Sharjah: Seven Indian students from the Christian community in Sharjah, and representing the seven emirates, are on a special journey: Visiting the various mosques in the emirate.
These students, siblings from three expatriate Indian families, are coming up with a coffee-table book on the Islamic places of worship in Sharjah that are of historical importance and are portraying the peaceful coexistence of religions in UAE.
Through their project, these students aim to further strengthen the spirit of harmony between Muslims and Christians in the UAE, as well as express their immense gratitude towards the country.
Smarnika S, 20, her brother Smaran, 11, Sara Alex, 18, her siblings, Joseph, 16, and Hanna, 13, Alex Lenju, 21 and his brother Joseph Lenju, 20, are part of the project.
Ingrid Nicholas, who is mentoring and guiding the students on the project, said: “These students’ endeavour also coincides with the 125th anniversary of the International Publishers Association, a token of appreciation to the world of books from the emirate of Sharjah, while the UAE takes pride in hosting Expo 2020 Dubai.”
The book will be published with the endorsement of the Indian Association Sharjah, she added.
Sharing the details of their project, the students told Gulf News that among the 2,813 mosques in Sharjah, they were documenting the architectural marvels of 50 prominent mosques in a pictorial storybook, detailing the inception, creation and completion of each mosque.
‘Mosques of Sharjah’
‘Mosques of Sharjah’ will be a 300-page hardcover coffee-table book on classical Arabian architectural marvels centralised around mesmerising heritage mosque buildings. Research data and special-angle photographs will narrate the storyline of each mosque from the time of its inception, royal decree, location and timelines.
Smarnika, the team leader and main author of the book, said she and her church friend Sara came up with the idea of the book. “We came up with the idea last year during the COVID-19 movement restrictions when most places were closed. We realised the importance of being physically present and going to certain places, especially places of worship, and it changed our perception of life and living,” recollected Smarnika, who recently completed her Grade 13 A level from St Mary’s Catholic High School, Dubai.
“Around that time, we decided to do something memorable and historic that could be given back to this nation in which we are residing. Putting Sara’s and my interests together, we came up with the initiative to make a pictorial book on the mosques of Sharjah. The UAE’s Golden Jubilee this year made it a perfect opportunity for us to contribute to the celebration and festivities.”
The girls shared their idea with their siblings and took them on-board to help with the project.
“We decided to become a group since all of us had different fields of interests and talents, which were all needed for this project to come to life,” explained Sara, who graduated from Sharjah Indian School.
Hanna, who currently studies in the same school, said: “We had to find 50 mosques that had some sort of special meaning behind it — be it the architecture, the journey of how it came to life or the people who worked for it.”
Smarnika said they selected each mosque on the basis of its architectural design, its ergonomics and the story behind it. “We visited various mosques, photographed them and collected information from the local people living in the vicinity.” The chosen mosques include Noor Mosque, Saudi Mosque, Ruler’s Court Mosque to name just a few.
How mosque design matters
“Design is an element that is very much involved with functionality apart from aesthetics,” explained Smarnika. “For example, King Faisal Mosque has multiple pillars inside it and this is to provide a sense of lines, so that worshippers may assemble in straight rows to pray. This particular design also contributes to the space and creates more room. The interiors are very simplistic and that is due to the architect’s reasoning that people should be focused on their worship. Thus, every single detail is important, even if it may not be noticeable, and that is what we aim to present through this book.”
Sara added: “There are a lot of unknown stories behind the mosques, which we got to learn as we studied about the mosques, and they are really interesting. We want to share those stories with the world through this project.”
The students said they were gaining some valuable knowledge in a variety of aspects, such as architecture and heritage. Smaran, a grade five student of School of Knowledge and the youngest of the team, said they had to constantly travel around and look for the mosques that stood out the most. “It was tiring, but it was a good learning experience and we had a lot of fun,” Smaran said.
But most importantly, Smarnika said: “We are able to feel like we belong to this nation. We became more informed on how blessed we were to be residing here and all the freedom as well as the opportunities we enjoyed.”
Joseph Lenju, a student of Amity University Dubai, said the pandemic was a challenge for the project as entry to some mosques was restricted. “There were many protocols in place during the pandemic,” he said.
Joseph Alex, a student of Sharjah Indian School, added: “There were strict restrictions on transportation and movement. We overcame some of those by prioritising our goals.”
The students said that while working on the project, they also learnt a lot from their mistakes. “We learnt to overcome our challenges by keeping an open mind and teaching ourselves not to be afraid of failures and mistakes,” said Sara.
The students wish to present their creation to His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, by December 2021, as a gift from the Indian expatriate community to the UAE, in celebration of the 50 years of the UAE’s unification.