Gridlock cars and human traffic of pedestrians and
petty traders around Eastern Police Station and
Kissy Road at Freetown’s commercial district, complemented by the crazy driving of commercial motorcycles – ‘Okada’ – under the humid March month heat combine to make anyone uncomfortable who ventures into this arena of the East.
Amidst this tumultuous state of human activities only a foolhardy will dare to board a cab or a bus on an urgent assignment to the East and make it on time; thus ‘Okada’ has become the only realistic alternative.
On the right hand side of old blackhall road as one heads eastward one comes across snake-like stairs which neatly stretch their way up to a gigantic unpainted fortress-like structure which stands on top of the hills, back of ‘banga store’.
This is the abode of Alhaji AR Mahdi the architect of Davies Street Mosque which is arguably the oldest mosque in Sierra Leone.
After almost half an hour of waiting, the old man clad in blue and white horizontal stripes shirt, brown pants and Islamic-style green and sliver designed hat, trotted his way to the porch holding a set of documents in his right hand.
With legs which seemed reluctant after decades of serving the ageing frame, the old man’s evergreen will, could be sensed as what has kept him going for so long.
He carefully seated himself on a wooden chair by the entrance door and gazed at Queen Elizabeth II quay and its surroundings which is now engulfed with haphazardly built structures obliterating the once natural and beautiful landscape.
After exchange of courtesies, the Alhaji with a throaty voice which seemed to be clouded by his age said to Awoko’s reporter Ophaniel Gooding “you really want to know the history of our mosque, and how it was built. It has a very long history and interesting”
Using both thumbs as sentence guides as he read from a 16 page well typed document the close to nine decades old man said, “ Jamiul Atig mosque aka Davies Street mosque’ establishment and development is synonymous with the consolidation and expansion of Islam in the country. To understand the unique significance of this mosque, it may be necessary to digress a little and dilate briefly on our founding fathers of this community and this mosque.
“Our Aku Muslim forefathers of blessed memory were among the devoted pioneers of Islam in this country. They were simple citizens by nature but they were blessed with abundance of faith in God and the fear of God. These qualities endowed them with stout hearts; with dignity and unflinching dedication to Islam… they decided to construct a mosque about the year 1836. It is believed that it was the first to be constructed in Freetown and then the Colony if not in the whole of Sierra Leone as there was then no organized Muslim Community settlement in existence. It is understood that the original mosque was of a simple structure: mud wall and bamboo thatched roof covering on bush stick rafters and slates. The size of the mosques was small and the materials used for its construction were not durable. Nevertheless the mosque remained serviceable in this form for many years.
“However, as the congregation continued to increase in number, and to settle down permanently in Fourah Bay, a larger mosque was naturally desired to accommodate the increasing number of worshipers. The larger size of mosque was required and the need for a more permanent structure dictated the use of more durable materials for the first reconstruction of the mosque. Consequently, about the year 1876, the first permanent structure of the mosque was constructed.
“The main components of this structure were dressed up laterite stone walls, timber farmed roof trusses and purlins, corrugated iron roof covering, board ceiling and timber sash windows with coloured glass panes. This permanent mosque was designed as two separate buildings- a large hall for male worshipers and a smaller building for the female worshipers. The large size to which this mosque was initially built is significant. Its large size was out of proportion to the needs of the community at the time. But it was the deliberate choice of the mosque authorities to build such a mosque, as the mosque was also to serve as a central mosque for nearly all the provincial Muslim worshipers residing in Freetown and its environs at that time who had no mosque of their own.
“This initial permanent mosque served the congregation continuously from 1876 until after the end of the Second World War (WWII) when extensive repairs to the mosque became very necessary.
“A major effort was then made by the worshipers to repair and remodel the mosque and at the same time to provide more space for the continuously increasing numbers of worshipers.
The first remodeling of the permanent structure of the mosque was designed by the last Amos Cole who was an architectural draughtsman of considerable skill and talent…” Clearing his throat the aged man continued, “in the early 60’s, a further improvement to the mosque was commenced. The improvements were to provide the mosque with four minarets one at each corner of the mosque linked together with a verandah arcade.
The wooden sash windows of the mosque were also to be replaced by steel windows. These improvements progressed slowly without completion until the end of the 1960’s when, with resolute determination, the congregation embarked on the most ambitious reconstruction programme of the mosque which was to bring it to its present state of refinement.
The latest improvement on the mosque was designed by me,” he said beaming.
“The high level tinted glass panels and freshness to the interior of the mosque. Every part of the mosque has good natural day lighting. The mosque also has effective natural cross ventilation which gives a high degree of comfort even during the hottest period of the year without the use of electric fans. The acoustic effect is also very good. The interior atmosphere and aesthetic quality of the mosque are generally tranquil and delightful.”
Alhaji Mahdi disclosed that throughout the history of the development of the mosque, from its initial construction through subsequent rebuilding, enlargement, and improvement etc. the construction work has always been executed by the worshipers themselves.
Speaking on the expenditure of the reconstruction of the mosque then, Alhaji Mahdi explained, “the exact expenditure on earlier development efforts on this mosque cannot be accurately assessed due to the high input of self help donations of materials and labour. The total expenditure of works executed by contract with the Sierra Leone Construction Company (SLCC) amounted to Fifty three thousand and eighty three leones (Le 53,083). Further expenditure on the mosque outside the contract amounted to Twenty seven thousand five hundred leones (Le 27,500). Grand total expenditure on the mosque he said amounted to Eighty thousand five hundred and eighty three leones (Le 80,583.)
Though old, the Mosque can however hold its place in the contemporary architectural style of the present. By Ophaniel Gooding