Ilorin Celebrates Tradition, Politics, Religion as New Mosque Opens

Date: 2012-12-12

On Friday, another significant milestone in the history of Ilorin, the ancient city and capital of Kwara State, will unfold. In a community noted for the intricate web of its politics, tradition and religion, the opening of a grand Central Mosque is more than a religious affair: it is a celebration of the political insight, the rich tradition and, of course, fervent religiousity of Ilorin emirate, the conglomeration of five local government areas bounded as Kwara Central in the senatorial classification of the National Assembly, writes BIODUN OYELEYE.

From history, Ilorin has always been an important harbour for Islam in Nigeria and its Central Mosque, located in front of the Emir's palace, the rallying point for the celebration of that position.

Perhaps nothing supports observations like this than the undeniable contribution to the propagation and understanding of Islam across Nigeria, of scholars from Ilorin, or scholars weaned by scholars from the ancient city. Names like Sheik Muhammad Kamaldeen Al adabyy, Sheikh. Adan El-Ilory, sheik Hameenullahi Abata Oniwasi Agbaye, Sheik Arazim Alaaya, Sheik Habeebullahi ADAM El-Ilory, Sheikh Yahaya Murtatha, Sheik Folorunsho Fagba, Sheikh Alfa Makana, Sheikh Sasili Sambo, Sheikh Alfa Nda Salati, Sheik Dan Borno, to mention but a few don't just ring bell in the commity of Islamic faithful but command awe and honour even at the gathering of politicians and traditional rulers.

The first central mosque for Ilorin was built in 1820. It was followed by another one in 1835 which was built at Idi-Ape during the reign of AbdulSalam, the first Emir of Ilorin.

However more than a century later the central mosque could no longer cope with the phenomenal growth in the population of the muslim ummah of the city, according to the Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the new Mosque, Alhaji Sheu Abdulgafar .

For this reason, in 1974, the ninth Emir of Ilorin, Alhahi SulKarmaini Gambari invited the late Grand Mufti, late Alhaji Muhammad Kamal-u-deen and the late Waziri Ngeri of Ilorjn, Dr. Olusola Saraki to cordinare the dund-raising and construction of a new central mosque befitting for the status of Ilorin as a city of Islam.

On April 30, 1977, the foundation was laid for the new mosque by the Emir of Gwandu, on behalf of the Sultan of Sokoto. “At the time the new Ilorin Mosque was completed and officially opened in 1981 by former President, Alhahi Shehu Shagari, it was the best of such mosque in Nigeria, sitting proudly at the heart of the city”, AbdulGafar recalled at a pre-commissioning news briefing last week.

But soon the beauty began to fade and the architecture became dated with several structural defects emerging from the once beautiful edifice. What was once the source of pride overtime became a source of worry. Said AbduGafar: “it was no longer a source of pride or a testimony of our great heritage. It was, in fact, in a virtual state of decay. The mosque was generally dilapidated with visible structural defects like cracks showing on some of the columns, the concrete walls and the domes, causing profuse leakages in a number of locations.

The glass mosaic finishes on the walls and marble floors were cracked on chipped off making the mosque look generally rough and unsightly. Similarly, all the auxiliary structures like the toilet building and steel stanchions were either dysfunctional or completely bad. Within three decades, our proud heritage was virtually in ruins before our very eyes. This led to the community's decision to rehabilitate, remodel and expand the dilapidated mosque.”

Then Bukola Saraki decided to change the story. Working in tandem with the traditional leadership of the emirate, he canvassed a complete renovation of the mosque. Whether intended or not, that move served to underpin his commitment to the tradition and religion of his people and assured him a place in their hearts whenever he might need their endorsement. The new mosque is a masterpiece in grandeur. Brought back to its glory at a cost of N1.95 billion, it is now of international standard and has capacity to take 4,000 worshippers inside and 16,000 outside at the same time.

The array of men he brought to the launching of the appeal fund was evident of the honour he commands among his peers beyond the confines of the state. Even a Christian and business mogul, Mr. Femi Otedola made the highest individual donation to the project. He gave N80 million. Another Christian, Calvatus, E.O, gave N10 million. Others who put in their treasures into the new project then included multi-billionaire entrepreneur, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who donated N75 million. Bukola Saraki made a personal donation of N20 million, his father donated N25 million while Bukola's wife, Oluwatoyin, donated N10 million along with her circle of friends.

State governors from the north also sent in their donations with Niger giving N32 million along with its various organs, Zamafara (N20 million), Nassarawa (N10 million), Kogi (N10 million), Kano (N10 million), Sokoto (N20 million), Katsina (N15 milion), Imo (N10 million), Kebbi (N10 million), Ekiti (N5 million), Taraba (N5 million), Yobe (N10 million). Some of those who witnessed that event included the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar 111, and governors from Kano, Nassarawa, state Niger, Sokoto, Jigawa and Kogi states.

Recalling the event and the commitment of Saraki, now a federal legislator, to the success of the project, an elder statesman, Alhaji Abdul Salahudeen, said: “The history of the Ilorin Central Juma"at mosque would not be complete without the acknowledging the singular role of the former governor. As the state governor and son of Ilorin Emirate, he single handedly conceptualized the remodelling and expansion of the Mosque as its stand today. His personal efforts to give the mosque a befitting architectural design took him to various part of the world particularly the Islamic Countries, shopping for the qualified Architects that can give the best in the modern construction of Mosques.

“Notable countries visited include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon among others before the internationally acknowledged Interior specialists and International Calligraphic Islamic Arts work with other professionals like Architect Muhammedd Faworaja a son of the soil who heads the technical crew finally gave to the people their desire.

“The unprecedented mobilisation of Senator Bukola Saraki to the fund raising in June 2009 with distinguished personalities from all walks of life while his chairmanship position as Nigeria Govs Forum attracted most of the 36 governors to attend the fund raising while all those who could not come donated handsomely to the cause of Allah.

Industrialists, business tycoon, captain of Industries, foreign friends and associates as well as government functionaries at all levels came and donated to the project. He became the project manager as he visited the mosque both privately and publicly to ensure compliance with the new designs.

“Even though it would be difficult to quantify the amount senator Bukola Saraki expended as an individual, but it remain on records that he gave the Modern Mosque to his people as an illustrious son, his singular contributions remain unprecedented in the history of the Mosque, for him the people 's dream has now been actualised.”

To show the interconnectivity of tradition, religion and politics in the emirate, the six gates leading to the new mosque are named after personalities who have played great roles in the three spheres and lifted the name of the city among its peers. One gate is named after Sheik Alimi, representing the foundation of the city, another is named after Sheikh ADAM El-Ilory, another after Dr. Olusola Saraki, the Second Republic Senate Leader who played prominent role in the building of the old mosque and whose son, incidentally was to play equally significant role in the emergence of the new mosque.

When he inspected the new edifice last week, an obviously elated Saraki described it as something beyond the religious, but a masterpiece to make all Kwarans proud irrespective of their religious leaning.

Apart from its religious significance, the newly renovated Ilorin Jumat Mosque has been described as a monument all Kwarans should be proud of. According to the former governor, the mosque has become a symbol of the greatness of Kwarans irrespective of their religious affiliation.

His words: "We are grateful the work is good. It is a thing we all can be proud of, not only as muslims but as Kwarans. It is an institution we should be proud of because I have been to several mosques in this country but I tell you I think this is the best. It is one thing to have dreams and the resources and ability to get this kind of thing done but sustaining it is another thing so that in 20 to 30 years from now it will still be as magnificent as it is now.

"That is our collective responsibility particularly those of us in the emirate. We must pledge to sustain it. It is not just with money but by respecting the facilities. One of the mandates we gave the committee in charge was to secure the services of an experienced company for the maintenance and I am sure they have secured that. But beyond that it is still necessary that we as users assist in the maintenance by respecting the facilities."

Former President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Vice President Namadi Sabo, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tanbuwal, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar lll are all expected to grace the occasion. Shagari is billed to chair the event.



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