We stumbled across the Jummah Mosque on a sweltering hot day in January whilst exploring Port Louis. (Although in fairness, every day in Mauritius is a sweltering hot day.)
We left the streets behind the Central Market, strewn with discarded cabbage leaves and other wilting vegetable parts, making our way further away from the port where our ship was docked. Buses in Mauritius look like they’re borrowed from Delhi in the 1970s (in fact they probably are borrowed from Delhi in the 1970s), and several sat in the road as mopeds buzzed their way through the traffic like little flies. Past phone stores, fabric shops and fast food outlets, and in to Chinatown.
Port Louis’ Chinatown is only a few blocks in size, but what it lacks in square miles it makes up for in colour. Street art is splashed across all the surfaces. A dragon constructed out of plastic bottles wove its way through the rooftops, its face smiling back at us opposite a zebra crossing.
We followed it all the way to a corner opposite a white building taking up an entire city block.
The most beautiful building in Mauritius
The Jummah Mosque is an ornate temple which sits quietly in the midst of all the riotous colour of Chinatown, a peaceful breath of fresh air amongst the congested streets of the city. Although the exterior of the building is mostly white, turquoise wrought iron railings and panels are spaced out along its breadth. A heavy dark wooden door, intricately carved, was slightly ajar, giving us a peek in to the coolness of the mosque.
Neither me nor my pal Lisa had ever been inside a mosque before. So obviously we wanted to have a look around this one.
We tentatively crept through a gate at the side of the building. A tiny kitten padded out from the shade with his tiny wobbly-kitten-walk and mewed up at us, blinking in the sunshine. If we were allowed cats on cruise ships, I would’ve taken that little guy back with us, because he was one cute cat.
As we were crouched down stroking the little black and white kitten, a man with a grey beard and twinkly eyes appeared from inside the mosque, and asked in a mixture of Mauritian Creole and English if we wanted to come inside. We absolutely did want to go inside!
But our main worry was, whether our clothes were a little too risqué for a visit to the Jummah Mosque. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t strutting around Port Louis in full on bikinis or anything, but both of us were wearing vest tops and little denim shorts. I might never have been to a mosque before, but I knew from visiting many a church that this style of dressing is not de rigeur for religious buildings. We gestured to our outfits-
The man nodded and smiled warmly, giving a welcoming beckon for us to follow him in. As we stepped in through the door he turned in horror and came running back towards us.
“Stop! Stop! Wait.”
Off he went, while we stood awkwardly in the doorway. Thirty seconds later he reappeared with two floor length dark red robes, and all was well in the world. We thanked him and put the robes on. Now we were allowed in.
“You are welcome to look around, take pictures! Until in fifteen minutes, it is prayer time.”
About the Jummah Mosque
Back in the days of colonialism, indentured labour was all the rage in Mauritius. Slavery was out, but labour in exchange for travel and accommodation was in. Between 1835 and 1907 over 450,000 indentured labourers were brought to the island by the British, and these immigrants brought with them their respective religions- namely Hinduism and Islam.
With a growing Muslim population, it was obvious that a mosque was needed, and in the 1850s the Jummah mosque began its life in a little house in Port Louis. Over time, more land was bought and the Jummah mosque grew to encompass the entire block. And with its beautiful mixture of Mughal and Moorish architecture, the mosque is now considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Mauritius.
Nowadays around 17% of the population of Mauritius is Muslim, with 48.5% identifying as Hindu and 32% identifying as Christian. There’s no official state religion here, and religious discrimination is basically unheard of- religious hate crimes in Mauritius just don’t seem to be a thing.
Inside the Jummah Mosque
Inside, we wandered along next to a beautiful courtyard underneath a glass roof, which let bright sunlight illuminate the tiled floor. It looked like a really spacious, really pretty greenhouse. A wizened old almond tree grew in the centre of the glass-roofed courtyard, and around the outskirts in the shade a few men sat in stillness. The almond tree has been there since before the Jummah mosque was the Jummah mosque, a relic from the beginnings of Port Louis’ life.
Think of all the things that tree has witnessed! (Truly though. Just think about it. That tree has lived a life.)
Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, although the daylight pouring in through the ceiling was enough to highlight square patches with pretty white light. Despite the noise and heat of the traffic on the street, inside the mosque it was perfectly calm. The atmosphere felt like a very tranquil gauzy blanket.
We watched from the edge of the courtyard as men began turning up to pray, several of whom nodded a ‘hello’ to us as they strolled in. As the call-to-prayer began, we decided it was time to head back out into the blistering heat of the outside, and we took our robes off to hand back to the friendly man who’d welcomed us in.
How to visit the Jummah Mosque
The mosque is open daily and is very welcoming to visitors: as long as its not prayer time, just turn up! (If it happens to be prayer time when you arrive, just come back slightly later.) And steer clear of Fridays which are the busiest days.
As with basically every kind of religious building, be respectful of the fact that this is a place of worship and keep voices to a minimum. Ladies, as mentioned, robes are provided to cover up. Otherwise- bare arms are a big no no, as are short shorts (or any shorts).
We were only inside the Jummah mosque for about fifteen minutes, but I’m so glad we managed to get a glimpse. The people were also so incredibly welcoming that I didn’t feel weird about stepping inside the building at all, even regardless of our poor choice of mosque-outfits. This building is an architectural gem of Port Louis, but it’s also an oasis of calm. You can’t possibly leave without feeling significantly less stressed than when you arrived.
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