When The Believers Faced Jerusalem

The Mehrab Of The Barwada Masjid

At first, Ghogha looks like any small-time coastal settlement of Gujarat – not entirely a village nor a town, as if a village, bored by its own half hearted attempts at urbanization had fallen back into its old slumber. Clusters of mud houses interspersed with cement and brick structures – looking garishly out of place among mud and slate surroundings – dusty roads and by lanes, with puddles of stagnant water and stray dogs lingering at corners.

Closer to the sea stands a forlorn looking government rest house with an old tamarind tree standing in its large courtyard. From the stone wall skirting the courtyard you can see the rocky beach below. Waves loaded with mud and sand constantly lash the rocks. Riding these very waves, sailing in their sturdy ships, the first Arab traders landed at Ghogha around the early seventh century and built a masjid here. This was the time when Qibla (direction to be faced while offering namaaz,) of the Muslims was Jerusalem instead of Mecca. For a brief period of 16 to 17 months, between 622 and 624 A.D., after Hijra (migration) to Medina, the Prophet (s.a.v.) and his believers faced Jerusalem while offering namaaz. This ancient masjid, locally known as the Baarwaada Masjid or Jami Masjid, was built during this period and is one of the oldest if not the oldest masjid in India. Later the Prophet (s.a.v.) received Wahi (Revelation) commanding him to change the orientation point from Jerusalem in the north to Mecca in the south. This masjid, therefore, predates all the other masjids in India whose mehrab face Mecca. This ancient masjid also bears the oldest Arabic inscriptions in India. The masjid falls under the care of Barwaada jammat but in spite of its historical significance, it lies in ruins needing urgent repair.

This small town has over eleven masjids and dargahs, which were built later during the Sultatnate period in Gujarat (1401- 1572), including the old mazaar of Ashraf Shah Baba who made Ghogha his home. A copy of the Holy Quran hand written by him can also be seen here. There is a tunnel under his mazaar which is believed to go as far as Mecca!! A few adventurous youths did make an attempt to verify this belief but had to turn back after a few kilometers due to lack of oxygen !!

Inside the Barwada Masjid

In its heydays Ghogha was the center for Islamic learning and a flourishing port which had trade links with Shri Lanka, Africa and Middle East and was appropriately called, Sher-e-abaad , the prosperous city. During the Moghul period, its yearly income was believed to be 1666 pounds. Later it became a major cotton exporting port. However with the passage of time, a decline in cotton prices and the development of railways brought about a decline in the commercial importance of ports along the Gulf of Cambay (Khambat). With the development of the nearby Bhavnagar port, the significance of Ghogha as a port diminished further.

Today this coastal town lies half-forgotten along with its inhabitants, the majority of whom are Muslims and identify themselves as Ghoghari Arabs. However their love for the sea continues with every Ghoghari family having at least one male working on a ship somewhere. Due to lack of local employment opportunities, most of the men folk have left their homes for work in places like Mumbai and Middle East.

 The locals believe that this is due to the curse of Ashraf Shah Baba. According to local folk lore the Baba cursed the men of Ghogha for casting an evil eye on his beautiful daughter. He cursed the men folk of Ghogha that they would never be able to live with their family and will have to wander away from home in search of livelihood.

A boat making unit started some years ago closed down due to some internal problems. A salt works trade started some time back, met with the same fate. The Ghogha – Dahej ferry boat service started by the State Government with much ballyhoo ended in a whimper. Only a few bentonite processing factories offer limited employment to the locals.

Today Ghogha and its ancient masjid bear a look of decadence. Perhaps the development planners can cast off the Baba’s curse and it would be a great loss to our cultural heritage if this ancient masjid is allowed to crumple to dust.

(Photo credits: Razi Abdi)MM

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Rupa Abdi

I am an independent researcher and writer with interests ranging from Environment and Development to Culture and Mysticism

13 thoughts on “When The Believers Faced Jerusalem”

  1. We often read about the early settlements of Arabs along the coastal regions of India, especially Gujarat, but your insight has been a learning experience. Thanks for giving an insight into this wonderful piece of information. At times these little inputs help us dispel subtle myths about the advent of Islam in India which is generally coalesced with Turkish invasions in the 11th century.

  2. This is a remarkable information. We Keralites generally hold that it is the Mosque at Kodungallur in Kerala that is the first mosque in the sub-continent. If this is true this mosque should be a rarity in Islamic history itself. Also it should be checked whether any other mosque built during this period still exists other than, of course, Masjid Quba and Masjid Nabawi, the first mosques at Madina. However author should have given further corroboration on this subject considering the less probability of a masjid being built in India even before the Qibla was changed. A quick googling suggests that the architectural feature of mihrab in the form of niche in mosques was introduced much later.

  3. Wonderful article Rupa
    It may be a good idea to get the local architecture institute or for that matter CEPT-Ahmedabad interest to atleast document the piece and make the drawings as to how this Masjid was precussor of the Islamic influence in the architecture of the sub-continent.
    I stronlgly feel that we need to do some serious work on this architectural heritage of India.

  4. @ Karoly,

    Your question is valid. However I am not an expert on Islamic architecture. Perhaps the Archeological/History Depts. in Gujarat should take an initiative to do some research on this structure. But I doubt if Islamic architecture is on their list of priorities !!!!! Had that not been the case, this ancient structure would not be in ruins today.

  5. @ Karoly

    However I would like to add that the mihrab in this Masjid does not face west and according to the online Dictionary of Islamic Architecture

    ‘ The earliest mosques do not appear to have had mihrabs…..”

    There appears to be some uncertainity on this issue.

    @ Sudie,

    I will try and get in touch with the concerned authorities as well as Karan Grove of INTACH.

  6. It would not be surprising if this Masjid was indeed built during the time when the qibla was at Jerusalem.

    India has always been a very receptive country. Just as Christianity came to India well before it went to Europe, it is possible that Islam came here well before going to many Muslim countries.

  7. Rupa,

    Nice article. Regarding the direction of the mihrab, could the fact that it is oriented towards Jerusalem rather than Mecca be a simple error in calculation? The directions from Gujarat towards Mecca and Jerusalem are not that different after all.

  8. @Glrish,

    If you look at the world map, you will notice that as far as the state of Gujarat is concerned, Mecca is exactly to its west. Howeever Jerusalem falls towards North-West. Remember, these Arabs were sea-traders and therefore expert navigators. I doubt if they could get such basic directions wrong !!

  9. Ineed a nice bit of info. very informative article, thanks and had had never ever imagined that that a mosque facing Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, had ever exist in India. A rare Mosque indeed. I will pass these info to my Arab collegues over here and will verify that do such mosques still exist in Middle East or other muslim countries as well?

  10. Otherwise a very valuable read, we must thank the writer for this rare piece.

    However, a few ‘academic’ correction are a must so that these oft repeated

    mistakes or committed omissions are avoided.

    Jamaat (ja-maat) is the normal word even in foreign media, we cannot wish this

    word to be in the time warp of yore, which reminds me Benazir Bhutto’s English

    which smacked of one being under the British occupation of India.I hope all of

    us agree that those days are long gone. So, Ja-maat or Ja-mat but not Jammat

    (Jam=JUm, mat=mut)

    The word Sher-e-abaad should probably ‘Shahrabad’ and the dissection made this

    word lose all its sense. any prefix of -abad stands for aabaad and a-b-aa-d does

    not make one grasp what it means by this -abaad- except that it is ‘a-baad’ .

    While we have degradation of language proper due to use by neo-learners, we tend

    to use local terminology with the original ‘original’. Here the writer tends to

    show his knowledge sub-conciously revealing his limited ability of both Urdu and

    English. The mixing must be avoided because here we are not at entry level here

    at Indian Muslims.
    With all the ‘lingual inhibitions’ once again, the writer deserves a thank. A

    good infomative story with the decandent Archeological sense of India Well,


  11. Being expert navigators, the Arabs must not have missed the direction of the first Qibla. So, if the orientation of the Masjid in question is towards ‘Al Quds’, it must surely be the first mosque and that too in the time of the Prophet. So, if we can verify this, this qualifies to be the first mosque in India. Lets hope we all agree on this.
    Thanks Roopa for this change in the chaos of blasts and unruly ‘law enforcers’>

  12. I dont want to give up our Keralite’s claim for the first mosque in India just by looking at the angle of a mosque.


    The claim for the Kodungallur mosque is backed by strong historical references which is also the history of the arrival of Islam in India, more than just an angle. Otherwise for a mosque to be built in India at a period when Islam was in its infancy is not at all credible.

    I remember while I was in a Middle East country a new mosque there had to be rebuilt because of the error happened in orientation there. So such things can happen.

    My conjecture is that probably some guy paddled to Ghogha thinking that it was Calicut, for Arabs were mainly interested in trading with Calicut, and built a mosque there facing North West. This has happened to even Columbus.

  13. @Karoly,

    You said:

    ” I dont want to give up our Keralite’s claim for the first mosque in India just by looking at the angle of a mosque.”

    This is the kind of regionalism, sectarianism etc. that is tearing this country apart. I consider myself an Indian first, and then anything else. This is our common Indian heritage.
    It did not even enter my mind that I was claiming something for Gujarat !!! I am no expert to claim anything. This is a masjid I came across, there was something unique about it and I wanted to share it with others. This is not some kind of a competition for heritage ownership !!!!

    You also said :

    “My conjecture is that probably some guy paddled to Ghogha thinking that it was Calicut, for Arabs were mainly interested in trading with Calicut”

    Calicut was not the only port in India that had trade links with the Arabs. Please make some effort to read the history of ports of Gujarat and the trade links that they had with Arabia as well as other far off lands. If you wish, I can send some links to you.

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