The extension work on the Mosquée-des-Arabes began in 1878. The plan called for the blending of the original structure into the larger one to accommodate the growing Muslim congregation. The work called for particular skills and dexterity, notably in the moulding and plastering of the sculptural work with ornamentation — skills that could not be handled by local workers. Specialised workers were brought from India for the job as were the necessary building materials, namely: stones, lime and wood. Transportation posed no problem as several members of the Managing Body of the Mosque, headed by Haji Joonus Allarakia, were also owners of ships that plied regularly between India and Mauritius.
The crew of the Indian artisans, who did the extension works, was overseered by Ishaq Mistry, also from India. For the whole duration of the works, the workers stayed on the compounds of the Mosque “sleeping and eating under the pillared arches of the outer court.” The project took twenty years to be completed. The long delay was due either to outbreaks of disease among the workers or to shortage of materials. However, in 1895, the expansion of the Mosque was completed. Al-Hajj Jackaria Jan Mahomed, a prominent member of the Muslim community in Port Louis and of the Managing Board of the Mosque, supervised the entire expansion project which saw the small Mosquee des Arabes expand from a small fringe on Queen Street to occupy the entire block except for a small section on Royal Street, which was leased to businesses for revenue purposes. The beautiful, small Mosquée-des-Arabes became the Jummah Mosque of Mauritius. It is a magnificent work of architecture conspicuous for its bulging domes, well trimmed arches and white minarets. The skill and dexterity shown by the workers in blending intricately the old structure with the new, speak eloquently of “their out standing ability and patience and personal devotion” to what became, to all involved in the project, a labour of love.
The expansion works entailed huge expenses which, despite the tremendous goodwill and generosity shown by the Muslims at the time to raise the necessary funds through donations, failed to meet the targeted amount. The Muslim merchants, who literally held the monopoly of trade in grains, came up with an ingenious idea to finance the cost of the project. They charged a special two per cent levy on every bag of grain over the market price. That extra duty, called the church-rate, was paid ungrudgingly by all. It was for a good cause. The levy helped raise thousands of rupees, which were remitted annually to the Mutawalli (President) of the Mosque, to pay for the expansion works.
The Jummah Mosque is a beautiful structure. It strikes one with its harmonious blend of Moorish and Munhal lines with its massive columns and imposing arches. Its interior solemnity and tranquillity contrasts starkly with the boisterous hustle and bustle of its outer surroundings, which is one of the busiest in all Port Louis. In the middle of the open court stands an old Badamia (Indian Almond or Terminalia Cattapa) Tree, which is older than the Mosque itself. In fact, the Tree already stood on one of the two original plots of land on Queen Street acquired in 1852. The designers of the Mosque, in drawing up the plans of the building, very wisely decided to incorporate the Badamia Tree into the overall structure of the Mosque. The Tree not only adds a special charm to the austere place but also, with the shade its huge branches provide worshippers in the sweltering heat of Port Louis, enhances the peace and cool solemnity that pervades the place. And, in the evening, on clear starry nights, the feeling is as touching to-day as it was experienced in 1872 by the American Consul, Nicholas Pike:
As you stand under it (the Badamia Tree) on a clear night, myriads of stars glittering overhead, it is not difficult to fancy yourself transported to some Oriental land, where Allah alone is worshipped.
The prayer hall of the Mosque is the same vaulted hall of the old Mosquée-des-Arabes. From the towering bulbous domes, glistening white, hung the brilliant glass chandeliers that provided lighting for over fifty years — that is, till the advent of electricity. The beautiful chandeliers can still be seen hanging in the prayer hall as a reminder of the olden days and their glittering luster adds a special touch to the solemn decor of the Mosque which, to-day, is brilliantly lit with fluorescent tubes. The prayer hall is remarkable for its interior which comprises a subtle blend of Arabic and Indian motifs. The Jummah Mosque is a glorious monument to the inspiring dedication and religious fervour of its founders, designers and builders. It has gained immensely in stature over the years and has come to hold a special spot in the hearts of the hundreds of Muslims who come to its vaulted sanctuary every day to worship Allah (God), to meditate and seek inner peace and comfort. As the Grand Mosque of Mauritius, the Jummah Mosque, understandably, holds pride of place in the religious and cultural life of the Muslims.
This piece is taken from the website of the Jummah Mosque in Mauritius.
See on-line at: http://www.jummahmasjid.org/indexf1.asp