The Jumuah Musjid is known locally as The Grey Street Mosque, even though the road is now called Dr Yusuf Dahdoo Street.
Roughly 10,000 to 15,000 of indentured workers brought to South Africa to help in the sugar fields from 1860 onward, were Muslim, as were most of the 4,000 ordinary migrants.
Early initiatives for mosque-building came from wealthy traders. The Jumuah Musjid, Durban’s Grey Street mosque, was Durban’s first mosque and remains the largest in the southern hemisphere. It was founded by Aboobaker Amod and Hajee Mahomed Dada who purchased a site in 1881 from K. Moonsamy for ₤150 at the corner of Grey and Queen streets in the heart of what came to constitute Durban’s `Indian quarter’.
Muslim migrants to Natal set about recreating the religious and cultural bases of their lives almost immediately after settlement. Traders with financial resources and know-how usually led the way in establishing places for collective worship.
The mosque was more than a house for prayer. The process of building mosques was simultaneously a process of constructing community because they were places where Muslim males met. Mosques also dominated the skyline in most urban centres and became the most visible symbol of the Muslim presence. Those interested in history might explore the strife that went along with the building of the Grey Street Mosque. From a Colonial view, Muslims were are all similar with similar customs etc. This was and remains, far from true.
While in theory worshipers do not belong to particular mosques, in practice mosques were not neutral structures for worship but sites of struggle that reflected the patterns of stratification among Muslims. Muslims, drawn to Natal from various parts of India, were divided by class, ethnicity, caste, language, customs, and beliefs.
The mosque building is a unique blend of Islamic decorations and strong Union period vernacular style. It is actually a series of interlinking buildings, arcades and corridors, in which commerce, religion and community co-exist.
Following various changes and architectural enhancements, the building is a large plastered structure which features a mixture of various styles. A bridge extends from the neighbouring girls’ school to the roof of the mosque. The flat roof, which is used for prayer during festivals is used as a playground during school days as the school is not equipped with one. The style of the mosque is essentially geometrical. The windows and inter-leading doors and the arched doorways all stress this geometrical design. Its gilt-domed minarets protrude above the bustling commercial area, but inside the marbled worship hall is peaceful and boasts a simple elegance. Islam does not allow representations of man or nature but you will see wonderful geometric patterns.
The mosque until the late 1970s enjoyed the status of being the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere. 8000 people can worship here. A mosque in Midrand is now the largest.
Ways to see and find out more about the mosque:
You can just visit but as the area teems with people, and a good explanation will be worthwhile:
1. Join Durban Walking Tours ( www.thesaunter.co.za/listing/durban-walking-tours/) to see this interesting place of worship.
2. You can also get a better understanding of its magnificent architecture by joining Nikhil and his wife Nindya, who are both architects and go on their sketching tour or classes, once covid is over. (www.thesaunter.co.za/listing/durban-city-sketching/)
3. Another option is to join Sheldon in a City Tour to this section of Durban and visit the Indian Market as well (www.thesaunter.co.za/listing/shelldon-wells-guide/)