The Adelaide Mosque, the first mosque in any Australian city and the oldest surviving mosque in Australia, opened in 1889.
Visitors to Central Australia may be aware of the role played by cameleers from Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Pakistan in the opening up of the Red Centre of Australia and, in particular, the construction of the 3,200kms Overland Telegraph Line between Port Augusta (outside Adelaide) and Darwin which was completed in 1872. Between the 1860s and the 1920s around 2,000 cameleers came to Australia. A fitting tribute to the role played by Afghan cameleers can be seen in nearby Whitmore Square. See my separate review on ‘Voyagers’.
Initially the cameleers worshipped in two earth-walled, thatch-roofed mosques in Marree when they ‘came in’ from the bush.
The Adelaide mosque (sometimes referred to as the Afghan Chapel) was the inspiration of Hadji Mullah, a Tarin Afgan and built by Abdul Wade, also originally from Afghanistan and a merchant and cameleer from Outback New South Wales.
As if, and perhaps actually, explaining the nature of a mosque for locals unfamiliar with such at the time, a visitor in 1891 described the new building in the Observer Newspaper thus:
There is a large open square on the eastern side, with a tank and fountain in the centre for ablution. The mosque itself is entered from the east, and a tessellated pavement is laid in the porch, which is enclosed with numerous arched columns … No one is permitted to enter the mosque wearing his shoes. Before even crossing the pavement he must take his shoes from off his feet – a custom which is never infringed by the priest himself. No decorations of any kind whatever, not even a chair, are to be seen in the interior of the house – merely a few windows, arched niches in the whitewashed walls to carry the Koran, and the concrete floors covered with mats for the worshippers to kneel upon when at prayer five times a day.
In 1891 the four very distinctive minarets, we see today, were not there. They were added in 1903.
The many small cottages (most heritage listed now) around the mosque were originally inhabited by cameleers who settled in Adelaide.
As the original cameleers died out (buried in nearby West Terrace cemetery) or returned to their countries of origin the mosque fell into disuse and disrepair but with the arrival of European and Indonesian migrants post WWII the mosque’s fortunes changed. Today it is still used by these post WWII arrivals and their descendants together with later migrants from Lebanon, Pakistan, Malaysia and the former Yugoslavia. In the 1980s the building was extended by the addition of outdoor praying areas to accommodate the mosque’s growing congregation.
As worship was getting underway when I visited I did not go inside the small mosque on this visit.
Well worth a visit, not least for its historic interest and stunning white minarets.
Address: 22–28 Little Gilbert Street