Amongst the earliest inhabitants of Port Elizabeth, was a group of Muslims foremost amongst whom was one, Fortuin Weys, of which the following has been written:
But the most famous entrepreneur was a Malay, Fortuin Weys, whose house was among the first to be built in Port Elizabeth, and who became one of the wealthiest residents of the town”.
The first mosque to be built in Port Elizabeth was the Grace Street Mosque to serve the growing Muslim community which previously had to travel to Uitenhage for Friday prayers. Hence it is the oldest mosque erected in Port Elizabeth. Another mosque, in close proximity to this one, would later be built viz the Strand Street Mosque
Main picture: The Strand Street Mosque. To imagine the scale of the building, imagine that a fully-grown man would only take half of the height of the front door.
The second Mosque built in Port Elizabeth was erected as consequence of a dispute between the two brothers, namely Abo Rafie and Abo Salie. The dispute emanated from the Grace Street Masjid, but the subsequent split in the Jamaa’ah resulting in the construction of the Strand Street Mosque is unknown. (the Shaafi – Hanafi power struggle might be a possibility.) Moreover, there is conflicting evidence of the exact location of this Mosque. One source indicated that it was built between two buildings in a lane off Strand Street, while another states that it (was sandwiched between the two buildings and) faced Strand Street. It was previously a house (occupied by Abo Salie and his family) situated on a large piece of land and the front portion of the house was converted to include the Minaret. Abo Salie had three sons from his wife Attia, namely: Gasnoella, Abdul Wahab and Nieftagoedien. An article in the E.P. Herald dated 5 October 1852 read: “Abo Salie Nabie and his wife Rarteenjan donate their premises in Strand street, measuring 18’ wide X 37’ long (with a) 22’ front to other Muslims for a place of worship and residence for the Emaam”.
According to the records, Lot A of Erf No. 2 was originally granted to one, Thomas Winham, on the 1st October 1821. On the 25th of November 1853, it was transferred to Abo Salie.
Building, sale & demolition
The Strand Street Mosque , the 2nd mosque to be built in Port Elizabeth, was designed by the architects Messrs. Frederick Molesworth & Pfeil. The client was Abo Salie and his two sons. Construction duly commenced. However due to financial difficulties, they were unable to complete the building and the construction came to a juddering and grinding halt. Fortunately there was a saviour in the wings: an Ottoman Sultan. In a letter dated the 22nd February 1865, the Sultan instructed the Imperial Ottoman Bank in London to transfer the amount of £200 to the “Musalman” (Muslims) of Port Elizabeth for the completion of the mosque. This enabled construction to recommence and so, on the 1st June 1866, the doors were opened. Over the main entrance to the Mosque was written “Auwal Masjied Wa Tiemoel Gajoe Wal Oemrata Lielah Hie”.
Although two separate persons, there is no certainty about the relationship between Abo Salie and Abo Salie Nabie. The life of this Mosque was shortlived and it had only one Emaam by the name of Abdul Wahab Salie. In 1859, both Abo Salie and his wife Attia died while on pilgramage in Mecca and Medina respectively. On the 15th of February 1860, the sale of the estate of Abo Salie and his wife Attia included the Union Hotel and several lots around the hotel and the Mosque. During December 1900, the Mosque and the Malay Priest’s residence were put up for sale.
The life of the mosque was short-lived as it only served the community for 34 years being sold in 1900 and then demolished in 1901. The proceeds were applied to build the Pier Street Mosque which was close to the harbour and no more than a kilometre from the Strand Street Mosque. This mosque was opened on the 27th July 1901.
About two years ago the original location of the Strand Street Mosque was identified being where the Traduna Trading Mall is situated today. Being interested in history, the owners of the mall decided to reconstruct a replica facade on the site which corresponds with that of the Norwich Taxi Stop. At the time of writing this blog, this façade is still under construction.