The funds for the mosques in Adelaide (Figs. 11 and 12) and Perth were primarily sourced from “Afghans” based in remote settlements.Footnote 12 Detailed records exist that list the names of individual cameleers and merchants who contributed funds to the Perth Mosque, particularly those working in the Western Australian goldfields, which were collected by Faiz Mahomet. Contributions by Beltana cameleers are also recorded despite the distance of more than 2600 km—a testament to the inland communication network that the cameleers pioneered. These records, including the purchase of land for £680 in the heart of Perth, can be attributed to the erudition of Muhammad Hasan Musakhan, a Tarin Afghan of Sindh (and nephew of Morad Khan, who assisted Stuckey in Karachi), who was the founder (1904), treasurer (1906) and secretary of the mosque. Musakhan was educated at the universities of Karachi and Bombay; he then worked as a schoolteacher in India and a bookseller in Perth. He knew English, Pushto, Urdu, Persian, Sindhi and a “little Arabic” (Jones and Kenny 2010). In 1932, the year he visited Adelaide, he prepared a little-known pamphlet, funded by Adelaide philanthropist and herbalist Mahomet Allum, that documents the early history of Islam in Australia and is entitled The History of Islamism in Australia from 1863 to 1932 (Musakhan 1932).
No such records have emerged to date that detail the specific source of funds for the Adelaide Mosque, but the origins of the mosque can be traced to two individuals: Haji Mullah Merban (1801–1897) and Abdul Wahid (1866–1928). However, it can be assumed that the funds to acquire the land and build the mosque derived from a similar, collective contribution. The Tarin Afghan Hadji Mullah Merban inspired the construction of the Adelaide Mosque and purchased the land. As one of the earliest cameleers to arrive in Australia, Merban, who worked on the supply teams for the Overland Telegraph Line, had emerged as a respected religious leader. Upon his retirement, he was appointed as the first caretaker of the Adelaide Mosque before living in Coolgardie between 1894 and 1897.Footnote 13 Jones identifies the wealthy camel merchant Abdul Wahid, a former Ghilzai tribesman, as the builder and trustee of the Adelaide Mosque (Jones and Kenny 2010: 168). Although he is initially recorded as working with Faiz and Tagh Mahomet in 1892, he soon began work for the Bourke Carrying Company in New South Wales, which primarily serviced the mining industry in the wider region, and he was appointed manager and overseer in 1895 (Stevens 2005). His wealth was enhanced by his grazing properties, camel breeding, salt harvesting and haulage. His business transactions, including purchase of the desirable Northwood House designed by colonial architect Edmund Blacket on Lane Cove River in Sydney, were enabled by his fluency in English, and in 1902, shortly after assertion of the Immigration Restriction Act, he was naturalised. He was well known for his European style of dress, which distinguished him from other “Afghans” in Australia, his success in horse racing and his (partially successful) efforts to circulate in European social circles.
Local respect for Merban and Wahid may have assisted their efforts to purchase land for the mosque. While the cameleers were ostracised from “white civilised British space” (which is well recognised in previous studies), the acquisition of the land coincided with a significant economic recession in Adelaide. Agricultural development, in particular, had led to a boom period between 1870 and 1882 (MacDougall and Vines 2006). However, the drought of 1880 brought an end to this rapid growth and coincided with the demise of the intensive building activity between 1860 and 1880, which is evident in Duryea’s panorama, and a lingering depression. In this context, when there was a pressing need to fill the city coffers, the plans for the Adelaide Mosque were approved in 1887; would land have been sold or plans approved without the drought? The building was erected between 1888 and 1889, costing the cameleers over £450 (Observer 1901).
A comparison of the Adelaide Mosque with contemporary neighbouring dwellings reveals that the mosque was a modest addition to the existing urban fabric. The construction techniques parallel established modes of construction. Indeed, Jensen and Jensen include a photo of the mosque with buildings constructed 20 years prior; however, no further details are provided in this “definitive chronicle” (1980: 467). The typical construction comprises local bluestone from Mount Lofty Ranges laid in random coursework, tuck-pointed clay bricks and corrugated galvanised iron roofing (Pikusa 1986). The original building was a rectangle of undecorated stone that remained unpainted until 1891. Wrought-iron lacework, a typical embellishment of colonial verandas, was still evident in 1962 (SLSA B69987). The floor was constructed of concrete (Observer 4 July 1901). Comparison of Freeman Street Congregational Church (Fig. 13), mentioned earlier and visible in Duryea’s panorama, with architectural drawings prepared for the Adelaide Mosque as part of the reconstruction of the western minarets in 2009 (DASH Architects 2009; Fig. 14) reveals a striking similarity between the two buildings; the comparable height is the only aspect that would have distinguished the mosque in its single-storey context. Comparison with the latter, designed by Kingston, highlights the specialised knowledge required for the design, despite its modest scale and construction. Given these similarities, it is unlikely the cameleers built the mosque. It is likely that they engaged local builders who used established building technologies and materials. The immediate priority for the patrons of the Adelaide Mosque was to create a place that served the needs of the community—a dormant form activated through spatial practices and narratives of belonging—rather than symbolic and visual expressions of identity.
Early descriptions of the mosque, prior to the construction of the minarets or the wall, reveal that it was unobtrusive in the area. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the mosque was recorded as “an unpretentious building in stone and brick, 37 ft by 35 ft and 18 ft high” (Observer 4 July 1901). In addition, the author states that “providing sufficient money can be raised a dome will be erected on the south side” (Observer 4 July 1901). The dome was never built; however, the intent hints at the aspirations of the community to make a visual statement in the city. Inside, non-Muslim visitors remarked on the lack of decoration and furniture (Observer 1901; Advertiser 1903). Moreover, “to the visitor the interior of the mosque is disappointing. There is nothing in the building which calls for admiration. Its architectural pretensions are practically non-existent” (Advertiser 1903). Therefore, at the time of its construction, the mosque was not a site of controversy. Its purpose was to serve the needs of the community for daily prayer. The layout of the Adelaide Mosque recalls the simplicity of the first mosque—the Prophet Muhammad’s own house in Medina—where the Muslim community gathered in his courtyard (Rabbatt 2002). Unlike other religious architecture, the mosque does not have a predetermined building typology. Few architectural features differentiate the place of prayer. A niche, or mihrab, denotes the direction of Mecca in every mosque (in this case, the qibla is west, although many mosques are oriented north-west in Australia). Obligatory ablution precedes prayers and running water is crucial for this purpose. In Australia, despite the scarcity of water, mosques in the bush and the city contain this facility. In monumental Islamic mosques, ablution is performed at a fountain in the courtyard. In the Adelaide Mosque, a large cistern with running water served this purpose. The scale of the building is small, blending with the neighbouring structures of the period. Tectonically anonymous, the mosque did not initially constitute an overt affirmation of self-identity.
Fourteen years after its construction, four minarets were added, costing £500 in total (Advertiser 1903). The addition of the minarets might be interpreted as an overt message of Islam in the urban context—particularly in the context of Federation and the Immigration Restriction Act, which placed restrictions not only on immigration but also on the mobility of non-European peoples within Australia and, for the cameleers, compromised the freedom to travel back and forth between Australia and the Indian subcontinent. However, the earlier intent to construct a dome indicates the cameleers’ pre-existing desire to distinguish their place of prayer. The construction of the minarets could just as easily be interpreted as a natural progression when the necessary funds accrued. As in the case of the structure of the prayer hall, specialised building skills would have been essential to the construction of the minarets. The minarets were erected using English bond brick and filled with a masonry core. The construction technology is identical to the type of construction of local chimneys and incinerators that can be seen in Duryea’s panorama (although the minarets were not hollow nor used for adhan). The ironwork surmounting the minarets has been attributed to John Lockett of Logan Street (Jolly 2005). Thus, even the most explicit material expression of identity is also a product of engagement with the local builders and craftsmen.
A further territorial marker, the extant brick wall, which was built in 1908, may be interpreted as a means to distance the Muslim faithful from the surrounding neighbourhood. Imam Shah’s name appears on an advertisement as a contact for building tenders for the said wall (Advertiser 1908). However, this may also be interpreted as a practical response to security following the theft of items in 1906, identified as the belongings of Abdul Wahid, at the time that Jaffa Solomon (a Jewish man, brought up as a Mohammaden; Jones and Kenny 2010: 180) was caretaker of the Mosque (Advertiser 1906).
The “Afghan” community was proud of its hybrid mosque, which articulated the needs of the community in a local architectural vocabulary. It was also a valued expression of the international profile of “Afghans”, the majority of whom maintained strong ties with their families and their homeland throughout their contracts. In 1915, the mosque was featured in an international Afghan journal. The cost of the mosque was exaggerated (£3000). We also learn that funding was raised for a madrasa to be established near the mosque (Stevens 2002). Although this was not realised, it indicates that religious teaching was a further function of the mosque.
In this light, the mosque was a locus for community life, prayer, education and gathering. Further photographic evidence and archived newspapers provide evidence that the Adelaide Mosque was also a meeting place for the cameleers. Those who came to the city for business, for a holiday (like the cameleer Tauseef in 1910) or for health-related purposes could board at the cottage. After 1890, retired Afghan men are recorded living in the vicinity (Adelaide Observer 1891). In the 1890s, a congregation of 100 people is recorded. However, numbers dwindled to 30 in 1903. Afghan merchants are recorded living in this area in 1908 (Jolly 2005). Afghans travelled back and forth between the outback periphery and this urban centre. For example, successful cameleer Gool Mahomet, the mosque’s major benefactor between the 1930s and 1940s, stayed at the mosque before his final, intended, return to Kabul. He died at the mosque just 2 weeks before he was due to sail on the Himalaya.
At the age of 85, Bejah, the Afghan hero of the Calvert Expedition, travelled from his home of Marree, to attend Gool Mahomet’s funeral at the mosque. His visit was observed in the Adelaide Sunday Mail (1950). While the patronising tone of these articles cannot be dismissed, this entry is indicative of ongoing public interest in the cameleer’s life (Sunday Mail 1953). In 1948, a visit to “his old friend Mr McNamara”, former surveyor-general of South Australia, is recorded in the News (1948). At this time, Bejah was one of only five surviving Afghans in Marree. His final visit to Adelaide, at an estimated age of 100, was front-page news—along with the Queen of England’s visit—in 1954 (Advertiser 1954) .
Another cameleer identified with the mosque captured Adelaide’s popular imagination. Mahomet Allum (1858?–1964), the “miraculous” herbalist and philanthropist of Sturt Street, lived in the vicinity of the Adelaide Mosque (Advertiser 1964). As a healer, Allum proclaimed his faith to the community in numerous popular advertisements. With the assistance of his wife, former patient Effie Schwardt, he wrote letters to the press and published pamphlets on Islam, the Koran, illness and his healing powers (Hankel 1979b).
The existence of this minority group in Adelaide challenged European settlers who were unfamiliar with the religious and social customs of the cameleers and their rules of etiquette. By 1890, the mosque was commonly known as the “Afghan Chapel”. Non-Muslim perceptions of the Afghan community were mostly negative. The children of Sturt Street were frightened of Mahomet Allum and identified him with the strange minarets of the mosque. They believed “if you looked him straight in the eyes you would be strung up by the neck atop” a minaret (Jolly 2005). In this context, Mahomet Allum attenuated his difference, styling himself as Father Christmas. He declared that in Australia “the best known Daddy Xmas is the stately mannered beturbaned healer of human ills, Mahomet Allum of Sturt Street Adelaide” (Allum 1933). He further proclaimed that his services transcended cultural and religious difference (Allum 1930).
Allum’s success irked the Adelaide medical profession. He was charged and fined for posing as a medical practitioner on several occasions. In 1934, he prepared to leave Adelaide, much to the consternation of his supporters, who petitioned for him to stay. Further, respected community figures, including Detective Correll of C.I. Branch, testified to his healing powers (Correll 1930). Loved or hated, Mahomet Allum was Adelaide’s most well-known “Afghan”. The funeral procession on 23 March 1964 from the Adelaide Mosque to Centennial Park Cemetery was over a mile long. Generous until his death, Allum’s estate, valued at £11,218, was primarily bequeathed to children’s institutions.
The jenazar was performed by Sallay Mahomet, another successful member of the Afghan community. Sallay and his father Gool Mahomet took on the role of mullahs at the mosque until the 1950s. In 1947, Sallay married an Australian woman, Iris, in two ceremonies: a Muslim-Afghan ritual at the Adelaide Mosque and a church ceremony. Sallay is notable as one of the few cameleers who made the successful transition to truck driving while the majority returned to the Indian subcontinent. Restrictions on citizenship and a rising tide of racism in tandem with the White Australia Policy (which was not dismantled until 1973) made conditions intolerable. At this time, Sallay Mahomet was recognised as the spiritual leader of the “Afghan” community in Central Australia and Alice Springs. In this role, Sallay was invited to present the Whitlam government’s gift of camels to the King Khaled of Saudi Arabia in June 1975, to the surprise of a community who thought their heritage had been forgotten (Sydney Morning Herald Nov 1979).