The Ampel Mosque And The Tomb Of Sunan Ampel, East Java

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.

The mosque of Sunan Ampel, Surabaya
The mosque of Sunan Ampel, Surabaya (Source :

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.


In this compound you will find Middle Eastern food like dates, kebuli rice, to maryam cakes. There are also hawkers selling kebab, cane bread, mutton curry, mutton fried rice, maryam bread, briani rice and typical Middle Eastern martabak (egg crepes). The food is spicy and also quite chilli hot. Do not hestitate to taste some of these dishes.

At sunset, hawkers set up tents selling kebab syawarma, pizza, full moon sweet martabak, meat filled martabak, cenil, duck rice, and soto madura, besides chicken satay, mutton satay, meatballs, chicken noodles, fried tofu, chicken soto, rujak cingur, toasted bread, seafood, fried and barbequed chicken, cakwe, or ice cold soya bean drink.

Even in the early morning you can already find a large variety of breakfast foods and snacks from porridge to samosa.

At the entrance of the Ampel mosque hawkers line both sides of the alley way selling all kinds of goods from perfume, to sarongs, black caps, Muslim clothings, rosaries, to zamzam water from Mecca, and other prayer needs. There are also hawkers selling Ampel specialty snacks and food like prawn cakes to arabian curry.

Surabaya has a large variety of accommodation to choose from. But if you wish to stay here for the 10 days of Iktikaf during Ramadhan for communal prayers, you can stay and sleep at the mosque.

However, if you wish to stay nearby but outside the compound, you can stay at one of the hotels listed below:

• Grand Kalimas, Jl KH. Mas Mansyur

• Mansyur, Jl KH. Mas Mansyur 208

• Mesir, Jl KH. Mas Mansyur 165

• Kaha, Jl KH. Mas Mansyur 121

The Ampel mosque together with the tomb of Sunan Ampel provide serenity and quiet for those who wish to pray and visit the tomb on pilgrimage, where only the drone of prayers of those present can be heard. Besides for daily prayers, other activities held here include, communal prayers for the dead, circumcision ceremonies, parades of Ampel villagers from their homes at Kampung Margi to the mosque and other religious activities.

The Ampel mosque has five main gates called Lima Gapuro symbolizing the 5 Pillars of Faith of Islam. When you enter from the south at Jalan Sasak, you will pass the Gapuro Munggah or Munggah gate, where you will pass the town’s market place, which resembles the Seng market by the Haram mosque in Mecca, reminding the faithful to go on the haj pilgrimage when able. The Gubah Ampel Suci market offers all kinds of goods from clothing to perfumes, dates, foodstuff, to all sorts of accessories both large and small that are usually bought as souvenirs by those who are on haj pilgrimage.

At the end of the lane is the Gapuro Poso, or the Gate for Fasting, located due south of the mosque. Passing this gate you will enter the mosque’s grounds and you will immediately see its high grand dome. Although four times restored, yet the original features comprising 16 main pillars of 17 meters each without any extensions with a diameter of 60 cm, as well as the 48 solid doors are still kept in their original state. Although already 600 years old, the teak pillars remain very sturdy.

The minarets that stand 50 meters high are a unique feature of this mosque from where the adzan (call to prayers) is sent out. The large hall with its large dome follows the Javanese pendopo (or open hall) style that marks the greatness of the Majapahit Empire, whose seat was at Trowulan. Majapahit at the time was also instrumental in spreading Islam together with Sunan Ampel.

After prayers you can continue to Gapuro Ngamal (the Gate of Alms). Your financial contributions will be used for the care and maintenance of the mosque and the tomb. Nearby you will also find Gapuro Madep at the western side of the mosque, where lies the tomb of Mbah Shanhaji (Mbah Bolong).

Last is the Gapuro Paneksen, which is the gate to the cemetery over which is written the syahadat (profession of faith): “Tiada Tuhan selain Allah dan Nabi Muhammad utusan Allah” (There is no God other than Allah, and the Prophet Muhammad is His Messenger).

The cemetery is closed in by a wall of 2.5 meters height. Here are buried Sunan Ampel, his wife and five relatives. The cemetery is encircled by a 1.5 meter iron fence which is 64 meters long. The tomb of Sunan Ampel is distinguished by the white sand around the tomb.

The tomb of Sunan Ampel, Surabaya
The tomb of Sunan Ampel, Surabaya (Source :

Another notable feature of this complex is the waterwell behind the mosque that was also built by Sunan Ampel. The people around the mosque believe that drinking from the well will give special blessings. Many believe that the water from the well has powers similar to the zamzam water of Mecca, so that many will drink from the well and take some of the water home.

The Ampel mosque is always crowded with visitors from the city and even from other islands, Besides Friday prayers and reciting the Quran, the place also resounds with the teaching of the Arab language on the east side of the mosque.

Many legends surround the mosque and its grounds. One legend tells about nine graves of one of Sunan Ampel’s followers, called Mbah Sholeh. All nine graves are said to be of Mbah Sholeh. According to this legend, when building the mosque, Sunan Ampel needed the assistance of his follower. He therefore prayed that Mbah Sholeh may be resurrected to help him in this task. This he did nine times. Mbah Sholeh used to meticulously clean the mosque, so when he died, the mosque became dirty. But each time Sunan Ampel prayed “If Mbah Sholeh was alive this mosque would surely be clean”, then suddenly Mbah Sholeh would reappear to clean the mosque. This happened 9 times which is the reason for the 9 graves of Mbah Sholeh.

Another legend tells of Mbah Bolong, who is believed to know the exact direction (kiblat) to the holy shrine in the Haram mosque in Mecca. He did this by making a hollow (mbolongi – in the Javanese language) in the mihrab of the mosque. When one looks through this hole it is said that one can see the grand mosque of Mecca. Here are also 7 water wells bored by Sunan Ampel, whose waters are believed to possess healing powers for the sick.

Iktikaf during Ramadhan

Ten days before the end of Ramadhan Iktikaf is held, which are communal prayers for which people stay in the mosque to get closer to Allah. At this time you will see hundreds of people sit on the floor praying their rosary. Some people will lean on the white walls or against the wooden pillars. Others lie down to rest a while, but Iktikaf will always bring its own happiness. At 01.00 am in silence of the night a microphone broadcasts that in half an hour the series of prayers will start. People will cleanse themselves and at 01.30 am the main lights are dimmed adding to the serenity of the moment. Also when the call for morning prayers is sounded, the air gets all quiet enhancing the prayers said by the congregation, or listening to the holy verses of the Quran. These activities start from midnight to early morning until it is time for the morning meal before the fastm which will again be followed by early morning prayers. Nearing the end of Ramadhan more devotees will join the Iktikaf.

To join the iktikaf prayers at Ampel, it is not expensive. You will only need some money for transport, food and drink for the period that you are in the Sunan Ampel compound in Surabaya.


As the second largest city of Indonesia, Surabaya is served by both domestic and international airlines flying in from JakartaBaliBanjarmasinYogyakarta, ManadoLombokSingapore and Kuala Lumpur. Surabaya is also reachable by rail from cities on Java to Gubeng Railway Station of Surabaya. Buses are also availabe to and from the Purabaya bus terminal.

The Ampel mosque lies in the heart of the Arab town, north of Jalan Nyamplungan and the second road left at Jalan Sasak. You will see many trishaws pedalling pilgrims to the mosque. To reach this place you can rent a car or use public transport. Upon arrival at Ampel you will find a small lane leading to Kampung Arab, which leads directly to the Ampel mosque.

From Jalan Nyamplungan main road you must continue on foot passing through narrow alleys. The 3 meters wide Jalan Ampel Kembang cuts through this densely populated area and leads to Jalan Ampel Suci, which is a covered alley way with shops selling all needs for prayers and accessories.

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