Being a gateway to the subcontinent, Peshawar was always a strategic city where kings, warriors and invaders constructed mosques, churches and gurdwaras at prime locations to perform their religious practices freely.
History of Mohabat Khan Mosque
After passing through the historic Khyber Pass from Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Afghanistan, the kings, warlords and Muslim commanders had first stayed at Peshawar where they had constructed scores of mosques and worship places for minorities to promote interfaith harmony and bring people of all faith closer before marching to India.
“The recent GorKathri excavations revealed that Islam had first spread in the border areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan after Sabuktigin, a Turkic slave commander laid the foundations of Ghaznavi dynasty at Ghazi in 977 AD in Central Afghanistan,” said Bakht Zada Khan, senior research officer of the Archaeology and Museums Department.
After the death of Sabuktigin and revolt against his son Ismail, he said Mehmud Ghaznvi had gained control over the Ghaznavi kingdom and extended his influence to Punjab after defeating Raja of Jaypala of the Kabul Shahis at the battle of Peshawar in 1001 AD.
Resultantly, Islam has made deep inroads in Bannu, Waziristan, Khyber and other border areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and construction of large and small mosques was started here,” he said.
In 1984, he said an inscription in Arabic engraved on a black marble was found on the slopes of the hill below the castle of Raja Gira, which authenticated the foundation of the historic Odigram Mosque in Swat (also known as Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi mosque constructed in 1048 CE on the order of General Amir Nustagin of Ghaznavi, which attracted a large number of worshipers in Ramazan besides promoting religious tourism.
Later, he said the construction of small and big mosques including the historic Yakagund mosque in Mohmand district, Sheikh Habib Mosque in 1650 at Bala Manari and Gunj gate mosque alais Khawja Maroof mosque some 600 years ago were established at Peshawar by the Muslim rulers of various dynasties.
“The Mughal rulers later came to Peshawar and started construction work on the iconic Mohabat Khan mosque in 1660-70 by the then Peshawar’s Governor Nawab Mohabat Khan,” he said.
An amalgamation of Islamic and Mughal architecture, Mohabat Khan’s small portion was constructed by Mughal emperor, Shah Jehan and a major portion by King Aurangzeb Alamgir with beautiful white marble. The mosque was completed in 1680 and was later renovated in 1898 after the vandalism of the Sikh rulers,” he said.
“The mosque saw many ups and downs. During Sikh reign (1834-1849), Mohabat Khan’s minarets were used for hanging of prisoners and about two to five people per day were hanged from the minarets as a substitute for the gallows besides terrorization of people,” he said. When the British took over Peshawar in 1949, the mosque was renovated and handed over to the people of Peshawar for worship.
In 1982, the Auqaf department declared it a historical site and took control of its administration. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the refugee tribal elders congregated in the mosque in order to forge unity amongst Afghans against the Soviets invaders.
Built on a high mound at Andar Sher bazaar near historic Chowkyadgar at Peshawar City, the worshipers enter its 30,155 square feet vast open courtyard with capacity to accommodate 20,000 to 30,000 worshipers at a time besides a centrally located ablution pool and a single row of rooms lining the exterior walls with two tall minarets that magnified its look.
The facade of the prayer hall is also capped by six smaller decorative minarets that flank the mosque’s five arched entryways, with an additional two minarets and its prayer hall capped by three awesome domes that draw visitors’ attention.
The mosque’s ceiling was embellished with elegant red frescoes in geometrics and floral motifs while its exterior was decorated with Mughal frescoes that amplify its beauty.
“Mohabat Khan Mosque is the identity of Peshawar due to its unique architecture and glorious ancient history. For the last 10 years, I regularly came to this historic mosque of Peshawar for Mahfil-e-Shabina and Khatam-e-Quran in the last three days of Ramazanul Mubarak and its spiritual environment take the worshipers to a new world,” said Professor Ehtisham Qaiser, a resident of Wapda Town Nowshera.
He said the shopkeepers, who had been rented shops by the Auqaf department, increased the size of their shops many feet by digging more small cabins and encroaching on the entrance and surrounding area of the mosque that negatively impacted its exterior outlook.
He said the construction of illegally built large plazas and shops around the mosque have adversely affected its exterior architecture and demanded demolition of all these illegal structures to restore its original grandeur and architectural designs.
“The mosque had gone through manmade vandalism in the past because of which some serious damage had been made but fortunately through timely intervention and the use of scientific techniques and original material, it was made reversible and the building was saved from collapse,” said Bakhtzada.
“The mosque recently underwent heavy conservation work after approval of Rs87.70 million Mohabat Khan Mosque’s conservation project. We have completed sixty per cent rehabilitation and conservation work on its minarets, domes, ablution area and other portions without compromising on its Mughal era architecture designs.”
He said former Chief Minister Mahmood Khan during his visit to Mohabat Khan mosque last year had increased the allocation of the project to Rs160 million with direction for expansion of work and the amount would be used on its beautification, decoration and lighting system to magnify its look at night on the pattern of Peshawar Museum to promote religious tourism.
He said the PC-I of the project had been revised under the supervision of the Director of Archeology and Museums and conservation experts to be engaged to complete the project as per international standards by 2024.
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