Photo: Prabir Das
Dhaka city has a specific identity of being called 'the City of Mosques'. According to a 2008 survey of Islamic Foundation, there are more than 2.5 million mosques in Bangladesh, whereas around six thousand of them are in Dhaka city alone. But it is a matter of concern that though the amount of mosques in this city is large, it is lagging behind in terms of publicity.
One such fascinating mosque in Dhaka city is Hazrat Haji Khwaja Shahbaz Khan Mosque, a witness to around four hundred years of history. The mosque and the tomb of Shahbaz Khan are situated in the old high court area, on the eastern edge of the mausoleum of three leaders.
According to the book 'Dhaka: Smriti Bismritir Nagari' by the famous Bangladeshi writer, historian and scholar Muntassir Mamoon, Haji Shahbaz Khan was an affluent merchant, who came to Bengal Subah (a subdivision of the Mughal Empire) from Kashmir and settled down in the area of Tongi. During his lifetime in 1679, he built this mosque and his own tomb. At that time, Prince Muhammad Azam was the viceroy of Bengal. (Source: Wikipedia)
But there is a controversy about the profession of Haji Shahbaz Khan, as many believe that he was a mason in profession. Other than that it was obvious that he was a very pious man and familiar as a 'Haji' (successfully completed the Hajj to Mecca). He used to live in Tongi, but often came to the mosque that he built himself, to preach Islam, as well as pray.
Both the mosque and the tomb of Shahbaz Khan is a symbol of Shaista Khan Style of architecture. The three-dome mosque has four octagonal minarets at each corner and three entrances in the east, which have successfully, beautified its structure. The minbar (a platform for a priest in a mosque) and the threshold are made of black stones. In prior times, the weather of that area was humid; the walls have been covered with stones, to extend the permanence of the mosque. The mosque is often called 'Laal Masjid', for its red coloured walls.
Haji Shahbaz Khan is resting in peace next to the mosque, which is known as the 'Dargah Sharif of Shahbaz Khan'. The architectural design of the single dome tomb is almost the same as the mosque.
There are many fascinating facts about this old mosque. According to many, Haji Shahbaz used to come to this mosque with a large number of jinns and pray with them.
On Fridays, during the Jumu'ah prayer, worshippers from different regions of the country, especially from old town areas come to pray at the mosque and the tomb of Haji Shahbaz Khan”, says 56-year-old Abdul Quadir Athari, the Pesh Imam of the mosque, who has been leading the prayer in congregation for the past 12 years. “Apart from that event, on special occasions, for example—on Shab-e-Qadr and Shab-e- Meraj, it becomes overcrowded”, he adds.
The mosque is now a listed heritage site by the 'Department of Archaeology' of the government. Because of the constant use and the maintenance by the government, the mosque committee and the worshippers, the site does not require any major renovation. Even today, as a matter of fact, it portrays a glimpse of the ancient style of architecture.