Ra­madan 1439

At the front of an RAK mar­ket and across from its his­toric fort, this mosque has tales to tell,

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - writes Anna Zacharias

The sun sets on the fi­nal day be­fore Ra­madan yes­ter­day at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Wor­ship­pers will to­day greet the holy month with prayers and fast­ing.

MOSQUES OF THE UAE: SALEM BIN SUL­TAN

The Kuwaiti Street mar­ket is the pub­lic epi­cen­tre of Ra­madan in Ras Al Khaimah, and the Sheikh Salem bin Sul­tan Mosque sits at its en­trance across the street from a 19th cen­tury fort.

Around the cor­ner, shopfronts glit­ter with golden medal­lions and se­quinned dresses.

At the en­trance to this mar­ket, the rich and the poor kneel and pray shoul­der to shoul­der be­fore the mihrab of the Sheikh Salem mosque.

Men en­ter un­der im­pos­ing arches of the front en­trance. Women come in a dis­creet side en­trance, es­cap­ing from the heat of the mid­day sun into the si­lence and cool of the mosque.

This neigh­bour­hood was once home to renowned mer­chant and sail­ing fam­i­lies, and the fort, now con­verted into a mu­seum, was home to the late Ras Al Khaimah Ruler, Sheikh Saqr bin Mo­hammed.

To­day, the sur­round­ing houses are shared by low-in­come fam­i­lies and men called bach­e­lors who are, for the most part, mid­dle-aged men sup­port­ing fam­i­lies over­seas.

The mosque’s sole res­i­dent, Ibrahim Ab­dul­rah­man was once one such man. To­day Mr Ab­dul­rah­man and his fam­ily live in the mosque, un­der a door to the right of the mosque’s ar­cade that says “Muezzin’s Room”.

The Sheikh Salem Mosque, to him, rep­re­sents sal­va­tion of the soul and from the lone­li­ness of the UAE bach­e­lor life.

The Ker­alite, now 55, moved to the UAE in April 1982 to work at his brother’s cafe­te­ria, sell­ing chick­peas out­side a women’s park. Even­tu­ally he se­cured a job as a cleaner with Awqaf.

But af­ter years away from his wife and chil­dren, he could no longer stand to be apart and put in his res­ig­na­tion.

When his boss asked him why, Mr Ab­dul­rah­man ex­plained that his hum­ble job ti­tle did not per­mit him to spon­sor his wife.

The man­ager made ar­range­ments so that Mr Ab­dul­rah­man could stay, and from that day for­ward he was given a sta­tus that would al­low him to bring his wife to the UAE.

He con­tin­ued to work as a cleaner and was granted the muezzin’s room at the Sheikh Salem mosque.

Over the decades, it has pro­vided com­fort to many oth­ers.

Dur­ing Ra­madan, 400 peo­ple will break their fast here daily and gather for taraweeh prayers led by the imam, Ahmed Ab­dul­rah­man.

The Iraqi imam, who was raised in Shar­jah and Khor Fakkan, has led prayers here for 18 years.

Prior to that, he served as the mosque’s muezzin for two years, be­fore the call to prayer was re­placed by live satel­lite trans­mis­sion from Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

When the imam first be­gan his ser­vice here, Sheikh Saqr still at­tended fajr – or dawn – prayers, walk­ing across the street from the fort and fol­lowed by his body­guards.

He wanted to pray among his peo­ple, as he had in his youth.

Of course, res­i­dents will tell you, the mosque where the sheikh had prayed decades ear­lier was not the same build­ing, nor was it in the same lo­ca­tion.

There are two views on the his­tory of a mosque. In some parts of the world, a mosque is be­lieved to be noth­ing more than the phys­i­cal struc­ture where peo­ple pray

In Ras Al Khaimah, a build­ing is con­sid­ered sec­ondary to its func­tion. And so peo­ple con­sider the Sheikh Salem mosque much older than its struc­ture or its for­mal name, which few of the wor­ship­pers know.

Com­mon con­sen­sus holds that it is at least decades at least, and pos­si­bly more and that one of its ear­lier in­car­na­tions was across the street “by the Eti­salat pole”.

It is lit­tle wonder that both sheikhs and clean­ers have found com­fort here for af­ter all, wor­ship­pers will tell you, all mosques are equal.

“All mosques are good, be­cause they are the house of God,” said Nizar Hassouneh, a reg­u­lar wor­ship­per at the Sheikh Salem mosque.

“There is no dif­fer­ence be­tween one mosque and another.”

The peace found in wor­ship is universal and so it is at the Sheikh Salem mosque.

All mosques are good, be­cause they are the house of God. There is no dif­fer­ence be­tween one mosque and another NIZAR HASSOUNEH Wor­ship­per at Sheikh Salem mosque

Opin­ion, page 12

Vic­tor Besa / The National

Pawan Singh / The National

Sheikh Salem bin Sul­tan Mosque in Ras Al Khaima hosts about 400 peo­ple for if­tar ev­ery day dur­ing Ra­madan

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