Al-Serkal Mosque is the principal mosque in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Not only is it one of the newest mosques in the majority Buddhist country, it is also the largest. The impressive structure has been widely celebrated by Cambodia’s minority Muslim population, while at the same time creating rifts in the very community it was built to unite.
Al-Serkal Mosque was inaugurated in March 2015 in the Boeng Kak neighborhood of Phnom Penh. Officially opened by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the inaugural ceremony was attended by more than 1,000 people. Among them was Eisa Bin Nasser Bin Abdullatif Alserkal, the Emirati businessman who funded the construction at a cost of $2.9 million.
The walls inside the two-story Ottoman-style mosque are lined with rose and turquoise tiles, the ceramics commissioned from Algerian artisans. Its ceilings are decorated with mosaics, and a chandelier hangs from the central dome. To keep the faithful cool, the whole thing is air-conditioned.
For Cambodia’s 350,000 or so Muslims (about 2 percent of the population), especially those in the capital, the construction of such a fine mosque was a grand achievement. The majority of Cambodia’s Muslim population is ethnic Cham. About 70,000 Cham Muslims died under the Khmer Rouge, and throughout the 1980s they were allowed limited religious freedom.
It wasn’t long after the inauguration of the Al-Serkal Mosque, however, that rifts began to form in the Muslim community for which the mosque was built. In 2016, a planned road-building project was announced which would see a new road run right through the land on which the mosque sits.
Many members of the local Cham Muslim community were opposed to the construction, as the road, if built, would destroy the tranquility of the mosque, ruining the peace and calm of prayer. Some of the Cham leadership, however, supported its construction, arguing that the road would ease traffic congestion and flooding, as well as bring new opportunities and greater prosperity to the area. Protests ensued, politicians got involved, accusations began to fly, and the whole issue caused quite a stir.
The road project seems to have stalled for now, and could well be scrapped—or the proposed route changed – to appease angered locals. As for the mosque, it remains a much-loved hub for the Muslim community of Phnom Penh and of Cambodia as a whole.