Shopping Malls and Their Praying (and Other) Amenities / by Muhammad Amir Ayub

When choosing a mall to go to during the evening, especially with family, the provision of prayer rooms is an important consideration. I've certainly complained in the past on Facebook how I dislike imams who pray too long for the Maghrib prayers and make elaborate du'as, making others wait in line. Look, Maghrib prayer times are usually around 75 minutes in Malaysia, and any delay eventually adds up for people at the back. One way to avoid this during Ramadhan (when there is typically a surge of Muslims shopping, making the Maghrib crowd even bigger) is to simply break fast with small amounts of drinks and food first, pray, and then have a proper meal once those who are "lucky enough" to have their proper meal early leave the eateries to go and pray (and stumble into the huge line of wait, or gasp skip praying altogether).

Anyways, I'm posting this after my experience at Sunway Velocity Mall, which I've never gone before, and after this may never go again during such hours (I went there looking to buy something that could be found only there and a few other places). I think that mall planners ideally should put more thought as to how they build their Muslim prayer rooms.

Here, there was (expectedly) a long line outside. But the inside the comparatively small prayer room (similar in size to Aeon Alpha Angle) was only a small number of people praying. The reason why is that there were only two freaking taps for ablution! Now imagine this: say if a person takes on average two minutes to take ablution, that would limit the number of people who can pray to only 150 people for Maghrib prayers, which is ridiculous in a huge shopping mall. The limiting factor should never be the rate that people take ablution. I came in line at 7.40 pm and finished praying only by 8.15 pm.

Now compare this with other malls that I'm relatively familiar with.

My favorite KL mall, Mid Valley Megamall, has 4 prayer areas, of which 2 of them (on the 3rd floor) are relatively large. Even the smallest of the prayer rooms (at ground floor Aeon) has I think 4 taps; there's always a crowd here during Maghrib hours as it's very convenient (hence should never be the first choice regardless of the month). The line for ablution barely exceeds the door with the prayer rooms at level 3. This mall has the best provision of prayer rooms to accommodate Ramadhan. My only problem with the arrangement here is that the one near GSC is I guess right next to a snooker bar; you'll be praying while vibrated by the loud music just beside the walls. Anyways, since it also has cheap parking rates (for KL) and is overall very family friendly (with the most number of elevators for example), it really is among the best shopping malls to come in with kids (or without).

There is only 1 prayer room in Suria KLCC, but it is spacious with around 10 taps for ablution. There's never a problem here to pray other than navigating the crowd. And this is especially so with the high number of Arabs praying here; they will either be the imam (with comparatively speedier prayers) or will push to make the turnover much faster (like intruding to the front as soon as a Malay imam tries an elaborate du'a at the end of prayers).

But I dislike this mall for a few reasons: the parking rates are now exorbitant, and until recently (when they added another lift at center court), it is extremely not family friendly, with only slight improvement with the addition of another lift (on top of the only two before this at center court). That said center court lift does not go to the parking floors, while those that do only do so from the ground - 2nd floor, in Parkson (which is where I park most of the time). There's another set of lifts in Isetan (but I don't think it goes up all of the floors either). And the pillars at escalators (preventing cheaters who use the escalators with their strollers) force people to use those lifts (with all of the inconsiderate people who use the lifts but don't really need to). I feel that the management is doing all this on purpose to limit the number of visitors and make it a mall for only a certain set of the population (rich and kidless).

Aeon Bandaraya Melaka is now similar to Suria KLCC but with a slightly lesser number of taps after their most recent renovation a few years back. However, I don't know how well it accommodates the Ramadhan surge now. In the past, they just couldn't, especially with the lack of space, taps, and Arabs (which became the context of my original rant against those who pray too long in public prayer rooms).

IOI City Mall has two relatively medium sized prayer rooms. During other months, the only problem is that people tend to go the more accessible room over on the top floor, creating a jam there. But due to the sheer size of the mall, it may not be easy to walk over to say, the other corner of the mall, to the lower most floor (near the shuttle bus parking area), just to avoid the crowd; walking there with kids may take you 20 minutes (inclusive of drama). Even during other months, this is a mall that just struggles to accommodate people trying to have dinner (you'd best plan having your dinner as the last activity as the mall closes) and also has quite a crowd in line at the lifts; I don't want to know nor experience how is the Ramadhan crowd there.

Quill City Mall has no such problems; any ghost mall has no issues for praying and going anywhere at any time and circumstance. The medium sized prayer room is at LG, while there's another small (and convenient to go to) prayer room in Aeon at level 2.

Aeon Alpha Angle (at Wangsa Maju) has a relatively small prayer room that struggles in normal months, and is managed by make-shifting a larger room during Ramadhan. Or at least that's how it was in the past; I've never gone there during Ramadhan in years.

Preferably, any mall should have all this properly planned in advance, but modifications can always be made later (ala Mid Valley). But to (in my view) blatantly get it wrong in Sunway Velocity Mall is really inexcusable.