Indian expat Saji Cheriyan in front of the mosque he has built for workers in Fujairah. Image Credit: Saji Cheriyan

Fujairah: A Christian expat, who landed in the UAE with just a few hundreds of dirhams in 2003, is gifting a mosque to hundreds of workers this Ramadan.

Indian national Saji Cheriyan, 49, has built the mosque for Muslim workers living in a worker accommodation that he rented out to 53 companies in Fujairah.

The mosque, built at a cost of Dh1.3 million in the East Ville Real Estate complex in Al Hayl Industrial Area, can accommodate 250 worshippers at a time. Facilities for another 700 to pray in the interlocked courtyard of the mosque, which will be shaded by the time it opens, have also been arranged.

Hailing from Kayamkulam in the south Indian state of Kerala, Saji wishes to open the mosque for the workers from various Asian countries during Ramadan.

Speaking to Gulf News, the businessman, who has gone through ups and downs in the past 15 years, said he decided to build the mosque after he saw workers taking taxis to go to the nearest mosque.

“They have to spend at least Dh20 to go to Fujairah city or another industrial area to attend the Juma prayer in a mosque. So, I thought it will make them happy if I build a mosque here next to their accommodation.”

The construction work started more than a year ago. Now the mosque is all set to open with the full support of Awqaf in Fujairah.

Offer of support

“The Awqaf officials were surprised and happy when they got to know I am a Christian who wishes to build a mosque. They have offered me all the support and were ready to offer free electricity and water and other facilities,” said Saji.

However, all that he has accepted from Awqaf are the carpet and sound system for the mosque.

“When word spread about my mosque, many other people also offered cash donations, construction materials like sand and paint. But I have politely refused all those offers as I would like to pay from my pocket for this mosque.”

He said he has opted for the name Mariam, Umm Eisa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus) for the mosque, after an Abu Dhabi mosque was renamed so in 2017.

Plans are afoot to invite prominent personalities from different walks of life and offer iftar for the guests and all the workers on the inaugural day of the mosque.

Saji, an Orthodox Christian by birth, had previously built a church for his parish in Dibba and also keeps the doors of a multipurpose hall in the East Ville Complex for various other groups of Christian believers to pray.

But he doesn’t feel he has done something great.

“I have grown up seeing communities living together in utmost harmony. We celebrate all religions’ festivals and I don’t judge or treat people based on religion, caste, colour or nationality. The UAE is another example of communal harmony and tolerance.”

He recollected that there was only the foundation of a building present in the whole plot when he bought the 70,000sqm land in Al Hayl Industrial Area for a 20-year lease in 2013.

He said it was a big risk that he took after his previous business, which he had built with sheer grit and perseverance, went bust.

450 cheques bounced

“I was Dh16 million in debt. Some 450 cheques had bounced. But I did not run away. I fought back and worked harder.”

He then built a worker accommodation with 70 rooms by purchasing construction materials on instalment payment basis.

“Luckily on the day the construction got over, I got a client who offered one million dirhams rent. In three years, I managed to build 800 rooms in the complex. There is a super market, a laundry and a salon also.”

The businessman, who now has an estimated Dh68 million worth of assets, credits his wife Elsy who stood by him through thick and thin and assists him in business for the inspiration.

The couple have two sons, Sachin and Elvin.