A Day at Ilorin's Ancient but Modern Mosque

Date: 2015-04-26

If Ilorin, the Kwara State capital located in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, is widely known as a city of scholars and centre of Islamic erudition, the appellation did not just come about.

It was a reputation that was built over the years through painstaking efforts of the founding fathers of Ilorin Emirate to propagate the religion of Islam. Sheikh Alimi internationally acknowledged as the founder of Ilorin Emirate toiled hard to lay the foundation of Islam in the ancient Ilorin community. Though, scholars have argued that Islam had been in Ilorin before the arrival of Sheikh Alimi whose real name was Al-Salih, with the presence of Solagberu who reportedly founded Oke Sunna Muslim community, his stay in Ilorin was said to have totally changed the course of Ilorin history and helped in the establishment of an Islamic city.

Therefore, the foundation of the emirate was built on a solid Islamic background where Quran, the Muslim holy book, takes pre-eminence over every other mundane affair. One of the symbols and albeit the most important symbols of Ilorin's islamicity vis-a-viz the contributions of Sheikh Alimi is the Sheikh Alimi mosque in Ilorin located at Ori Oke Jinji inside Ago Market in the heart of Ilorin, the state capital.

It is the first and the oldest mosque not only in Ilorin but the entire Kwara State which was built by Sheikh Alimi in 1810 in the course of propagating Islam. In Islam, the place of mosque cannot be over-emphasised as a place of worship where the Muslims fulfil one of their obligations to their creator which is the observance of the five daily prayers. This mosque is strategic in all respects to complement the drive to spread Islam in the community.

From 1810 till date, the mosque is still at its original location now surrounded by the popular ago market as findings by Sunday Trust revealed. Daily Trust correspondent who visited the mosque reports that the ancient mosque built in mould occupies a pride of place in the historical development of Ilorin Emirate.

Though it is a miniature place of worship, its significance cannot be quantified in the evolution of Ilorin emirate. Besides, it was the first mosque where the Juma'at (Friday) congregational prayers started before the construction of a larger mosque at Idi Ape and the present Central mosque located within the Emir's palace which was remodelled and rebuilt in 2012.

It is also regarded as the mother of all mosques in Ilorin and the state in general which gave birth to numerous mosques sustaining the legacies left behind by Sheikh Alimi.

Unlike the present day mosques built and constructed with modern architectural design, golden domes and marbles and other modern facilities, Sheikh Alimi mosque has largely retained its structure. The mosque floor is filled with sand while the structure was cast in mould before it was changed to concrete by the 10th Emir of Ilorin, Oba Aliyu Abdulkadir who reigned between 1992 and 1994. The sand it was gathered would be brought from various communities and villages in Ilorin emirate and its environs on the order of the late Emir. It has two ablution points with molten containers and a section for women.

Just within the mosque, there is a small room which is of great significance to Ilorin emirate. The room is where new Emirs of Ilorin usually migrate to offer special prayers after their appointment. According to historical accounts, no Emir had been turbaned in Ilorin without first visiting the mosque as part of the turbaning rites performed for new Emirs.

According to Mogaji Nda of Ilorin, one of the traditional chiefs in the emirate, Alhaji Salihu Woru Sulaiman, the new Emir would pray for God’s guidance as he is about to start his reign.

He said, "That mosque is very significant in the sense that if a new Emir is about to be turbaned, he would leave Mogaji Nda's house here on the second day to that mosque to observe some prayers. What he is doing there is just to pray to God to guide him in ruling the community. Without going to that mosque, he would not be turbaned.

"Therefore, you cannot become a full Emir without going to that mosque. So after observing prayer in that mosque, he would migrate to another mosque in the frontage of the Emir's palace (popularly known as Mosalasi Ojude Oba) where he would be finally turbaned".

However, some people have frowned at the lack of maintenance of the mosque as the surrounding is left unkempt and dirty as observed by Daily Trust correspondent. While people believe the structure should be retained in its ancient form, the vicinity of the mosque is an eyesore. It is surrounded with a narrow, dirty water channel which usually overflows to the mosque during heavy rains.

A resident who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity said, "This place is supposed to be a tourist attraction. I am aware people come around to visit the mosque from overseas and offer prayers but it is sad that the surrounding is not properly maintained".

Daily Trust correspondent also reports that people in the community usually converge on the mosque to offer special prayers and seek God's intervention on matters of concerns to the community. It was gathered that some prominent clerics and Imams gathered at the mosque to offer special prayers on the eve of the just concluded general elections to ensure a successful election.

It would be recalled that some PDP leaders in the state led by the Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Sulaiman on March 24 visited the mosque to offer prayer. Speaking then, the Minister said, "Where we are now is the core of Ilorin community, this mosque belongs to Sheikh Alimi, that was the first mosque in Ilorin community, the first mosque in the entire Kwara State, we have come for the blessings of the Mallams, of the Sheikh, we are invoking the name of this mosque in calling on Allah to guide Kwara people right. This mosque was established in 1810. It is only people like us that could tell the story, the indigenes of Ilorin, the bonafide Ilorin people and we are saying we should go back to the root".

Behind the political stunt, observers believe the mosque should not only be preserved but maintained. A prominent Ilorin indigene who knows much about the mosque but pleads anonymity said, "If not for the hypocrisy of our leaders, a special fund should have been set aside for the maintenance of this heritage. The surrounding of this mosque does not portray the significance of it to Ilorin Emirate history. It is not also habitable during rainy season as it is usually taken over by flood".

Mogaji Nda however said the present Emir, Alhaji Ibrahim Zulu Gambari is maintaining the historical mosque.

He said, "I believe the present Emir is maintaining it. It is not unkempt, it is tidy, very neat. You know the mosque is used occasionally and it is not good to change the structure. It is not good they deface it. It should be kept like that to retain its original look. It is there, it is very neat. We want to maintain the ancient structure and we would not support the idea of it being demolished".

Commenting on the state of the mosque, Director, Centre for Ilorin Studies, University of Ilorin, Professor Zakariyau Oseni urged authorities in the emirate to take up the maintenance of the mosque.

He said, "The oldest mosque in Ilorin emirate as far as we know in the old market Ago area is very important because whatever one is doing in life, one should remember where he started. So it has great significance that cannot be forgotten because of the position of Ilorin in Islam in Nigeria especially in North-Central and South-West, even south-south and south-east and the role Ilorin has played in the spread of Islam in South-West (Yoruba land); South-South especially in Edo, Delta and South East and the fact that many of the scholars in such places one way or the other had Ilorin Alfas (scholars) at a stage in life or some of them had come to study here.

"So, so many people would have been attracted to that place. It has historical significance that Ilorin had gone very far and many people had played significant role in Ilorin whether of Ilorin or those who migrated and most people migrated at one stage or the other.

"Remember Ilorin contains so many different ethnic groups and they all live together in harmony. So being the very first known mosque, it has some historical significance and therefore it should be preserved and this centre set up by the University of Ilorin is interested in such monument of historical significance in this city and in this state".

"It should be preserved by Ilorin emirate authorities....We should make sure the environment is attractive. People would want to come there and they would not like it that the place is not properly kept. People would not like that, it is seen as a tourist attraction but people would not be coming if they discover that the environment is not clean enough. So we need to do whatever we can to make sure that the place is neat and people around the area should be made to know that the place is very important and people would come from far and near to visit the place and do some nafila, observe some optional prayers.

"Ilorin West Local Government Area should be up and doing, should try to know the importance of such a place to this community, we are very proud of such a place, it may be small but whatever it is, that is where we started and only God knows how many people who have prayed there and how many prayers and supplications said there that have been answered for the community and for the country. All these should be borne in mind but we would network and send a message to the appropriate authorities".



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