Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat—There is a saying in the Punjab that if you have not visited Lahore then you haven’t seen Pakistan, and if you haven’t seen the city’s Badshahi Mosque then you haven’t seen Lahore.
One cannot escape the sight of the grand red-bricked Badshahi Mosque on entering the historical city of Lahore which links Pakistan’s northern and southern regions. When Badshahi Mosque was first built more than 300 years ago by the Mughal Emperor of India it was located outside the city walls. However thanks to subsequent expansion and development, one has to traverse the hustle and bustle of city life to enter the historic mosque, which now lies in the heart of Lahore city.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Badshahi Mosque preacher Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad said: “The mosque is now the center of the city’s religious activity.”
“We hold Quran recitation competition in the mosque every month, we arrange conferences for unity among Muslims…the mosque remains the center of religious activities during the month of Ramadan,” he added.
Badshahi Mosque is surrounded by bazaars and market places on three sides, however its grand structure is visible from miles away, dominating the Lahore skyline.
“During its 300 years history, the mosque has never ceased to play a central role in the religious life of the city” said Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad.
“People from all over the city flock to the mosque on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and during Ramadan. During this period, the mosque is always filled with worshipers,” he said.
Badshahi Mosque has the capacity to accommodate more than 100,000 worshipers at a time. Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad vividly recalls the occasions when the mosque has been filled to capacity, particularly during the Eid celebrations.
Recounting another occasion when the mosque was filled to capacity, Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad told Asharq Al-Awsat: ““I remember the day when Imam Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais (Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca) led the prayers at Badshahi Mosque during his visit to Pakistan in 2007,” adding, “The mosque was filled to the brim.”
The Badshahi Mosque, also known as the “Royal Mosque” was built in 1673 by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It remained, for most of its history, the largest mosque in the world, however it has lately been overtaken by newer mosques, in addition to the development of older ones.
“Badshahi Mosque is one of the city’s best known landmarks and a major tourist attraction epitomizing the beauty and grandeur of the Mughal era” a local resident told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Badshahi Mosque design is closely related to the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India, which was built in 1648 by Aurangzeb’s father, Emperor Shah Jahan. Both mosques are the embodiment of the Mughal architectural style, itself an amalgam of pre-existing Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Byzantine, and Indian architecture
Badshahi Mosque was built under the patronage of sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir and was completed in 1673 under the supervision of Aurangzeb’s foster brother Muzaffar Hussain (also known as Fida Khan Koka) who was appointed governor of Lahore in May 1671 and held this post until 1675.
The construction of the mosque took about two years, from May 1671 to April 1673. The mosque was built opposite the historic Lahore Fort, something that emphasized the new-found mosque’s stature as a jewel in the crown of the Mughal Empire. In conjunction with the building of the mosque, a new gate was built at the fort, named the Alamgiri Gate after the Emperor.
From 1852 onwards, piecemeal repairs were carried out under the supervision of the Badshahi Mosque Authority. Extensive repairs were carried out from 1939 to 1960 at a cost of about PKR 4.8 million, restoring it to its original shape and condition.
Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad informed Asharq Al-Awsat that despite its huge capacity, the mosque does not enjoy a massive congregation on a day-to-day basis.
“Although the mosque is capable of accommodating 100,000 worshipers at a time, approximately only 10,000 worshipers attend the mosque’s Friday prayers, while this figure is closer to five or six hundred for ordinary prayers,” he said.
Local residents say that the main reason that Badshahi Mosque has such a paucity of worshipers is that in Lahore, as in most Islamic cities, each district and neighborhood has its own mosque, which commands the loyalty of local worshipers.
“People usual attend the their local mosque, instead of traveling to Badshahi mosque for prayers” Lahore resident Fayyab Abid told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The mosque’s internal and external architectural features are magnificent. “The interior has rich embellishment in stucco tracery and panelling with a fresco touch, all in bold relief, as well as marble inlay” said Ahmed Abbas, a teacher of architecture at a local engineers college. “The exterior is decorated with stone carving as well as marble inlay on red sandstone,” he added.
Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad told Asharq Al-Awsat that the mosque is in excellent conditions with two government departments tasked with taking care of the repair work.
“Two government departments take care of the mosques around the clock including the Archaeology and Islamic Awqaf departments…even the slightest need for repair is taken care of,” he said.