03 April, 2011

Masjid: Mosques of Eastern Africa I

When the great Moroccan traveler and adventurer, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, arrived on the East African coast in 1331, he found many Muslims already settled here. It is believed that the first Muslims arrived in East Africa about 1,200 years ago; and through Arab merchants and preachers, Islam established itself as the main religion on the East African coast. With time, it spread in to the interior. Although Omani Arabs controlled the coast and the nearby islands politically, it was mainly the Hadharem who preached and spread Islam extensively here. Today, there are millions of Muslims in East Africa, mainly along the coast and in the north. In Kenya, Muslims number about about 20% of the country's population. In almost every part of Kenya, there are mosques. Some very old; and some new. Some Mosques of Kenya:
Gedi Mosque
Gedi: near Malindi towards Maombasa, is one of the oldest Muslim settlements in East Africa. It thrived in the late 13th Century and early 14th Century. For some unknown reason, the settlement was abandoned in the late 16th Century. Above is the remaining ruins of one of the mosques there.

Takwa Mosque
Takwa: here too is another old Muslim settlement, very similar to Gedi. It is on Manda Island, near Lamu. It flourished in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries. Above is what remains today of the main mosque there. Takwa too, for some unexplained reasons, was abandoned some times in the 18th Century.

Lamu Mosque
Lamu, founded in the 14th Century, is Kenya's oldest 'living' town. It is on an archipelago. The old streets of Lamu town have a striking resemblance to Mukalla's Old area. When my late Father left Hadhramout by dhow in the mid 1940s to come to East Africa for the first time, they stopped in several places: in Somalia and in Kenya. He said, the moment they landed in Lamu, he was truly exhilarated. He loved it. Lamu has many mosques; and to this day, with many of its inhabitants descended from the Hadharem, it has a strong connection to Hadhramout.

Mombasa Mosque
Mombasa: a city of about one million people. Ibn Batutta visited it in 1331 and reportedly spent one night here. He felt very comfortable there and mentions its people in his writings as: "a religious people, trustworthy and righteous. Their mosques are made of wood, expertly built." Due to the many Hadharem descendants there, Mombasa too, has strong ties with Hadhramout.

Very rarely would you see a pink mosque; there is one in Kenya, along the Nairobi-Mombasa high-way.

Nairobi Jami'a  Mosque
Nairobi: home and a place that I have always loved and felt most comfortable in. There are several mosques in the city and the many suburbs; most are small.
Jam'ia Mosque is located on Banda Street, Nairobi
Nairobi's main Jami'a Mosque is centrally located in the city. But, it is rather small. Behind it, next to it, is a large library with many Islamic books.

Nairobi Mosque
The above mosque in a Nairobi suburb, is very close to a Christian guest house. Even with the loud call for prayers from speakers, five times a day, there is a very good understanding and relationship between all religions in Kenya.

Above, in down-town Nairobi, a mosque is not far from a Hindu temple. In East Africa, it is very normal to find mosques near temples or churches. It is very normal too, to find people from the same family having different religions. Muslims and people of other religions live side by side. All understanding and tolerant of each other. It is this that has made Nairobi one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

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