26 April, 2011

Masjid: Mosques of Eastern Africa V

Zanzibar, a semi autonomous part of the United Republic of Tanzania, is almost one-hundred-percent Muslim. The archipelago is a series of many low lying, scenic islands, with Unguja and Pemba being the main ones. For tens of thousands of years, Zanzibar has been occupied by humans. The first Muslims to have landed on it are said to have been Persian traders; they and Arabs had been visiting and passing through Zanzibar even before Islam. From 1698 until 1963, Zanzibar was ruled by Omanis. Very sadly, here too, apart from ivory and spices, like in most of the coast of East Africa during that time, one of the most traded 'merchandise', were humans; for long, Zanzibar city was the main slave-trading port in East Africa. It is the Persians and the Omanis who converted most of Zanzibar's indigenous people to Islam; Indians too, have played a major role in shaping Islam on the islands. The population of nearby islands of the Comoros in the south is also almost wholly Muslim; while in the north, the Seychelles which was known and visited by Arabs much earlier than the Europeans, has very few Muslims: reportedly less than 2% of the population. On all these islands are many mosques:

The Comoros which is from the Arabic word qamar: most people here are Muslims and it is now known that many, if not most, are descendants of people from Hadhramout. Arabic is one of the main languages on the islands.
People in Comoros claim that Islam was introduced on the islands right during the Prophet's lifetime. But, it is Arab and Persian merchants who are known to have extensively spread Islam here.
Mosques, here, are very similar in many ways to those in Hadhramout, especially to those of Tareem, with maulid being very much a part of Islamic festivities here; and just like in Hadhramout, there are many tombs on the islands.
Pemba, 50km. north of Unguja Island, is an island which is an extension of the Zanzibar archipelago. Islam was probably introduced here in the 7th Century. Arabs and Persians had been trading for hundreds of years through waters nearby and passing through this sleepy island. The island has several small mosques and many ruins. It is also known for its breathtaking coral reefs and excellent diving spots.
Bwejuu, Unguja
Unguja is the main and most populous of the Zanzibar archipelago. Mosques are in every part of the Island and the calls for prayers can be heard almost wherever you are here.
As Islam was introduced here much earlier than most parts of Africa, some of the mosques are very old.
The narrow streets here are very similar to those of Old Mukalla and Tareem. Most women, when out of their homes, dress in black, and many men dress in sarongs. Just like in Hadhramaut. Many people here are of mixed blood; and are descendants of Arabs from Oman and Hadhramout. And Persians.
Like in all sub-Saharan African countries, mosques near to churches are common. The congregants of the two houses of worship live and co-exist in peace and understanding with/of each other.
Zanzibar: mosque and cuhrch
Very few places are as breathtakingly and enchantingly beautiful as the Islands of Seychelles. Life here is quiet and tranquil. Very few Muslims and mosques can be found on these islands. Of late, Arabs from the Gulf have started visiting and investing in Seychelles. That has increased the number of Muslims by a few.
For many people from Hadhramout and Oman, the Indian Ocean islands are just like home. There is so much in common in culture and traditions between the people on these islands and those of southern Arabia. There is also much in common in the religious festivities observed between the two; especially in mosques.

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