Mosque buildings, especially in the Durban Central Business District keeps alive the eras in history which has shaped, developed and nurtured successive generations. Architecture is the cornerstone of each of these places of worship, which are examples of the works of craftsmen from the West as well as from the East, yet each venue, in Grey, West, May and Samora Machel Streets includes the African beat in the hearts of men and women who for more than a century and a half drew their spiritual sustenance. The shapes of the buildings, all of which face East in the direction of Mecca has enabled draughtsman, artisans, artists, painters, and decorators from a host of backgrounds to create very unique spaces.
The Juma Musjid in Grey Street is virtually a replica of the bazaars of South Asia and the Middle East with the place of worship surrounded by shops, trading areas, educational institutions and the central space of worship.
In West Street, the Musjid has used architects from Britain and craftsmen from India to create a structure which is unlike the concrete and glass “tombs” which make up what is supposed to be Durban’s “High Street.”
The Musjid in May Street, built by descendants of indentured labourers is styled in the typical era architecture, a square building with a minaret with arches, glass works and carved wooden doors.
Then there is the “contradiction” in Aliwal (Samora Machel) Street – a more than a century hold church building which remains intact on the outside, yet inside it is a mosque which captures the cultures of Asia, North Africa, Middle East and Africa.
There are an estimated 75 mosques in Durban and each one will have increased activity during the Holy Month of Ramadaan. Apart from the five daily prayers, almost all of them will offer meals at the time of breaking of fast. The evening Tarawee prayers is expected to draw capacity houses throughout the month.
This year, there is an added bonus, Ten thousand brochures featuring a compilation of 29 of Durban’s most iconic mosques, and their history, have been printed and ready to be distributed to mark the start of the Holy Month of Ramadaan. The innovative project is a joint effort between Architects Collaborative, the Islamic Forum, Islamic Centre Trust, Al-Qalam and the Phansi Ubuntu Art Museum.
Yusuf Patel of Architects Collaborative, the initiator of the project, told Al Qalam, that the aim was to give the people of Durban some insight into the city’s mosques. “This brochure covers 29 of the more than 75 mosques in the Durban area and gives some background about these places of worship. Hopefully this list can be expanded to include all the remaining Mosques in a later edition.” He urged mosque stakeholders to provide information about their mosques, including its history and even anecdotes, to be included in a future expanded publication.
Patel added: “With the increase of immigrant Muslims from other countries settling in South Africa, the demographics of Islam in the City is changing and the worshippers in the mosques confirm this trend. Mosques, like churches, temples, and other religious buildings have become important landmarks in the city as they reflect the cultural and religious diversity of which the city is made. Getting to know one’s history and to get other communities to share in it is what this brochure strives to achieve.”
Patel said that there are distinct categories of mosques to be found in Durban. These include three historic city mosques namely Grey Street (Juma Masjid) built in 1880, West Street Mosque in 1885, and at the turn of the century, May Street Mosque. Last year, a historic church in Samora Machel Street in central Durban, was converted into a mosque making it the fourth city mosque.
The legendary Soofie Saheb established seven mosques in the area with his base at Riverside, with others erected over time at Kenville, Alpine Road, Gleanearn Road, Newlands, 45th Cutting and Westville. Communities around some of the mosques were uprooted during Apartheid as a result of the Group Areas Act, but the mosques remained active largely due to their strong community connections.
Patel went on to add that the removal of residents to new areas as a result of the Group Areas Act meant new mosques had to be constructed in the areas where they were resettled such as Chatsworth, Phoenix, Reservoir Hills, Parlock, etc.
In the seventies a call by the Muslim Youth Movement also saw the provision of facilities for women in mosques. Since, more and more mosques are following suit and catering for women worshippers.
In the eighties the first mosque was built in KwaMashu, followed years later by that in Umlazi. The University of Durban Westville and University of Natal also had mosques built on their campuses; and more public spaces including shopping centres, the Convention Centre, and the Airport provide facilities for prayer.
In democratic South Africa, Muslims gradually moved into formerly white areas, creating informal spaces to pray that have since evolved into new, formalized mosques. The planning for the establishment of new mosques in these areas has faced some resistance, mainly from older residents. A few years ago, communities in Queensburgh faced much opposition when plans for a mosque was mooted, but the matter was later resolved and the mosque built. In Durban North, a new mosque is under construction, but they too, faced similar opposition before the matter was resolved.
Veteran journalist Farook Khan and Architect Adheema Davis have collaborated on the project, researching the history of mosques, and wrote the narrative which accompanies the pictures depicting each of the selected mosques.
Paul Mikula of the Phansi Ubuntu Art Museum has said “the city of Durban is fortunate to have a mix of cultural and religious icons which give diversity and energy to the city. The recording of these iconic buildings fit in with the mission of the museum to promote and celebrate our rich cultural history.”
Ahmed Saeed Moola of the Islamic Forum and Islamic Centre Trust has paid tribute to those in the community who have served the ummah. Their names have been recorded in the brochure. Listed also are those members of the built environment profession and advertisers who have contributed to make this publication available free to the public.