A Mosque or Masjid holds a very important place in the life of a Muslim. It is the centre of his cultural, social and religious life. The Mosque is not just a house of prayer where Muslims congregate for worship; it is also a place where they meet with fellow Muslims and learn about Islam and the Islamic Ummah (community). The Mosque is a symbol of the physical presence of Islam in the country and a rallying centre for the Muslims as a community. Little wonder then that whenever a group of Muslims have come together, they immediately realise that in order to practise their faith and perpetuate it among their children, the establishment of a Mosque has always become their first concern. The early Muslims in Mauritius, who settled in Camp des Lascars, were no exception when, in 1805, they petitioned the French authorities for the concession of a plot of land in Camp des Lascars for the purpose of building a Mosque. In 1852, the wealthy Muslim merchants and traders, settled in Port Louis, proved no exception as they showed their concern and feelings for their religion and culture.
The Eastern Suburb Mosque or Al-Aqsa Mosque, as it is called today, was for many years the only religious and social centre for the Muslims in Port Louis and, indeed, in Mauritius. It was located in the east side of the town then known as Camp-des-Malbars (later commonly known as Camp-des-Lascars, which was quite some distance from the downtown area where the majority of the Muslim merchants and traders had their place of business. That meant, at prayer times, the shops had to be closed and, taking into account the modes of travel at the time and ‘the poor conditions of the roads, it took the merchants quite some time make the trip to the Mosque and back. Added to the inconveniences was the fact that the Muslim congregation in Port Louis was growing steadily and the need for a larger Mosque in the downtown area was being felt more and more. However, from the outset, it was apparent .at any initiative in that direction could only come from the wealthy Muslim merchants, who had the resources to build such a Mosque in the centre of the town. But the credit for that enterprise did not go to one particular individual Muslim but to a group of Muslims, who pulled their resources together and translated into reality the wish of the Muslim community for a bigger Mosque in Port Louis downtown.
In 1852, Haji Joonus Allarakia, Casseem Hemeem, Jornmb Satardeenah, Elias Hadjee Hamode, Hajee Abdoollah Essack, Hajee Ab doorahim Allanah, Ismael Ibrahim and Omar Yacoob — all prominent members of the mercantile community of Port Louis — got together and purchased, in their own name and on behalf of the Muslim community of Mauritius, two properties situated in Queen Street, Port Louis, for the aggregate sum of Rs 6, 800.00. The deeds of purchase, dated October 20, 1852, stipulated, among other things, that the Muslim traders had made the purchases:
… conjointement et indivisément, tant pour eux personnellement et en leurs noms que pour toute la congrégation Mahométane l’ile Maurice dont ils déclarent être les fondis de pouvoirs spéciaux. Les acquéreurs déclarent que la somme qu’ils viennent de payer pour la présente acquisition ne leur appartient pas personnellement mais bien a toute la congrégation Mahométane de l’ile Maurice.
(… jointly and severally, in their own names as well as on behalf of the entire Mohammedans congregation of Mauritius from which they hereby declare having received special powers. The purchasers declare that the sum of money paid for the present purchases does not belong to them personally but to the whole Mohammedans congregation of Mauritius.)
On one of the properties stood a house which was converted into a temporary prayer house pending the construction of a Mosque. However, the foundation of the future Jummah Mosque was thus laid. Ismael Jeewa, who was a trader and also quite knowledgeable in Islam, led the prayers at the temporary prayer house. The following year, that is, 1853, a beautiful Mosque of a limited size was built and solemnly consecrated. Hajee Imam Bacosse Sobedar, who was Imam of the Camp des Lascars Mosque, was called upon to trace the Mihrab (prayer niche) of the new Mosque, which came to be known for many years as the Mosquée-des-Arabes — after its founders, who were mistakenly called Arabs by the general public. The new Mosque, which could accommodate some two hundred worshippers, was the original Jummah Mosque. However, it was to undergo extensive expansion and improvements over the years and become the focus of Islamic cultural and religious life in Mauritius and very rightly become the Ja’mi or Jummah Mosque (Grand Mosque) of Mauritius and the symbol of “the faith, zeal and selflessness of those early pioneers of Islam, adequately versed in religion and high minded enough to think that no community could live without religion and no man without prayer.”
The steady increase in the Muslim population in Port-Louis soon made it evident that the Mosquée-des-Arabes was too small to satisfy the growing congregation. However, the need for a bigger Mosque could not be satisfied easily and sooner. More space meant more land had to be acquired. And for the next twenty years (1857-1877), that would be the main concern of the Managing Body of the Mosque. During that period, the properties around the Mosquée-des-Arabes that formed the quadrangle of about three-quarter acre were successively acquired by groups of generous Muslim traders in seven different lots for the total sum of Rs 134,260.00 and donated to the Mosque. In fact, in all but one of the deeds of purchase it was mentioned that the purchases were made on behalf of the whole Muslim community of Mauritius. So it came to pass that the entire block around the Mosquée-des-Arabes — bounded by Royal, New Little Mountain (now Joseph Rivière), Queen and Little Mountain (now Jummah Mosque) Streets, came under the ownership of the Muslim community. Soon plans for the expansion of the Mosque were drawn and work on the project began.
The expansion project of the Mosque generated spontaneous interest among Muslims everywhere in the island. Indeed, the entire project seemed to touch every member of the Islamic Umma’a and arouse great fervour. “We should see here,” wrote Issac and Raman in their history of the Jummah Mosque, “not only a mere human effort crowned with success but rather the unravelling of a divine design showing that those who have the fulfilment of His will at heart verily not only deserve His blessings but are also helped as promised by Him.”
This piece is taken from the website of the Jummah Mosque in Mauritius.
See on-line at: http://www.jummahmasjid.org/indexf.asp