Age of hundreds of years does not diminish the charm of this oldest and ancient mud mosque. Its existence has its own magnetism for Muslims through the touch of art and a very distinctive architectural style. This is a unique portrait of Larabanga Mosque, a mosque rich in historical value and one of the most important assets in the list of world heritage that is the pride of West African citizens.
Larabanga Mosque is the oldest and historic mosque located in the West African region, Larabanga village, West Gonja district, Sawla Damongo Road, Ghana. Larabanga Mosque is known by the term “Mecca of West Africa.” This is because Larabanga Mosque is very rich in artistic value that comes from its architectural touch and historical value. The mosque, with its distinctive Sudanese-Sahelian architecture, can accommodate up to 200 people. Larabanga Mosque has a relatively smaller building dimension, only 8 x 8 square meters.
Larabanga Mosque was built using bamboo, hollow wooden sticks, and mud. Thanks to its uniqueness, historical aspects, and artistic values contained within the Larabanga Mosque, it successfully made it onto the World Monuments Fund (WMF) list as one of the 100 most endangered sites. WMF designates Larabanga Mosque, with its fortress and pyramid-like structure, as one of the 100 most endangered sites.
The interior design of Larabanga Mosque is not symmetrical, featuring triangular-shaped ventilation holes, a pyramid-shaped tower, horizontally oriented wooden beams, and a dome-shaped roof. This most sacred and holy mosque is supported by 12 round structures and wooden elements. Larabanga Mosque, which has stood for hundreds of years, consists of 4 different and small-sized entrance doors for women, men, the muezzin, the village head, and the imam.
According to historical records, Larabanga Mosque was built in the early 1400s. Based on the year of its construction, Larabanga Mosque is recognized as the oldest mosque in West Africa. Allegedly, the name Larabanga itself is derived from the village that shelters the Islamic place of worship in West Africa, namely Larabanga. According to historical stories and local community acknowledgments, the founder of Larabanga Mosque is not precisely known.
The establishment of Larabanga Mosque is inseparable from the famous and centuries-old legend in West African society. Historical sources say that the founder of Larabanga Mosque was Ibrahim Ayuba Al-Ansari, a Muslim trader. Ayuba often spent time in the Larabanga village until he was instructed through a dream to build a mosque. Miraculously, the next morning, a mysterious stone appeared, which supposedly, when moved to another location, returned to its original position. Later, Ayuba decided to continue building the mosque until it was completed in the Larabanga area.
Meanwhile, according to another source, Larabanga Mosque was built in the late 1600s by Braimah. Initially, Braimah threw a spear, intending to settle precisely where the spear landed. After the spear landed in a bright and high-looking place, Braimah intended to build a mosque and his house there. Braimah named the area Larabanga, meaning Arab Land.
After going through a series of very long historical journeys, Larabanga Mosque still exists in African soil. Larabanga Mosque, built by stacking layers of grass and mud, is now in the spotlight for tourists. The most sacred and respected place of worship for Muslims in Ghana feels cool even though the weather is hot.
Not far from the mosque is Ayuba’s grave. Ayuba is buried right under a baobab tree that only grows on the African continent. Larabanga Mosque also houses a collection of ancient Qurans that have been made since 1650 AD. Until now, the residents of Larabanga village still carry out religious activities such as reciting the Quran, performing prayers, and holding Friday prayers for men. On important days, Larabanga Mosque becomes the most important place of worship for Muslims to read the Quran and offer prayers.
At the top of the Larabanga Mosque’s mihrab, there is a small room that can be accessed through the mosque’s roof. This place is believed by the surrounding community to be Ayuba’s room, where he spent his time praying, contemplating, and reading the holy Quran. Larabanga Mosque with its exotic and classical atmosphere can withstand all weather conditions. For tourists who want to enter the Larabanga Mosque area, it is obligatory to buy a ticket for GH¢ 1.00, equivalent to only Rp2,176. Larabanga Mosque, which is popular and worldwide, does not allow non-Muslim tourists to enter the entire mosque. Non-Muslim visitors are given the opportunity to enjoy the Larabanga Mosque building only from the outside.
Larabanga Mosque, which is hundreds of years old, has undergone several building reconstructions. The goal is to preserve and maintain the authenticity of the mosque to the maximum. The first Larabanga Mosque repair was carried out in 1970 by covering the mosque with cement. Unexpectedly, this effort did not yield good results and worsened the condition of Larabanga Mosque. As a result, the support beams of the mosque became rotten, water vapor trapped in the walls, and termite attacks occurred. In addition, rain and wind caused the mosque tower to gradually collapse.
Thanks to the assistance from American Express and the World Monument Fund, the Ghanaian Government restored the original structure of the Larabanga Mosque, which had previously experienced damage. Since then, the Ghanaian Government has always added layers of mud to repair the damaged structure of the Larabanga Mosque building while strengthening its structure. The maintenance of Larabanga Mosque cannot be separated from the role of the local community, especially in carrying out building conservation work, repainting the mosque building, and renewing the mud after the rainy season. Ghanaians also replace rotting wooden branches, which are markers of the height level of each part of the Larabanga Mosque building.
The people of Ghana have committed themselves to forming a community center for religious people and accommodating the growth of the tourist population visiting. The lives of the community around the Larabanga Mosque area are so harmonious. Usually, the people will distribute leaves and fruits of the large and 500-year-old baobab tree to other tribes. This tradition serves as a means to enhance peace, brotherhood, harmony, and unite the people of various ethnicities very well.
In conclusion, Larabanga Mosque is a place of worship for Muslims in the Ghana region that can create its own harmony for its citizens. This oldest religious site, far from modern architectural touches, is like a gem that can divert the views of the world’s population. Larabanga Mosque is now exposed through its unique architecture and historical story that is still preserved to this day.