<< I arrived in Zanzibar during the first week of Ramadan. Before maghrib I went to the mosque and arrived just as the adhan was being called. I dipped my feet in the hoz, and stopped at the table with tende in sinia.>> 

You have awakened poignant memories of the olden days. 

On entering the mosque the first person to be noticed was poor Bhallu sitting right there on the pavement adjacent to the entrance. The bearded, haggard looking and black Khoja capped Bhallu was a sad sight. He was mentally disordered but never uttered a word, nor harmed anybody. May Allah rest him in eternal peace, amen. 

The old and white bearded Peera Hirji would arrive in his rickshaw. His entry meant buzz and it was typical of him to perform ablution (wuzu) repeatedly. His son Ahmed despite shaking body was a regular to the mosque. Also peculiar was Mohamed Jaffer Nathani (Maalim Miya) seated on the right hand side corner of the mosque adjacent to the imambara and engrossed in his recitals (with the usual small towel for his usage). Sitting along there would be Kaka who impressed with his special mor (clay tablet) that he tidily wrapped in a white sheet before placing it into his metallic case. Alongside him would be his elder brother Abdulu Tejani (poor fellow was the victim of the Tazia massacre).  

The matende legged Habib Rashid Jetha (Dhali’s brother) and Mohamedali Premji (Panya) guided me through the basics to perfect my salaah. The obliging Shufu kept correcting my wuzu. Mze Gulamali Chandoo, conspicuous by his permanent spot in the first row, was always encouraging. He was probably a mutwalli, the mosque designate along with a few others. 

The community at times came with a crash over petty rifts. Poor Jabir Hassan had to suffer the humiliation of abuses hurled through note papers disposed on ceiling fans. Eventually he’d to pack up and go. He was my neighbour (above Takims) and Maalim Ahmed Issa his great companion. I vividly recall the send off given to him by his allies (120) as they garlanded him and passed through Malindi on their way to the port where he boarded the BI liner (Karanja or Kampala) that took him back to his native Bihar. Then came Tahzibul Hassan and even he was not spared the wrath and manhandled right inside the mosque.

As a tot my procedural duty was to reach the mosque immediately after iftaar at home and arrange marfa for darsa under the direction of Maalim Ibrahim (a Bahreni). We (including Murtaza Matoto, the late Hassan Maalim Rajabu, Liakat Chandoo, Kermali, Mohsin Alidina [Maalim] and others) would try to grab the front place and then rush to Sheriff Dewjis where the darsa was under the direction of Agha Mehdi Shustari. 

In Ramadhan the zohar azaan was called by Raza Panju but the maghrib one demanded melody and assigned to Abdulrasul Bandali (Maalim Dudu) or Murtaza Bandali. In fact ‘maula ya maula’ was first recited by Murtaza amid a late Ramadhan night (before subh azan) on mike and thereafter the ritual continued throughout Ramadhan. In the still of the night the vicinity of Kiponda/Malindi literally vibrating with his melody that to this day remains unsurpassed (in the context of the East African Khojas). 

Just can’t forget Dharamsi when the talk is on ‘Ramadhan in Zanzibar’. The Jinnah capped, half khaki trousered and powerfully voiced Dharamsi besides heralding announcements (his frightful and loud cry of makamte halo bhai when a community member passed away sent shudders down our spines) would go around with his metallic tray over his head selling naan (naan garam naan). He passed away on the 23rd night of Ramadhan. Also the humble brothers, Gulamali & Mohamedali, participated in the same trade, and Yusuf Maafatuma too.  

Though myself a Nai Misitwaro, for my namaaz I frequented Junni as it was right opposite my house. Nai Misit had an aura of its own. In particular I remember the amaal nights when the packed mosque and its ample sahan echoed with the chants ‘astaghfirullaha rabbi wa utubu ilayh’, and leading among those who chanted the loudest were the elderlies Musa Datoo (German), Habib Karani and Ramzan Khamis Damji. On the 23rd night 100 rakat namaaz was as good as must and during its half time (50 rakaats) fresh orange juice and tea served. The shabe kadr amaal stretched up to 27th Ramadhan when Ismail Sabzali Thawer traditionally volunteered dakhu as well as iftaar. The Nai Misit minara was the centre of attraction on the eve of eid when many climbed it to sight and view the new moon. 

Abhu Ladak was also my neighbour and he’d be seen in chakhri all the time, it was as good as fastened to his feet. Poor fellow had a sad end. The boys around there used to play prank on him. Towards the end (post revolution) he stayed all alone in his house. None knew when exactly he died. His body was found in a dead state after 2 to 3 days and hurriedly removed for ghusal and instant burial. Calling up characters like Abhu Ladak, Jentali (Mabungo), Bhallu or the mental person (bespectacled with shabby outlook) who sat along Barza Tharia with his piles of books evokes sadness, for they were teased about their shortcomings and nothing inflicts more pain than the mental torture. 

Indeed the scout parade on the occasion of Maula Ali’s 1400th birth anniversary with boys holding mashaal or mwenge (inflammable torch) was a treat to watch and a real sight. It’s unfortunate that there was no video camera then to capture those moments. 

Yes, today the mosque is desolate and bereft of the huge gathering that once filled the entire place. It actually haunts and a ghostly feeling creeps up. The past has flown fast and times have changed completely. The social, economic and political changes have had tremendous impact on our lives. People are dispersed here and there. The sheer visit to the mosque momentarily floods back the past memories for an old timer but the sudden realization that it’s a different world altogether puts one in a state of mental derangement. 

In the end let us remember those who have been mentioned here but remain no more with sura e fateha.


Last updated November 2007 Copyright © Abdulrazak Fazal 2007 - All Rights Reserved