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Maldives: Malé Old Friday Mosque

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Malé Old Friday Mosque > Maldives > Asia

[Visited: September 2013]

When I passed the Old Friday mosque for the first time, it was dark, and I did not realize the building under the corrugated roof was actually the 17th century mosque I was looking forward to visit later. Yes, there was a white tower next to it, but it did not at all have the appearance of a minaret, so that did not give me a clue either. The next day, I just passed by the Hukuru Miskiy, or Old Friday mosque, only to ask if my half-shorts would be OK to enter. Before I knew it, I was walking around the premises, just as it started to rain. The utterly ugly roof at least protrudes on all sides, leaving just enough space to walk dry. The second advantage is that you walk close to the walls, and it soon dawned on me that this was a very special one. The lower parts are constructed using coral stone, while the upper part is made of wood. Looking up close, I saw fine decorative elements in the coral stone, and texts in Arabic. I walked around the mosque, noting the tombstones just outside, when I reached the eastern side. Here, I met a local guy guiding his Indian friends around; according to him, it was no problem for non-Muslims to enter. His male friends did, but I stayed behind for a chat. When they left, I walked up the stairs after I took off my shoes. The lacquerwork here is exquisite: finely shaped columns, beams with Quranic texts orange on black in slightly faded calligraphy: they whetted my appetite for what I would see inside.

Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): The mihrab on the western side of the Old Friday mosque

Just as I was walking up the stairs, a guy came to me, to tell me in shaky English that I was not allowed to enter the mosque. According to the information I had, it was possible to get a permit to enter as a non-Muslim, and that the supervisors would often give this on the spot. But when I politely asked about it, he remained firm: I could not enter. I had no other choice than to walk around the mosque again, but I could not help to look inside. A little later, I met a very friendly guy, who turned out to be a Sri Lankan living in Malé, and he looked around for the supervisor. When he could not be found, my newfound friend told me as a Muslim that I should just enter anyway. I gladly did; once inside, the full beauty of the mosque showed itself to me. Dark wood on top, with calligraphy and other decorations; lanterns, a ceiling supported by coral stone columns, a soft green carpet: it all combined to make for a remarkable sight. A curious detail: the original temple that once stood on this spot, was directed towards the west, so Muslims must pray diagonally; stripes on the carpet indicate the correct direction. The mihrab is therefore not pointing to Mecca either. In any case, it is an intricate piece of woodwork.

Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Cemetery with coral tombstones outside the Old Friday mosque

When the supervisor finally came, and saw me talking to my Sri Lankan friend, he did not say anything anymore. After soaking in the beauty of the interior of the Old Friday Mosque, I took a closer look at the tombstones. Round-topped ones for women, pointy ones for men; golden plates for sultans; and then there were small mausoleums containing family graves. Most were decorated, and had Arabic texts on them. Right outside the main entrance stands the tomb where Sultan Iskandhar, the founder of the mosque, rests. It was remarkable how this mosque, built in 1658, is different from most others; and this includes the peculiar whitewashed lighthouse-like minaret with its blue Arabic texts. I thanked the supervisor, who looked unsure how to react, and left just before sunset. Two days later, the weather was much better, and I decided to have a look again at this marvellous mosque. I was lucky: there was no one around, and I felt excitement inside of me when I entered the mosque again. This time, I did not have a protector. I could see the ceiling better than before, and I had a better look at the carved mihrab and the beams. Suddenly, I saw the supervisor, lying on his back on the verandah of the mosque, sleeping on his back. I moved cautiously, trying not to make a sound. The tombstones were now basking in the sunlight, and so were the flowers in the small pond in the gardens on the mosque premises. Looking back at the mosque, which I consider one of the most beautiful I have seen so far, one nagging question remained. What would the mosque look like without the roof?

Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): A corrugated roof protects the Old Friday mosque
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Interior view of the mosque with columns and carpet
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): The peculiar minaret of the Old Friday mosque
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Arabic text engraved on a coral stone tombstone
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Entrance of the Old Friday mosque with coral stone and woodwork
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Tombstones of the 17th century cemetery of the Old Friday mosque
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): The brown and orange lacquerwork ceiling of the mosque
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Close-up of decorated coral stone wall of the Old Friday mosque
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Detail of a wooden beam with calligraphy depicting a Quranic text inside the mosque
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): The interior of the Hukuru Miskiy, with lacquerwork and stripes on the carpet to indicate the direction towards Mecca
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): Lacquered wooden beam inside the mosque with Quranic text
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): The coral stone mausoleum of Iskandhar, founder of the mosque in the mid-17th century
Picture of Malé Old Friday Mosque (Maldives): The entire exterior of the mosque is decorated by motifs and Arabic texts

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