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Mosque that escaped wrath of Portuguese still standing strong

Tuesday July 30 2019
Mandhry Mosque

Mandhry Mosque at Old town area in Mombasa in this photo taken on July 5, 2019 is one of the oldest mosques in the country which was built in 1570. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA

By SHAREEN MBEYU
By FARHIYA HUSSEIN

Did you know that in Mombasa there is a mosque older than Fort Jesus?

Mandhry Mosque is one of only two mosques in the world with two mirhabs, a niche in the wall pointing to the direction of Mecca, where Muslims face when praying. The other is in Saudi Arabia.

Mandhry Mosque was built in 1570, 23 years before Fort Jesus. Today, nearly four-and-a-half centuries later, the mosque on Sir Mbarak Road in Old Town, about 150 metres from the old port, still stands strong and proud, preserving Swahili culture.

Dr Kalandar Khan, whose great-grandfather was among the people who first settled in the area, said that after Portuguese invaded the coast line, they were violent and dictatorial, which the Swahili people hated and wanted to chase them away.”

However, the Swahili could not match their military might, so they sought help from Oman.

When the Omanis arrived, they settled around the Old Town in clans and built houses close together, but also required a house of worship. This is what led to the construction of Mandhry Mosque.

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The mosque was named after the Mandhry Clan, which settled in Old Town.

The mosque also boasts a minaret on top, a feature found in only three other mosques in the entire Coast region, namely Basheikh, Mbaraki Pillar and Shela.

All other Swahili mosques were built without one. The minaret symbolised the mightiness of God, whom they worshipped,” said Dr Khan. It was also the place where imams and sheikhs made the adhan (call for prayers). Since it was a raised area, their voices carried far and could reach many people.

 Adjacent to the mosque is the Mandhry well that was, and still is, used for ablution.

“Traditionally, every mosque must have a well or other ablution facilities, which Muslims must do before prayers,” he added.

 Initially, the mosque was white. At the time it was built, coral was widely used as mortar in building.    “The coral would be collected and burnt to ashes, which formed a white powder that was used as mortar and painted with a substance locally known as chokaa," Dr Khan offered. The outside of the mosque is plain, although the inside is slightly more decorated, with five arched doors and four windows beautifully carved. Inside the mosque are numerous inscriptions, benches and arched windows. The items used for worship by the settlers have been well preserved.

“Holy books, including Qurans, the mimbar (podium), and Quranic writings, as well as the interior structural design, are still intact,” said Dr Khan.

However, with time the original colour faded. So in an effort to preserve the monument as well as beautify the town, it was painted yellow, unlike other buildings. 

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