Abandoned cities, crumbling stelaes, slave trade relicts – Africa really does have some remarkable ruins.Read more...
Khatmiyah Mosque in Kassala - A view from our expert author
Visitors come to pray to receive baraka (blessings) from the tomb of Hassan, who has been elevated to the position of a wali – the closest that Islam comes to a saint.
This delightful old mosque sits at the base of the Taka Mountains and is the most important centre for the Khatmiyah Sufi tariqa in Sudan. Mohammed Osman al Khatm founded the order at the end of the 18th century, bringing it to Sudan from Arabia. The mosque is dedicated to his son, Hassan al Mirghani, who did much to spread the Khatmiyah’s teachings until his death in 1869. It is believed to have been built on soil brought by al Khatm from Mecca, making it even more holy. Hassan al Mirghani’s tomb stood on the site of the original mosque, which was destroyed by the Mahdist Ansar in the 1880s. Visitors come to pray to receive baraka (blessings) from the tomb of Hassan, who has been elevated to the position of a wali – the closest that Islam comes to a saint.
The mosque is of plain brick, with a pointed octagonal minaret. The main prayer hall is open to the elements, with its arcades of columns. Attached is the domed ghobba (tomb) of Hassan. The drum of the dome is similarly open and local tradition has it that when it rains the tomb remains dry. There is a very peaceful air around the mosque. Women sit at the threshold selling dates and seeds, boys read the Koran in the attached school and there is a regular stream of people arriving to pray, against the low Sufi chant of La illaha illallah (‘there is no God but Allah’). During Eid al Adha, the mosque is packed with people bringing sheep for the ritual sacrifice. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome, but it is polite to ask before entering or taking photos. A more relaxed example of the traditions of Sudanese Islam is hard to imagine.
Behind the mosque, the huge boulders of the mountains are a fine place to watch the proceedings, with their views of Khatmiyah and Kassala. It takes nearly an hour to walk to Khatmiyah from the centre of Kassala following the main road southeast; alternatively you can take the bus (SDG1) or a taxi (SDG15). The minaret is clearly visible from the road – any minibus to the village will also be able to drop you off. The mosque is a 15–20-minute walk from Toteil village.