Columnists Features

Forgotten pre-independence religious establishment

By AQUILA NG’ONGA
DESPITE being a small town, Chingola on the Copperbelt will always go down in history as having once held the title of cleanest town in Zambia. It also boasts of harbouring the second largest open pit mine in the whole world.
You may think this proverbial history is all, but many may be ignorant of the existence of an interesting pre-independence religious establishment: a mosque building.
The mosque, located in Chingola’s Nchanga North, was built in 1949. One of the settlers, a miner, saw to the erection of the building. Devoid of efforts to rehabilitate it, the mosque appears more of an abandoned historical relic than a place of worship.
The architectural structure is obviously not complex or fancy like the modern type constructed in the Kamwala area of Lusaka. Excluding the requisite features of a mosque, the building is no different from the traditional way of a house building.
The walls are made of impressive long lasting bricks with the outer walls coated with what looks like white paint, but possibly lime that is now considerably losing to the brick red colour.
The main entrance into the building which leads to the male section of the mosque still has some sense of style. Four steps down the two walls which are about a metre high with short pillars at their ends, and both pillars having a pyramidal shape at the top, lead you through an arc and  walking across a roofed veranda, to the main door.
The entrance to the women’s section is found on the left side of the mosque and the external wall there will be sure to greet you with its scarred face from the terrible cracks it bears. It is a wonder that the building still stands given the intense ground vibrations caused by explosives used at the open pit mine.
The mosque has two roofed verandas on both lengths. The first veranda leads you to a simple minaret (tower) whose stability poses a hazard to the muezzin (a mosque official who calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret five times a day), instantly leaving you to wonder about the last time it was used.
Along this veranda is a column of water pipes against the wall with a trough below. Here, the excellent skill of the builder is still visible. The other veranda has nothing particular about it, but walls to the outside are holed with large arcs and smaller ones which ensure ventilation.
Detached from the mosque is a Minbar. Almost four metres high, it overlooks quite enough space to contain a crowd ready to learn more about the holy book, the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad. Six steps between four pillars made of brick assist the Imam or preacher up the pulpit.
However, due to inconsistent usage of this structure, you will find dried grass and fungus trying to survive on the surface of the steps. This still does not restrain the structure from remaining special and attracting attention of both a believer and an outsider.
A figure having a shape of the moon protrudes from the top of the Minbar. It embodies the authority of God. There is also a similar figure on top of the mosque which depicts a moon and star to distinguish the mosque from a Hindu hall.
The rust on the roofing sheets cannot be emphasised. It has consequently played a considerable role in the extinction of the beauty of the relic. This has been cited as an impedance to win over more converts who are not likely to appreciate the present state of the building and yet, many residents unfamiliar with the place have testified to their finding it eerie.
However, it is important to note that interacting with the Muslims there erodes any misconceptions as the people there are welcoming and show a level of deference.
There is some contrast between the interior and the outside. The prayer hall which is found between the two verandas is simple and neat, but that is if you do not have to look up to see an absence of a ceiling board to cover up the effect the roofing presents you with and also the broken glassed windows. The wiring is ancient and has hence triggered the electricity company to cut off power supply for some years now.
The women’s section is divided from the men’s by a wall high enough to prevent the two groups from being visible to each other during worship.
It is still made in a fashion to allow the women to also listen to the Imam as he directs prayers. To the far right of the entrance, you will find the Qibla wall. This is the direction in which Mecca is positioned.
Preaching is conducted from the Minbar while the people sit on a polished floor, but you will find small mats near the dais and the Mirhab, a prayer niche.
After preaching, the Imam enters the Mirhab and faces mecca while worshippers behind him follow through the procedure he leads. Between the Mirhab and the Minbar is a chest where the relevant books including the holy book are contained.
After a successful month of fasting: Ramadan, the brothers can only hope that they receive aid particularly from Saudi Arabia or every other willing Muslims from the global brotherhood to reconstruct the mosque and to build a school where it is planned to teach Islam to young children.
Visits are immensely welcome too. There have been unfulfilled promises made to them in the past, according to Kaisi Yusuf and Hassan Mana who worship from there, but all they hope for is a genuine promise.
It may strike you that they are disorganised as not to arrange for the building themselves, but most members are struggling to make ends meet.
If after 65 years a refurbished mosque is visible, it will not only be beneficial to a Muslim, but a warm story it will tell to an outsider will be appreciated by everyone.

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