Masjid Zahir was built in 1912 and is a prominent landmark of the state of Kedah. Masjid Zahir also known as Masjid Zahrah. It is the state mosque of Kedah. Located strategically in the heart of Alor Setar. Masjid Zahir shares its historical significance within the historical complex of Medan Bandar, and two other heritage buildings, which are the Pelamin Palace and the Balai Besar (Great Hall). This colonial-styled mosque is a building of architectural excellence, with the use of distinguishable historical elements from the state of Kedah. In fact, the mosque’s design reflects the Islamic ruling tradition of Kedah’s royalty, where buildings were designed with distinctive characters of lavish Moghul and Moorish architecture.
Although the mosque is overwhelmingly decorated with the use of Mughal and Moorish architectural characteristics, Masjid Zahir was designed with a tropical climatic consideration. It has large overhang perimeter corridors for protection against intense direct sunlight and has large openings to allow for a healthy flow of natural ventilation. In addition, provision of a low-pitched roof around the mosque’s five domes allows for smooth running of the rainwater during a heavy downpour.
Just like most mosques in Malaysia, Masjid Zahir has a centralised spatial organisation, where the main prayer hall is positioned at the centre, surrounded by three foyers at the Southwest, Southeast and Northeast sides. Positioned on the Northwest side are two layers of mihrabs. This mosques is uniquely distinctive with the existence of these two mihrabs. The outermost mihrab was constructed in 1959 to cater for the increasing number of worshippers. A decorative timber minbar is positioned on the right side of the inner mihrab, functioning as a place for the Imam to deliver the sermon before Friday prayers. There is an attached annex of the royal dining hall, positioned in the Northwest of the mosque. This dining hall was used by the royal families of Kedah. However, the royal dining hall is now used as a meeting room for the Shariah court (Islamic law) and other official state functions.
Over the years, the Masjid Zahir has experienced numerous phases of renovation. The latest renovation was done in 2003, where the total floor area of the mosque was increased from 3,794 sq. m. (40, 838 sq. ft.) to 9,195 sq. m. (98,974 sq. ft.) This extension catered for the provision of a multifunctional open space area, ablution spaces, modern toilets and management office. Initially, the plan layout of Masjid Zahir was of a symmetrical arrangement.Nevertheless, the layout has been transformed into becoming an asymmetrical layout due to the addition of the Southwest wing, which houses the multi-functional open space area.
Masjid Zahir main dome previously had a unique onion-shaped design, in which influences of Arabic, Persian and Moghul Indian architecture were apparent. However, the onion-shaped dome was replaced with a bulbous Moghul dome in 1959. In addition, distinctive features of both Mughal and Moorish architecture were incorporated into the design of the mosque’s columns. Different types of columns are used for different spaces, as the types of column used determines the function of the spaces. The variety of column designs enhance the sense of grandeur to the mosque, stirring perpetual appreciation towards the mosque’s existence (Aziz, A. A., 2016).