x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Mystery of 'Small-Small' mosque that 'nobody' uses

Workers and goatherds in Wadi Haqeel claim the curious place of worship is abandoned, but its immaculate interior tells a different story.

The mosque’s only embellishments are four carved posts and a wooden tower atop the mihrab, posing as a minaret.
The mosque’s only embellishments are four carved posts and a wooden tower atop the mihrab, posing as a minaret.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // The summer haze rising from the mountains of Wadi Haqeel obscures one of the valley's oldest and smallest treasures.

The workers and goatherds here call it the "Small-Small Mosque". They claim it has never been used.

"There are no people here. They're all at their houses in the city and even the workers don't pray here," said Mohammed Hussein, a construction worker who has lived in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) for 20 years. "Nobody goes inside these old mosques."

There is no recorded history for the Small-Small Mosque, but it was probably built as part of a winter settlement by Bedouin families who moved here during the cooler months.

The winter mosque - as opposed to summer mosques that were made of palm leaves - has thick stone walls, plastered together with a slapdash application of cement and is painted white outside.

Winter mosques were usually built to accommodate one or two people at a time.

They were traditionally surrounded by a few stone houses, a deep water tank, and a few goat pens.

Several such settlements still cling to the walls of Wadi Haqeel, and many have their own mosques, but for the most part they have fallen into disrepair and become the reserve of goats and geckos.

It is only the Small-Small Mosque that stays clean and loved.

The Wadi Haqeel mosque has an area of 6 square metres, and its low ceiling of 1.7 metres encouraged men to keep their heads bowed.

Its roof is a panel of corrugated iron, painted white and cut to fit perfectly. The only embellishments to be found are four carved posts and a carved wooden tower atop the mihrab, posing as a minaret.

Of course, there was never any need for a real minaret from which to issue the call to prayer - not if the mosque only served one family.

Some wadi residents say the mosque is more than a hundred years old, but others claim it is "only 30 years old".

It is likely the mosque was built on old foundations and has been renovated several times.

When the wealth from Abu Dhabi reached the pockets of villagers in RAK, they invested in their mosques first.

Credit for Small-Small Mosque's most recent renovations seems to go to Salem bin Mohammed Al Shimaili, a wood and honey collector in his 70s.

He said most men from the surrounding mountains used to journey by donkey to the larger mosque in the village of Shimal on Fridays.

"There was another mosque farther down the valley where they would go," said Mr Al Shimaili. "But for people who were working this was too far to travel each day so they made their own mosque beside their house."

Prayers at winter mosques such as the Small-Small Mosque were usually led by "a very learned man, one who could read or write", according to Mouza Al Shimaili, a 48-year-old mother who lived in a similar settlement in winter as a child.

"Without the microphone, just the voice," she said. "We would choose the man who had studied. The imam from the village was too busy - he would go each night to another place."

Many residents of Wadi Haqeel believe the Small-Small Mosque is abandoned now, but the interior tells a different story.

The mosque is cool and pristine, a defiance to the dusty wadi outside.

Inside is a Quran with crisp white pages, carefully wrapped in a plastic bag and placed on a wooden stool in the mihrab. Beside it sit two blackened incense burners.

And on the floor are clean mats with two folded prayer rugs - waiting for use.

azacharias@thenational.ae