Nizamiye Mosque minarets

Touring Joburg’s Mosques and Minarets

Joburg’s religious diversity is one of my favorite things about the city. There are so many beautiful churches and mosques and temples, representing every faith imaginable, and while I’m not a religious person I love visiting places of worship. (See the “God Project” series that I’m doing with Jozi Rediscovered. By the way, you can expect a new God Project post very soon.)

So when I saw that the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was offering a “Mosques and Minarets” bus tour, visiting three mosques in different parts of town, I signed up. I usually avoid bus tours, but Joburg is vast and sometimes wheeled transport is necessary when visiting far-flung parts of town.

As often happens on tours like this, I get distracted taking pictures and miss a lot of the interesting information imparted by the guides. Nonetheless, we had fantastic guides and one of them was the legendary Flo Bird, founder of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation.

Flo Bird with Muhammed DockratFlo Bird (right) with Mohammed Docket, chairman of the Northcliff Jummah Musjid.

I did manage to absorb a few details, which I’ll share along with many mosque photos.

The Nizamiye Mosque

We met the bus in Parktown (it was full — Joburg Heritage tours are very popular) and proceeded up the M1 highway to the Nizamiye mosque in Midrand. I’ve written about the Nizamiye mosque — a smaller replica of the Selimiye Camii mosque in Turkey — before, so I won’t repeat myself. But I will repeat that this mosque is spectacular and such a fun place to visit. If you haven’t been yet, go. The mosque is open every day and tours are free.

Nizamiye Mosque minaretsLooking up from inside the courtyard at the Nizamiye mosque.

Shoes outside the Nizamiye MosqueThe most fabulous pair of shoes left outside the mosque’s prayer hall.

People gathered inside the Nizamiye mosqueTourists inside the mosque. We had a brief but informative lecture from my old friend Ahmet Çoban, the PR representative at the Nizamiye Complex.

Ceiling of Nizamiye mosqueThe ceiling of the Nizamiye mosque, hand-painted by artisans from Turkey.

Tiles in the Nizamiye mosqueOne of thousands of handmade tiles in the mosque.

Nizamiye mosque sketchMy friend Fiver came on the tour and decided to bring her sketchbook rather than a camera. This is her Nizamiye mosque sketch in progress.

Please go back and read my old post about Nizamiye for more information.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid

We loaded ourselves back into the bus and headed across town to the residential suburb of Northcliff, where we visited the Northcliff Jummah Musjid. (“Jummah” means Friday in Arabic, and “Musjid” means mosque.) This small, yellow-brick mosque, which accommodates less than 200 worshipers, is about a tenth the size of the Nizamiye mosque, with far less grandeur. But I loved the beautiful simplicity of this community gathering place.

Northcliff Jummah MusjidOutside the Northcliff Jummah Musjid. 

Northcliff Jummah Musjid minaretThe mosque’s single minaret.

I enjoyed the short talk by Muhammed Dockrat, the Northcliff Jummah Musjid chairperson, about the origin of this mosque. It was only completed about five years ago. (Thinking back now, I vaguely remember watching the mosque take shape during weekly visits to the Impala fruit and veg shop, which is across the street.) But the process began many years before, when the Northcliff congregation first began meeting in a creche (nursery school) across the road. Eventually they raised enough money to purchase a house, where they held services temporarily as the mosque was constructed on an adjacent property.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid wood carvingIncredible woodwork on the mosque’s front door.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid imamOmar Bham, the imam at Northcliff Jummah Musjid. An imam is to Islam what a minister or priest is to Christianity.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid carpetI love the carpets in this mosque. Then again, I’ve never met a mosque carpet that I didn’t love.

I would have liked to spend more time at Northcliff Jummah Musjid, taking photos and talking to the staff. But we had to hurry on to our final destination — the mosque that drove me to sign up for this tour in the first place.

Kerk Street Mosque

The Kerk Street Mosque, located in the heart of downtown Joburg, is the oldest mosque in the city. (In an interesting side note, “Kerk” means church in Afrikaans.) Originally built in 1906, the Kerk Street Mosque was reconstructed in 1918 and again in 1990.

Kerk Street Mosque JohannesburgThe Kerk Street Mosque (right), at the corner of Kerk Street and Pixley Seme (formerly Sauer) Street.

Kerk Street Mosque minaret reflectionA reflection of the mosque’s minaret in the modern building across the street.

There are several things that I find amazing about this mosque:

1) Even though the building is relatively new, it still feels old.

2) Somehow the mosque blends in with the modern buildings around it, while also standing apart.

3) The mosque is built on Johannesburg’s square city grid, but the interior of the mosque is tilted 11 degrees to the north to face toward Mecca. Don’t ask me to explain this in further detail, as I am not an architect. But it doesn’t take an architect to see that this mosque is an architectural work of genius.

Kerk Street Mosque basementThe basement prayer area of the Kerk Street Mosque. How amazing are the arches? Apparently the arches are made more amazing by the fact that they are constructed completely of brick, with no steel whatsoever. Again, I can’t explain why this is significant. (#NotAnArchitect.) But the arches are stunning and my photo does them no justice whatsoever.

Inside the Kerk Street MosqueThe first floor prayer room in Kerk Street Mosque. There is also a balcony above this room, surrounded by a beautiful wooden lattice.

Kerk Street Mosque archesI struggled to take good photos inside this mosque. We were there in the late afternoon when there was very little natural light, my camera didn’t capture the colors properly, and the structure is just too magnificent to properly photograph. But here you can see a glimpse of the beautifully carved arches and the dome at the top.

Carving inside Kerk Street MosqueIntricate carving in the qibla wall, which faces toward Mecca and points congregants toward the correct direction in which to pray. (Hopefully I’m getting this right. If not, someone please correct me.)

Kerk Street Mosque reflectionsA reflection of the Kerk Street Mosque, shot from a small balcony outside the first floor.

My only complaint about this tour is that it was too short. I wanted to visit more mosques, as there are scores (maybe hundreds) in Joburg. I suppose I’ll have to do some explorations on my own, and hopefully the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation will have more mosque tours in the future.

If you’re interested in signing up for Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tours — the Foundation offers all different kinds of tours, all over the city — please follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in seeing more Joburg mosque photos, check out this interesting blog.

My tour with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson July 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I did this tour last year and loved it. We however visited the Houghton Mosque instead of the Northcliff one. Looking forward to the next God Project.

    • Reply 2summers July 26, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      I really want to visit the Houghton mosque too. Need to make that happen.

  • Reply violetonlineisonline July 24, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    such beauty

    • Reply 2summers July 26, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      Indeed.

  • Reply autumnashbough July 25, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Oh, wow that Nizamiye Mosque is just gorgeous. Awe-inspiring, really. The other two are fascinating, though, and certainly much homier. Thanks for sharing. Those interior shots are incredible.

    And, yeah, I love the carpets, too.

    • Reply 2summers July 26, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks. Honestly, why can’t all carpets be mosque carpets? The world would be a better place.

  • Reply Lani July 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    Ha. I almost commented on your Insta account that I loved that mosque carpet. 😉 Great minds think alike. Excellent tour. I was rather surprised when I saw mosques in Thailand. It seemed so out of place, but then again, Thailand is pretty relaxed about these things, religious tolerance and such. What a treat not to use the ‘women’s only’ entrance!

    • Reply 2summers July 26, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      Yes. I love mosques. I love mosque carpets. Best places to visit!

  • Reply Kate July 27, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Would love to do one of these tours (so I’ve joined their FB page)! My new house is about 2 streets behind Impala Fruit & Veg, and I’m sure I’ll be hearing Adhaan many times after we move! Wonder if they do it 5 times a day here, too? Did they happen to say that? I used to be furious every time I heard the call to prayer in the morning before I woke up (in the UAE)…..now, after living right off Christiaan de Wet and listening to the 24/7-mind-blowingly- loud traffic, I cannot WAIT to hear the call to prayer again, even if it is 5 times a day!

    • Reply 2summers July 27, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      Oh cool, that’s a great area. Actually you won’t be hearing a call to prayer – the chairman said they use a cell phone app for that now! So only the people in the congregation hear it – on their phones 😂

      • Reply Kate July 28, 2016 at 11:44 am

        My goodness – there’s an app for that! 😀 Awesome. Actually that’s pretty cool and respectful because it is a bit annoying to hear the call to prayer when the sun rises at like, 4:45 in the morning. But honest to Allah, I wouldn’t care anymore. Anything has got to be better than hearing 30 or so ambulance sirens a day (ER 24 dispatch center right down the road from our current house)!

      • Reply Kate July 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

        BTW, how about that carpet in the Sheik Zayed mosque? Hello. I could’ve just grabbed a pillow, laid down in a sun patch, and fallen asleep on the thing. No expenses spared in that place 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca July 31, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    LOVE the last photo especially – very cool perspective. The details inside the mosques are so beautiful!

  • Reply H April 28, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Was researching the Kerk Street mosque when I found this very incredible blog post.

    Just a bit of info – what you’ve mentioned as arches in the basement of Kerk are actually vaults which are basically a pair of arches at right angles that are extruded to form a three dimensional space. I hope this makes sense.

    Conventional construction methods for roofs/slabs require concrete reinforced with steel. The vaults are shaped to resist forces to a degree so that steel isn’t required which makes them significant. Moreso because they’re made out of brick – casting concrete into the shape of the vault is one thing, imagine laying bricks to form that shape!

    Also not an architect (yet!) but still an archi student so might not be completely correct.

    • Reply 2summers April 30, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      Hi Hashim, thanks so much for the comment, and thanks so much for the architectural explanation! It’s fascinating. And on another note, I love your Instagram feed 🙂

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