x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Sharjah's landmark of note

Few may realise that Khorfakkan's oldest mosque is featured on the back of the Dh5 note.

The 200-year-old mosque featured on the back of the Dh5 note since 1982 sits in a peaceful spot near the Corniche in Khorfakkan.
The 200-year-old mosque featured on the back of the Dh5 note since 1982 sits in a peaceful spot near the Corniche in Khorfakkan.

SHARJAH // The distinctly shaped monument on the Dh5 note, set against a landscape of sea and mountains, is Khorfakkan's oldest and most important landmark.

The note has travelled the world in wallets and handbags, and constantly changes hands locally. However, only a few people know what the image on the back represent. Some residents of this eastern coastal section of Sharjah recognise it only by its shape and location.

"I don't really know its name, I just come here to pray and be alone with Allah," said Mohammed Mirza, 80.

For most of his life, Mr Mirza has been going to pray at the 200-year-old mosque that is featured on the note.

Located across from the Khorfakkan corniche and overseeing the mountains, the small white building of stone, palm fronds and trunks was formerly known as Al Jamaa mosque.

It was renamed the Imam Salem Al Mutawa Mosque this March after Sharjah's Department of Culture and Information's heritage and culture office renovated and reopened it. It is now named after the last imam who presided there.

The mosque, along with the central souq of Sharjah - more commonly known as the blue souq for its blue-vaulted roof, it appears on the front of the Dh5 note - were picked as symbols from this emirate.

The place of worship began to be featured on local currency when the Central Bank of the UAE launched its second series of banknotes in 1982.

The first Dh5 note was printed two years after the unification of the UAE in 1971.

The front of the original note featured the UAE geographical map with local environmental landmarks including a caravan of camels, pearls, a dhow, a palm tree and an oil tower. On the back, it showed an image of the old fort of Fujairah.

The Government decided to focus on the timelessness of buildings and other items worthy of recognition instead of people on its monetary notes.

The mosque's distinctive features include an open-air, arched minaret, where the muezzin would call for prayers. It also features star- and moon-shaped holes across the walls, creating soothing air flows inside the rectangular structure that can accommodate between 70 and 100 worshippers. Old kerosene lanterns were replaced with similar designs that now have light bulbs.

While the mosque is now ensconced as part of national heritage, for more than three decades it lay abandoned in favour of larger and more modern places of worship that were built around Khorfakkan. However, its crumpling walls and lack of modern conveniences, such as electricity, did not stop Mr Mirza from coming here for prayers.

"I didn't mind it was falling apart. It had a clean spot where I can sit and pray, and I could pull up water using a bucket from the well here," said Mr Mirza, pointing to a newly reconstructed well in the courtyard of the mosque where pumps and taps have been added to ease the process of wudu before prayer.

"There is something special about this mosque, something you feel inside," he said.

For others, like Abdullah Sulaiman Al Kabouri, 32, the mosque holds a personal meaning. He says his grandfather, Abdullah Rashid Al Kabouri, was the last muezzin at the mosque and died in 1978 at age 111.

"My grandfather was proof of the longevity of someone who lives a simple life dedicated to Allah," said Mr Al Kabouri, a government employee.

He has a grainy black-and-white photograph of his grandfather on top of the minaret that he set up as a screen saver on his computer.

"When it got renovated, I finally got the chance to go and pray where once my ancestors prayed and my grandfather's voice echoed across the area," he said.

"What an honour for our mosque to be on UAE money," he said, echoing similar sentiments by other natives of Khorfakkan.

The mosque was more than just a prayer place; it was once a school where children would go and learn the Quran, and where the tribes and families of Khorfakkan would gather for Friday prayers and sermons. "It was a place where you could go and you would always find someone you could talk to and befriend," he said.

Near the mosque are rundown mud-built and stone houses, where the residents of Khorfakkan lived up to 40 years ago. The renovation of the building is the first of many projects aimed at reviving this old neighbourhood.

"Most people don't even know where Khorfakkan is. When they ask, I just show them the five-dirham bill and point to the mosque," Mr Al Kabouri said.

The mosque is full during Friday prayers, and more men are now seeking out its grounds for worship. One aspect that gives away the building's old age is that there is no section designated for women.

"We wanted its character and story to be kept true to how it was," said Mohammed Al Naqbi, a member of the Khorfakkan municipal council, who was an adviser in the renovation.

"People don't realise that it was picked to be on the note to embody the religious side of Sharjah, and the central souq to celebrate the emirate's merchant and trade roots," said Mr Al Naqbi.

At 45, Mr Al Naqbi does remember seeing people praying at the mosque in days past.

But like many, he did not take much notice of the fact that its likeness was printed on the Dh5 note until one day recently he happened to take a closer look.

"We often spend too much time looking up and not enough time scrutinising what we hold in our hands," he said.

Mr Mirza did not even know the mosque was featured on the note. When it was shown to him, he simply nodded his head and said: "It is good. This way, it will never be forgotten and will make Khorfakkan famous."


Last week, we looked at the history of notes in the UAE. Next week, we will look at the date palm and khanjar dagger on the Dh10 note.