Mumbai Rewind: Moghul Masjid, a testament to Bombay’s Iranian connection

The recent decision by ports and the Adani Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) that they will not handle any containerized cargo from Iran may have strained India-Iran relations. , but the nature of relations between the two countries was very different in the past.

At present, their common history, economic ties, bilateral trade and cultural ties dating back centuries are guaranteed in the form of Moghul Masjid of Mumbai, the oldest Iranian Shia mosque in the city.

A vibrant blend of arts and crafts, the Moghul Masjid with its intricate geometric patterns, blue mosaic tiles, dazzling stained-glass windows and thick Persian rugs is one of the few remnants of 19th-century Shia Iranian influence on the city of Mumbai.

Many of the first Iranian Shiite traders settled in Umerkhadi and Dongri. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

The masjid, when it was built in 1858, was known as the Iranian masjid. The domination of the Persians in the Mughal court and the Mughal bureaucracy made the Persians synonymous with the Mughals in popular perception. It is through this association that the mosque slowly acquired an identity as a Mughal masjid.

While Bombay historically had ties to Iran given the presence of a large Zorast and Baha’i population, there was a new wave of influx of Iranian Muslims mainly in the early 19th century. Most of these new migrants were from the inland cities of Shiraz and Isfahan and came to Mumbai in search of greener pastures due to the economic downturn in inner Iran.

Nile Green, in his book Bombay Islam, writes: “By 1830 Bombay’s total trade with Iran was 350,000 rupees, but by 1859 the annual horse trade alone had risen to 2 625,000 rupees, and this trend has continued over the century. . By 1865, the number of Iranians officially registered as residing in Bombay reached 1,639, although we can be fairly sure that a good number of other unofficial residents had escaped the eyes of city officials.

The masjid, when it was built in 1858, was known as the Iranian masjid. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

Many of the first Iranian Shiite traders settled in Umerkhadi and Dongri. The ornate mosque was built by the early settlers as a visual symbol of their separation built using ceramic tiles that were shipped from Iran.

The mosque was completed in 1858, largely funded by Iranian merchant Haji Muhammad Husayn Shırazı, who was considered the “malik al-tujjar (king of merchants)” among the Iranian community in Bombay.

While mosques do not have a fixed design, Iranian Shia mosques have a distinct pattern. The tall minarets, of which the mosque has two, are considered to be an expression of divine guidance and direction.

The hauz or the central swimming pool is a swimming pool with symmetrical axis positioned centrally intended for aesthetics as well as for ablutions.

The central courtyard is considered the resting place of travelers.

While mosques do not have a fixed design, Iranian Shia mosques have a distinct pattern. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

Unlike most other ancient mosques in Mumbai, the Mughal Mosque is one of the few domeless mosques in the city.

“Although the mosque is a place of worship, this place also testifies to the dynamic relations and the deep bonds that Mumbai and Iran shared not so long ago,” said Ali Namazi, one of the administrators of the Haji Mohammed Shirazi Trust.

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