The Sidi Oqba Mosque, or Great Mosque, is the oldest and most spectacular Muslim place of worship in North Africa and is Islam’s fourth holiest site after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. The founding father of Kairouan, Uqba ibn Nafi, constructed a small mosque on the location in AD 670. As the town thrived, the mosque was rebuilt and enlarged a number of occasions: in 703, once more in 774, in 836, and 863. It reached its present dimensions by the end of the ninth century, however its design and ornamentation continued to evolve up to the nineteenth century.
UQBA IBN NAFI
At the time of the Prophet Mohammed’s death in 632, Muslims only dominated Arabia. Nonetheless, by 750, the Arab Muslims had achieved one of the vital spectacular conquests in historical past, ruling over the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. In 670, the Muslim leader Uqba ibn Nafi crossed the desert from Egypt as a part of the conquest of North Africa. Establishing military posts alongside the way, he stopped to camp on the location of modern-day Kairouan. Legend tells of a golden cup being found in the sand, which was acknowledged as one which had disappeared from Mecca a number of years beforehand. When the cup was picked up, a spring emerged from the ground which, it was declared, was supplied by the identical source as that of the holy Zem-Zem well in Mecca. Uqba based his capital and swept on to overcome Morocco.
THE CITY OF KAIROUAN
Kairouan grew in significance to developed into the capital of the Aghlabid dynasty within the ninth century. When the Fatimids took power in 909, they moved their capital elsewhere. By the eleventh century, Kairouan’s political and financial energy had been surpassed by different cities, but it never lost its holy status. As a religious center it continued to develop in prominence, with the mosque proving a strong magnet for pilgrims from Muslim territories all through northern and Saharan Africa. In the present day, Kairouan is Islam’s fourth holiest city. Pilgrims come to drink the waters of the holy spring and to visit the Great Mosque.
THE INTERIOR OF THE PRAYER HALL
Entrance to the prayer corridor on the southern end of the courtyard is through a set of beautiful, finely carved wooden doors dating from the nineteenth century. Inside is a rectangular, domed chamber with arched aisles. The imam leads the prayers from the minbar, a wonderful pulpit sculpted out of wood from Baghdad and considered one of the oldest within the Arab world. Behind the mihrab (dome) on the end of the central aisle are ninth-century tiles, also from Baghdad, surrounding carved marble panels. A carved wood screen, the maqsura, dating from the eleventh century, stands close by and plenty of Kairouan carpets cover the ground.