Shitta-Bey mosque, Martins street, Lagos, is the oldest mosque on Broad Street, it about 121 years old. Its construction started in 1892 and was completed and opened on July 4th, 1894.
According to the Chief Imam of the mosque, Alhaji Habeebullah Tawfeeq Muazu, who assumed the duty of Chief Imam of Shitta- Bey mosque on May 3, 2012, the mosque was solely financed by Mohammed Shitta-Bey, the first Seriki Musulumi of Lagos, Nigeria, after whom it was named.
“I learnt that he built the mosque with (£ 5, 000).”
Being the first of its kind on Broad Street, Alhaji Muazu narrated with enthusiasm the opening of the mosque. Although he was not born then, but said he learnt from history how the whole thing went and had since allowed the image of the opening ceremony to remain in his mind till date.
He said, “I learnt it was a great day. The opening ceremony was an important social and religious event in Lagos. It was witnessed by sheiks, kings, chiefs and Imams from all the Muslim communities in the west coast, some parts of Western Sudan as well as Muslims, Christians and other well wishers within and outside Yoruba land.”
He continued; “Thousands of Muslims on horsebacks, in carriages and on foot lined the Marina Front from one end to the other. The torrential rain which greeted the day was not a hindrance, as many jubilant men, women and children were parading the streets singing various songs.”
On whether there was any account of foreigners who witnessed the opening ceremony of the mosque, Muazu said representative of Abdul Hamid, the Sultan of Turkey (Mr Quilliam) was to arrive for the opening ceremony, but he was unable to make it and his failure to arrive that day kept the crowd waiting till the next day.
He added that since then, Imams of Shitta- Bey mosque have since been chosen from his lineage. “Long before my turn was my father, who reigned as imam for twenty years. After his demise was my uncle’s turn who also reigned for eighteen years, then my turn to reign. ‘’Like I said, it is close to three years now that i became the imam of this mosque.
A foreigner cannot be made imam. It is also the tradition that a new imam can only be chosen after the demise of a reigning imam,” he said.
Shedding more light on why the Friday Prayer is not said in Shitta-Bey mosque, Muazu said: “Shitta-Bey mosque being the oldest mosque here used to conduct the Friday congregational prayer long before the new Central Mosque was built. But since the new Central Mosque was built, we have moved there for the Friday prayers. It is bigger and can accommodate more people. The normal daily Salat still hold here, we only go to LCM for Jumu’ah prayers.
Also, Muazu revealed that Shitta-Bey had been named a National Museum. “On December 10th, 2013, the Director General of the National Commission for Museums and monuments notified the family that Shitta- Bey mosque is one of the nine national monuments. The remaining being Kings College, Lagos Island, Christ Church Cathedral (CMS), Marina, Independence Building, Lagos Island, First storey building in Nigeria, Badagry, Brazilian Slave Baracoon Museum, Badagry, Iddo railway terminal building, Lagos mainland, National theatre, Iganmu, Nigeria first flag raising memorial, TBS, Lagos Island,” he explained.
Reminiscing on how he was born and brought up on the Lagos Island, he simply described it as very sweet. Muazu said his family house, which used to be 25, Oluwole Street, was demolished and a shopping mall was built on the land. “ I attended Lagos Secondary Commercial Academy before I later went to an Islamic school in Ilorin and al-Azhar university, Cairo, Egypt.”
“There was enough space to play, we would play and eat in other houses. We were taught good things. We would go out in the afternoon, plucking fruits and mangoes at Marina. Everywhere was safe, there was peace. Our parents had time for us, unlike most of today’s parents who do not have enough time to nurture their children”
He added that they would gather at the mosque early in the morning to learn, go to school from there and go to Madrasah (Quranic school) in the evening.
Speaking about the general belief that the Lagos Island is not a safe place to live, Muazu said: “It is still secure, there is no fight or stealing, Oluwole especially. We all sit and play together; we don’t fight or engage in violence because we all have names to protect.”
Reacting to issue of scarce and expensive accommodation on the Island, he said it is the same everywhere. “A room can go for five thousand in Surulere whereas you can get it for three thousand here on the Island. Only new buildings are somehow expensive because they used to be old buildings that are demolished and rebuilt; that accounts for their high cost.”
Speaking about the rich cultures on the island, especially those passed down by the Portuguese and Brazilians, Muazu said some of them still remain as people on the Island still celebrate carnivals in remembrance of those old days.