12 July 2018

East Africa: Iconic Kongo Mosque Believed to Be Oldest in the Region

Amid huge baobab trees at the northern part of the Diani Beach shoreline lies the iconic Kongo mosque, overlooking the Indian Ocean.

It has stood for ages and is believed to have been built using coral stones between 13th and 14th century by Arab merchants. At the time, the coast was an important economic hub.

The mosque is reputed to be one of the oldest in East Africa and it still attracts worshippers.

Formerly known as Diani Persian Mosque, the building's architecture is as unique as its discovery. Kongo was derived from a name inscribed on a stone at one of the graves in the mosque compound, where Muslim faithful Swaddiq Kongo was buried centuries ago.

SHIELDED

Also at the compound are several graves believed to be of the people who built it.

According to historical accounts, the mosque was built and used by Arab merchants for prayers.

But it was abandoned when Arabs left the coast. Wild animals and bushes are then said to have found a home there.

Huge baobab trees gradually enveloped the mosque and shielded it from sight. Very few people knew of its existence.

REVELATION

However, 300 years ago, native Muslim scholar Mwinyi Kombo allegedly had a revelation in his sleep directing him to the mosque.

Today, a few adjustments have been made, including the erection of three central pillars to prop up the mosque.

The interior has been renovated using modern building materials like cement and paint.

Green and white paint bestow a veneer of modernity to the otherwise dated building.

CELEBRATIONS

Caretaker Hamisi Suleiman said an extension was added to the eastern wing to accommodate an increasing number of worshippers -- up to 300 during Friday prayers and Muslim celebrations.

He added that there is a huge, round stone a few meters into the ocean which can be accessed only at low tide.

Locals believe the stone is sacred, and occasionally use it for religious rituals. Folklore says the stone used to revolve in the ocean, but this suddenly stopped.

"We extended the entrance that overlooks the ocean to accommodate the number of worshippers frequenting the mosque on Fridays and on special Muslim celebrations," he said.

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