Sunday, 22 September 2013

Saint Denis Mosque

Saint Denis' mosque has its origins in 1892, when six Gujarati tradesmen bought a building at 111 rue du Grand Chemin for religious purposes. At that time about 130 Gujaratis (called z'arabes locally) had settled in Reunion over the previous 20 years.

the minaret of St Denis mosque

In 1897 a request was made to build a mosque, and authorisation was granted the following year by Governor Beauchamp. As the muslim community was small it took seven years to build the edifice, located on the same street as the previous building, now called rue Maréchal-Leclerc. The Noor-E-Islam mosque, covering an area of 720m2, was officially inaugurated on 28th November 1905. Its name means "light of Islam" in Arabic, and until Mayotte became a French department in 2011 it was France's oldest mosque.

the minaret is 32 metres high

On 12th October 1974 fire in a neighbouring building destroyed some of the wooden structures surrounding the mosque, but the courtyard and prayer hall were untouched. Following this a gallery of shops was built to replace the wooden buildings, and rue Maréchal Leclerc became the busy shopping street it is now. Today Reunion is home to about 50 000 Muslims, and there are around forty different religious buildings specific to Islam in Reunion; some of them are Shi’ite but most are Sunni.

the mosque is located in a busy shopping street

The Noor-E-Islam mosque can be visited all year round (dress respectfully and be prepared to take off your shoes inside), but I visited it this year as part of the Heritage Open Days (non-Muslims are allowed into mosques, as long as they do not sleep or eat there). The entrance is sheltered behind a series of columns, and when you enter the courtyard (sahn) you are immediately struck by the tranquil atmosphere after the bustle outside. 

part of the mosque courtyard

Located close to the entrance is the ablutions area, as ritual purification must precede all prayers.

ablution area

After the courtyard is the prayer hall (djamat khana), which has capacity for 500. The mosque's interior design is classic, and predominantly white and green. When you enter the prayer hall immediately opposite you is the mihrab, a semicircular niche that indicates the direction of Mecca (qibla) i.e. the direction that Muslims should face when praying. To the right of the mihrab is the minbar, the pulpit where the prayer leader (imam) delivers sermons.
mihrab and minbar in the prayer hall

prayer hall windows

framed Koranic verse

framed Koranic surat (chapter )

The mosque is easily identifiable by its 32-metre high white minaret topped with a dome designed to withstand cyclones. 

The minaret was built as part of the 1975-1978 restoration work following the fire in 1974. It is decorated with jalis, perforated marble screen decorations.

Minaret dome

Having visited mosques all over Asia, I'm pleased that after more than 20 years in Reunion I finally got round to visiting this beautiful mosque so close to home! 

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