.
The gold-domed attraction can fit up to 7,000 worshippers. Remember to dress modestly and take off your shoes before entering the prayer hall.
3. The multicultural mosque
While its interior is decorated with Arabic script and national ornaments, Zharkent Mosque in the Almaty region could well be mistaken for a Chinese pagoda from the outside.
It dates back to the 1880s when a wealthy local merchant wanted to sponsor the building of a mosque in the area. But the merchant had one specific request: He wanted the mosque to be built entirely out of wood without using any nails. A Chinese architect was picked for the job, and the unique structure that blends Chinese and Central Asian styles was born. Some say that the wood used was gathered from the fir trees from the nearby Tien Shan mountains!
The mosque has bore witness to periods of change in Kazakhstan. It had been used as a store, a cinema, and even a stable for horses when religious observances were discouraged during the Soviet era. Now a museum, Zharkent offers guided tours to visitors and charges an entrance fee of about S$1 per person. Add another dollar if you wish to take pictures inside. Women are not required to don a headscarf inside, as the building no longer operates as a mosque.
4. An underground mosque where you can spend the night
Beket-Ata mosque, located near the bottom of a desert canyon, is an underground mosque and key pilgrimage site for Muslims from all over Kazakhstan. It is the burial place of Beket-Ata, a prominent Sufi scholar who set up a few underground mosques and an Islamic school in the Mangistau region of Western Kazakhstan. Located almost 300km, or a five-hour drive from Aktau, it is not easy getting to Beket-Ata. Visitors usually hire their own four-wheel vehicle and driver, or take a crowded pilgrim transport. These days, visitors to Beket-Ata often make a stop first at the Shopan-Ata underground mosque, almost like an unspoken rule. The latter is built to honour another revered sage, Shopan Ata, who was said to be the mentor of Beket Ata.
Due to the long journey getting to Beket-Ata, the mosque has an air-conditioned guesthouse with separate quarters for men and women for those who wish to stay overnight. There is no charge but a donation is welcome, if not expected. Pilgrims are also expected to bring along food to share with fellow travellers.
5. The mosque known for its beauty and purity
Built in 1893 with donations of Muslims and wealthy merchants, the Kostanay Cathedral Mosque is sometimes referred to by locals as the White Mosque, which symbolises the beauty and purity of the structure. During the Soviet era, the premise was converted for other purposes. It was first used as an entertainment club, followed by a theatre, and a concert hall.
It was only in 1991 that the building was given to the Muslim community, where it was reconstructed as a mosque. In 2002, the mosque was renamed the Maral Ishan Mosque to honour an outstanding scientist of the same name.