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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Mosques of the UAE: 100-year-old mosque built by pearl diver has stood test of time

Alaqroobi Mosque may not look like much from the outside but its history is rich

Made from rocks, coral and mud pulled from the sea, Al Aqroubi Mosque stands some 30 metres away from its minaret.  Pawan Singh / The National 
Made from rocks, coral and mud pulled from the sea, Al Aqroubi Mosque stands some 30 metres away from its minaret.  Pawan Singh / The National 

On a quiet beachfront in Sharjah is a rugged piece of UAE history.

Overshadowed by the skyscrapers that have sprung up around it over the years, the sand-coloured mosque may not look like much from the outside but its history is as rich as the turquoise of the carpets that line its floors.

This unassuming mosque was built more than 100 years ago by an Emirati pearl diver living in Al Khan, a fishing village in the south of the emirate.

Rashid Alaqroubi built the house of worship, which later became known as Al ­Aqroubi Mosque, in 1904, before the discovery of oil and a long time before the formation of the UAE. He wanted a place in which he and his colleagues could pray whenever they returned from the sea.

The mosque, perched on the edge of Al Khan shore, is about 80 metres wide – one of the smallest in the country.

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Its minaret sits about 30 metres away from the mosque and is less than 4 metres tall.

“When my father and his father, God bless their souls, built the mosque there was no need for a minaret at the time. It was constructed about 30 years later,” Obaid Rashid Alaqroubi says.

Mr Alaqroubi, who was once an undersecretary for the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Awqaf, still maintains the mosque and pays for its renovations.

“We pay from our own pocket, it’s not like we expect or ask for anything in return,” he says. “We do that because it’s the right thing to. This is a historical place and it’s a house of God where people come to pray.

“Many members of the family provide all sorts of maintenance the place needs. It is still in its original shape.”

The mosque and its modest courtyard were built from rocks, coral and mud pulled from the sea, as was common in the area at the time, and is fenced with a small wall.

Prayers during the winter months were held inside the building but in the summer, before air conditioning was installed, worshippers would pray outside.

A palm tree was planted in the middle of the courtyard to provide shade for them. A lack of irrigation meant a well had to be dug up to cater for worshippers’ ablutions.

“The well has not been in use for many years now but we have restored it and kept it in good condition. It’s still there,” Mr Alaqroubi says.

The mosque has a weathered wooden door and inside, humble lanterns hang from the traditional wooden beams that fortify the ceiling.

Five white concrete pillars support the roof and three of the mosque’s six wooden-­framed windows overlook the sea, where pearl divers once risked their lives.

Although it bears the marks of a distant time, 100 people can still worship at the mosque. “The local community’s need at that time did not require bigger mosques,” Mr Alaqroubi says.

The domeless mosque was renovated and has been slightly modernised, but what has always remained is its community spirit. During the 1940s and 1950s it would be packed every Friday, and by the early 1970s air conditioning was installed, encouraging passers-by to stop for prayers.

Egyptian Abu Rayan, 54, says his work in marketing means that he is constantly on the road and must often pray in the nearest mosque he finds.

“About 10 years ago I came across Alaqroubi Mosque,” he says. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s strange I never noticed the mosque despite being in the country for nearly 30 years.”

Mr Alaqroubi says the mosque should be advertised as a historical site.

“This mosque is different. It is beautiful beyond description and the beauty I mean is the spiritual beauty,” he says.

“Imagine when you are between the hands of God, you open your eyes to the sea, which is a testament of God’s greatness, power and mercy at the same time. Subhan Allah.”

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