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Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah: A Building Left Unappreciated

Sometimes when you revisit a place close to your heart, you’ll get overwhelmed with emotions. Surprise and nostalgia are some of the things you’d felt.

A few days ago, I revisited such a place; the first Sekolah Agama (Malay for religious school) I went to. Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah is located within the compounds of Kebun Bunga DiRaja, also known as Istana Gardens.

Along with the two emotions I mentioned earlier… I was also saddened by the state of my alma mater. The school building still stood; but like many buildings in Johor Bahru, it is left decrepit.

The picture below shows what used to be the school canteen. I distinctly remember buying gula tarik (literal Malay translation is pulled candy; made from palm sugar) and kacang sambal (peanuts mixed with hot sauce) from this place.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - Canteen (by azmeen)

After taking some photos of the canteen, I turned and faced the main school building itself. I barely contained the tears that began to swell my eyes… composed myself and took a photo of the rear facade.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - School Building (by azmeen)

Although it is technically the rear entrance of the school, it is the most often used by students. This is because it is nearest to the main road. For more than two years, this is the entrance that greeted me every afternoon from Sunday to Thursday.

During my time here, Johor was still observing the Friday to Saturday weekends.

As I stepped inside the unguarded compound, I immediately recalled the fun times I had in this place. It never occurred to me back then that this place is ancient… it was constructed in 1858!

As old as the building is, it’s architecture is simply breathtaking. This made me wonder why the authorities left the building to rot. Surely this place is worthy of being gazetted as a heritage site.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - Broken Stairs (by azmeen)

I explored the place further and soon found the class I had studied in. The door has a broken panel but it still clung to its frame by the sturdy hinges.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - Class Door (by azmeen)

I peeped inside and was greeted by an unfamiliar sense of emptiness. You see, during my days here this class can pack up to 40 students… it’s large compared to the classrooms of modern school buildings. I can still imagine my friends reading books and reciting Quranic verses in here… whatever happened to them? Do they know the state of our beloved school now?

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - This Used to be My Classroom (by azmeen)

As I continued my trek within the school compound, I wondered how long this building will last. I doubt that it would be demolished as technically, it’s still on royal palace grounds.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - Classroom (by azmeen)

I might as well snap as many pictures of the place as I can… at the very least, I can share them with my wife and son. That’s when I decided that I absolutely must write something about Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah and post it on my blog.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah (by azmeen)

The picture below pretty much sums up the desolation of this place. Compare it to the thriving and healthy trees in the background.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah (by azmeen)

As I went full circle around the building, I came to a place that I’m unfamiliar with; the front entrance. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve always used the rear entrance to get to class. I couldn’t recall a time when I actually went to the front entrance. The gate was massive as you can see below:

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - Front Gate (by azmeen)

As I wrapped up this visit, I took another picture of the rear section of my formerly glorious school. Just hoping that I can see it restored to its former glory in my lifetime.

Sekolah Agama Bukit Zahrah - Front (by azmeen)

If you love old architecture, you should give Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah a visit when you’re in JB. I have no idea how long the place would last… but looking at its current state, I don’t give it much hope.

It is near the car park entrance of Istana Gardens and is quite a popular spot for wedding photography. Check out Wikimapia for its exact location.

18 responses to “Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah: A Building Left Unappreciated”.

  1. HitManSnr Says:

    Nice coverage of our beloved religious school, my friend. I am disheartened and sad to see the photos. It does have a lot of my younger days memories, this place that is. Like you said, hope we can see the heritage goes on, with its wonderful architecture. If you happen to get a chance to pass thru this building via air, you will see actually the English constructed this building with a shape of ‘T’ to depict Christianity. However a building is a building, Hospital Sultanah Aminah original building is constructed that way too.

  2. Site Admin Azmeen Says:

    Don’t need to see from air to see the T shape, the Wikimapia link I provided already shows this:

    I never thought that the cross shaped architecture depicted Christianity. I’ve always thought that British architecture in the 1800s uses the concept of “wings”; ie. main building + east wing + west wing.

    As for Hospital Sultanah Aminah, in addition to the wings, it also has “subwings” for the two main wings.

    Thanks for visiting my humble blog bro HitManSnr; hope you’ll visit again 🙂

  3. Ezzuddin Ab. Aziz Says:


    many thanks for highlighting and nice clear shots. i’d posted this link on my FACEBOOK status and fwd this link to all my old friends , families. you definitely get more hits soon. perhaps you should start a group on preserving this nice building ?


  4. Site Admin Azmeen Says:

    W’salam Ezzuddin,

    I appreciate your link to this post. I’ve also added you as a friend on FB.


  5. Raz Says:

    Balai Zahara was also known as Balai Cengkih, this was due to its design theme which was based on the Clove plant. The clove design can be seen in the wall decorations, column capitals and iron work in the gate at the main entrance. The cross shape layout of the building then probably was based on the cross shape of the stem of the clove.

  6. Noni anak Pak Samad Says:

    I never had the privilege to go to sekolah agama here but all my other 8 siblings did. Becoz it had such a big influence n remained so special to thm it had sorta rubbed off on me. My brothers n I went 2 the museum at the Istana Besar last month and it was quite enlightening. As far as i can recall it was known Istana Cengkih as it was supposed to look like a clove frm the air but now tht i’ve had a look at the aerial view i dont think it looks anything like a clove n definitely more like a cross. But thank u for ur write up n pictures. It strengthens the ethnocentric me even more;P. Btw, i am the youngest daughter of Pak Samad, drebar bas sekolah. U might have heard of him. Salam n tq.

  7. ena Says:

    tq kerna mengembalikan nostalgia zaman persekolahan saya di bangunan tersebut. byk kenangan manis. saya antara murid yg d sukai guru-guru di situ. antaranya gb hjh mariam, hjh umi kalsom, hjh saadiah, ustz md. nor. dewan memberi kenangan manis kpd saya. saya peserta pertama naik k pntas membaca tahfiz al-quran dan mendpt tmpat kdua. selain itu persembahan nsyid dan marhaban.
    kelas drj 6 saya ketika itu sek. men ting. 3, di atas tangga yg runtuh itu cukup menyayatkan hati. itulah tempat saya selalu berborak ngan kawan2.

  8. Mohd Murtadha Says:

    Thanks for sharing those pictures. For the first time I went to this school was back in 1985. I attended the morning session and my class was exactly at rear entrance as the one you took shot in pic

    My teacher was Cikgu Misran Selamat who rode a Vespa and the only male teacher who wore serban. We had the morning assembly at the tarmac field located on the left side of the building from the aerial view.

    Thanks for your good effort of sharing this photoblog. I hope we can contribute to restore the building as it part of our state history.

  9. Site Admin Azmeen Says:

    Dr Murtadha,

    I think that’s around the same time I studied there too. But I was in the afternoon session.

    I can’t recall my class teacher, but I do remember Cikgu Misran and his serban. I also remember Cikgu Daliman (his fierceness is legendary).

    Thanks you for sharing your memories of our beloved Sekolah Agama as well 🙂

  10. Mohd Murtadha Says:

    Cikgu Daliman taught me in Darjah Khas in Sekolah Agama Bandar, the new building for Sekolah Agama Bukit Zaharah (SABZ). However, during my afternoon session I can’t forget that Cikgu Daliman in caned my classmates with the long yellow wooden ruler because they playing around while our teacher was teaching.

    Another moment that I still remember was during the afternoon session in SABZ, while we were listening to the lesson suddenly the class on the second floor became chaotic. It was very noisy like they were moving all the tables and chairs. I went upstairs as told by the teacher to check what really happen and to my surprise that the class was empty, no students at all! The class is located on the right wing from the aerial view.

    No need to call me Dr. la

  11. suhai Says:

    Ustaz Azhar, Ustaz Daliman , Ustaz Minhad Ustaz Misran (serban + Vespa), Ustaz Minhad (Volkswagen), Ustaz Harun, Ustaz Baharuddin, Ustaz Kamsan, Ustaz Md Noor, Ustazah Tayyibah, ustazah umi kalsom… our beloved teachers… Jasa dan ilmu yg dicurahkan akan ku kenang sampai bila-bila…

  12. azman Says:

    salam semua…

    hari ni hari Khamis, 30th Disember…entah macam mana teringat nak taip sekolah agama bukit zaharah…. tetiba saja…
    Sekolah bukit zaharah… i’ve been there several time and have seen the condition of my beloved school…. came to attend the school some times in 1977 till 1982…. berganti ganti dgn sekolah agama tambatan tinggi dan rendah…. mula masuk darjah ‘permulaan’, lepas tu baru masuk darjah satu…. darjah 5 kena stay 2 years… tak pas darjah lima so kena ulang…. sampai darjah enam shaj… kelas khas tak masuk sebab concentrate dgn sekolah kebangssan… sekolah EC…
    never thought the the bukit zaharah school shape like christianity symbol at that time… anyway…. i miss the old time…. as suhai says.. jasa all the ustazah/ustaz yang di curah akan ku kenang sampai bila bila.. doa sentiasa pada mu wahai pendidik yang mulia….. thousands of johoreans studied islam there… ingat tak kitab kuning mat’la’al badrain…. bab munakahat, jenayah, mu’amalat dan lain lain….. kita mesti gunakan untuk muliakan islam…bukan lawan islam… di situ lah pahala amal jariah dapat sampai kepada ustazah/ustaz kita dulu… inshaALLAH…

  13. Princess Serenity Says:

    HOLD ON, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!! as far as i know, before this building turned into Sekolah Agama, it was a palace!!!!!! many people especially the garderners said it was called Istana Bukit Zaharah…. anda semua pasti dapat melihat di sebelah hadapan pintu masuk utama ada satu ruang besar yang kebiasaannya berlakunya adat istiadat di-raja…di situlah Tengku Zaharah mendapat nama sempena gelaran Istana tersebut….baginda tengku Zaharah ialah adik perempuan(atau kakak…kurang pasti mana satu…) kepada Sultan Ibrahim dulu!!!!!
    kemudian istana tersebut bertukar mnjadi sekolah inggeris (bersaing dengan sekolah E.C), dan kmudian barulah mnjadi sekolah agama sebelum berlakunya pemberontakan British yang bertindak MEMBAKAR hampir keseluruhan bangunan tersebut!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Princess Serenity Says:

    guys…. i know all of you were still have a long-touched memories when you see this empty building 🙂
    you know….from the first time i step in the old palace, there’s ‘something’ keep telling me to come and come again… i still wondering why….
    and so i have take many of my photos there…
    well…. i could just say i OFTEN stay there, almost EVERYDAY to EVERY WEEK, like ‘something’ won’t let me go!!!!huu…..
    i can smell a nostalgic scene and kind of ‘apparation’ memories within the whole building…..
    ya!!!!! i still revisit to the place but now it was FORBIDDEN place to be enter anymore!!!!! nobody could enter this building, no more photos to be taken because Sultan need the palce to be ‘alone’…..

  15. Dr. Eng. Ar. Usama Helmy Says:

    I just want to ask all of you, who used to go to that school, one question, if you please…

    Where were the toilets?

    Thank you so, very much…

  16. nom ismail Says:


    thank you for posting these fotos. Reading the comments posted here, i think i can safely say i am the oldest by far – i went to bkt Zaharah from 1973- 1978 – but on and off because of the different school sessions (morning, bkt zaharh and afternoon, sekolah tambatan, opposite English College but thats been demolished.) I used to brisk walk around Bkt zaharah every week. But starting january this year 2012, the whole kebun istana has been cordoned off. It will remain so for a year. “untuk baikpulih” said one of the staff there.

    So for those ex students from Bkt Zaharah who wish to visit the old school, dont go there yet, please come back in 2013.

  17. Hatir Says:

    Any ghosts there?

  18. Adzim poh. Says:

    Isnt it amazing that despite being in session for various schools eg sek agama, english college, sek star, you can hardly find photos of kids in the school compounds, or istana compounds. I remember kids singing the then famous alarqam songs on the royal stage. Ah…. Memories.