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Jeddah's Al-Shafi’i Mosque: The Story of a Thousand-Year-Old Minaret - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Al-Shafi'i Mosque was built in the 13th century AD. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Al-Shafi’i Mosque was built in the 13th century AD. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—In 647 CE the Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan selected Jeddah as a major seaport for the holy city of Mecca and a gateway for trade with neighboring states. Consisting of four districts, Jeddah is surrounded by a wall that was constructed to shield the city from raids by the Portuguese, who sought to control the Red Sea’s navigation routes.

Today the city is home to many historical buildings and artifacts that signify its early Islamic origins.

Behind the buildings of Old Jeddah in Al-Mazloum Lane, peeks the high minaret of the Al-Shafi’i Mosque—the oldest in the city and one of its most important Islamic sites.

According to architects and archeologists, the mosque, with its squared design and open central patio for ventilation, was constructed in the 13th century CE during the early days of Islam. It was assembled from sea mud, stone bricks, and wood—all basic materials used in Jeddah at the time.

Two years ago Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz, Chief of the General Authority for Tourism and Antiquities, announced that Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz would sponsor the restoration of two of Jeddah’s oldest mosques: Al-Shafi’i and Al-Mimar. This process has recently begun.

Commonly referred to as “Al-Masjid Al-Antique” (“The Old Mosque”) Al-Shafi’i is located near the old silver and gold smitheries and the copper market. To the east of the mosque is the textile and clothing market, called Souq Al-Badw (The Bedouin Market). The site is akin to a workshop devoted to the building’s two-year restoration.

An archeological survey was carried out on the mosque before the start of its repair in order to ensure the protection of its antiquities. Caution has been urged to avoid the damage that occurred during restorations of other mosques, given the delicacy of the buildings’ materials—gypsum and sand—and the historical value of its artifacts.

Working on the site, Sami Nawwar told Asharq Al-Awsat the mosque dates back to the time of the Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab and that its design followed the Fatimid school of architecture. During inspection, it was discovered that it was last restored 500 years ago. Nawwar says a thousand-year-old mihrab (payer niche) was also found lying underneath the current mihrab, along with gems and precious corals.

Al-Shafi’i is rectangular in shape and consists of two sections extending from the west to the east. The western section consists of an open-air square courtyard with four columns. The eastern part contains the Iwan wall facing the qibla, or the direction of Mecca to which Muslims face during prayer. All the columns of the Iwan date back to the Ottoman period.

Ahmed Amin, a resident of Al-Mazloum Lane, is looking forward to the reopening of Al-Shafi’i. He attended several sermons at the mosque in its previous condition and expects the finished mosque will attract large numbers of visitors and lovers of old Islamic antiquities to the historical district.