France's oldest mosque, in the Indian Ocean, gets a facelift - GulfToday

France's oldest mosque, in the Indian Ocean, gets a facelift

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A man prays in a room of the mosque of Tsingoni, on the French island of Mayotte.

At France's oldest mosque, a five-century-old edifice on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, the sound of jackhammers is broken intermittently by recitals by the faithful hunched over in prayer.

The white-and-blue prayer hall at the mosque in Tsingoni, used five times a day, is plagued by crumbling ceilings, leaks, giant cracks and damp.

"The humidity, the dust, the lack of ventilation, I can't stand it. I've developed allergies," complained Badirou Abdou, a local council representative who has prayed at the mosque since he can remember.

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Degraded ceiling, infiltrations during the rainy season, cracks, molds due to humidity and dust.

Abdou now worships in a temporary prayer hall one floor above the original, which is getting a much-needed facelift along with the rest of the mosque at a cost of some two million euros ($2.2 million) to the city of Tsingoni and the French state.

Contemporary of Notre-Dame

"The inscriptions on the side of the mihrab (a niche in the wall that shows the direction in which Muslims should pray) say that the mosque was built in 1538 by the sultan Insa," said Ambass Ridjali, cultural director of the Tsingoni commune, formerly the island's royal capital.

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The old room of the oldest mosque 
in France, in Tsingoni, Mayotte, is under renovation. 

"The architecture of the western part (of the mosque) has remained unchanged since that time."

Excavations by France's INRAP national archaeological research institute have revealed that the spot hosted a place of worship already in the 14th century, "which makes it a contemporary of the Notre-Dame in Paris," Ridjali said.

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In Tsingoni, the former royal capital in the center of Mayotte.

Tourist magnet

The work is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

The design of the mosque shows a strong Swahili influence from the East African coast, said Violaine Bressand, an engineer with Mayotte's cultural affairs agency.

The holy place, in the meantime, is starting to attract visitors -- and cash -- to Tsingoni.

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Men pray in a room of the mosque of Tsingoni, on the French island of Mayotte.

"This contributes to the economic development of our territory while also safeguarding the historical aspect of the mosque", Ridjali said.

Despite the noise, dust and workmen, worshipper Abdillahi Salim continues to use the original prayer hall.

Agence France-Presse