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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
I 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.
Intricate 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.)
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.