The history and importance of Assaid’s oldest mosque [Archives:2008/1184/Culture]

August 25 2008

Nasser Abdullah Nasser Salah
From an Islamic perspective, mosques everywhere naturally are regarded as houses of Allah (God), built simply to worship Allah, to whom be ascribed all perfection and majesty. They also are places to study and recite the Qur'an, say prayers and gather in remembrance of Allah, aside from being platforms used to spread biased thoughts against those things that are offensive to Islam.

On the other hand, they function as a means to communicate a noble message to teach people that they must understand religion properly in order to distinguish between what is good and evil and to stay away from extremism.

In this regard, the Qur'an notes in Surat Al-Tawbah: 18, “The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers and practice regular charity [zakat] and fear none (at all) but Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance.”

For this reason, mosques aren't built for only certain classes of people, but for all who embrace Islam as their religion, regardless of their race or language.

The town of Assaid in Shabwa governorate used to have only three small mosques. They are Al-Habib, Al-Qarib and Omer and Ahmed, named for two pious sheikhs whose tombs are located in the far rear of the mosque.

This third mosque is the oldest and first to be built of mud bricks in the heart of the town south of homes belonging to the Banafa family. It's said that its first foundation dates back to approximately the third Hijra century. A narrow 60-meter well mysteriously dug into the stone ground served as its water supply.

Previously, an oil-fed light was suspended from the ceiling to light the mosque, followed by gas lamps and then electricity.

The mosque's current imam, Mohammed Adam Banafa, maintains that his father, Hussein Adam Banafa, reportedly said that the two sheikhs, Omer and Ahmed, came from Medina, Saudi Arabia and were from the insar (helpers), who enjoyed mutual brotherhood with the muhajireen (emigrants), whom the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) established to support Islamic principles there.

Banafa claims that his father told him of a book entitled, “The Gift of Time Regarding the Deeds and Biographies of Great Yemeni Scholars,” by Al-Attas, which provides sufficient evidence and accounts of these two sheikhs.

Built in five stages, one of which already has been mentioned, stage two of the mosque dates back to Hijra year 608, in which another adobe building was built during the time of imam Sheikh Abdulguffar Banafa and continued until Hijra year 1320, when imam Sheikh Saleh Bin Abdullah Al-Hajj Banafa began supervising the third stage.

Stage four followed in Hijra year 1373, during which time its western and southern sides were expanded, entirely financed through charity, led by the sheikhdom's amir (prince), Abdullah Bin Muhsin Bin Farid, the Banafa sheikhs and Sa'eed Bin Hussein Mujawer, in addition to other charitable donations.

Under imam Sheikh Hussein Bin Saleh Adam Banafa, the mosque was widened and built of both earth and stone, with a minaret, and was large enough to accommodate approximately 300.

The mosque's fifth and current building phase was in Hijra year 1410, during which time immigrants living abroad, particularly those in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, contributed generously, led by Hiderah Salem Ahmed Bin Rawis.

A new upstairs mosque holding more than 3,000 worshippers was constructed, along with a new minaret. The mosque's current imam is Mohammed Hussein Adam Banafa, who also is a marriage official and a religious trustee.

Although the upstairs mosque was built directly on top of the oldest building, with an extension of its western and southern parts, the old one still exists and is used only during Ramadan, particularly for breaking the fast out of consideration for the two tombs of Omer and Ahmed isolated near the back wall.

As Assaid's oldest and the large mosque, it has played a great and important role in drawing large numbers to assemble for religious occasions, particularly Friday sermons and prayers, but also gathering worshippers to celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's (pbuh) birthday, enabling area residents to seclude themselves there during Ramada and utilizing its minaret and a microphone for the daily prayer calls so that those indoors can hear them.

Over the years, particularly during the 1990s, no fewer than 12 mosques were built in Assaid to meet the needs of its increasing population and help both young and elderly residents to comply with the calls to prayer and perform them satisfactorily in groups within their own areas.

Mosques actually are sacred houses that are dear to every Muslim all over the Islamic world. For this reason, respecting and frequenting them, as well as attending collective prayers there, greatly benefits those who continue doing good deeds.

As noted in Surat An-Nur: 36 in the Qur'an, “In [those] houses, which Allah has permitted to be raised to honor for the celebration in them of His name. In them is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings (again and again).”