Authors: Emine Bala, Mohammed Abdulghani, Ali Bala, Hasan Wishyar Jamal

History and Foundation

The mosque was founded by Haji Jamal Bazzaz, a well-known merchant from a family with deep roots in Erbil. Construction started in 1987 and took three years to finish. In 1990, the opening ceremony took place and it has been the largest mosque in Erbil ever since. The building has been renovated four times – in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014. The property for mosques is usually provided by the government, but this land was owned personally by Haji Jamal. He funded all the expenses of the construction from start to finish. In addition, Haji Jamal personally supervised the mosque and looked after its needs. He is known to have altruistic values and religious principles.

Dr. Basheer Haddad became the first preacher of the mosque at the government’s request to Haji Bazzaz, and held that position for many years. He was succeeded by Dr. Said Ahmad Penjweny as preacher in 2008. The latter got his bachelor’s degree from the theology department in Baghdad in 1979, and later studied for a master’s and doctorate in Quranic science. He has been delivering khutbahs since 1977 and fulfilling his duty as an imam at Haji Jamal since 2003. He has also written 15 religious books in Kurdish and Arabic. Dr. Said Ahmad usually chooses the topics for his sermons based on the social or religious needs of the community. However, his sermons may go against the government’s stance on a given issue, and he expresses his opinions fearlessly regardless of the prevailing political views. Dr. Said Ahmad is known for his clear, far-reaching vision and is well-qualified in religious studies. The topics of his Friday sermons mainly deal with social or religious incidents in or around the city. The preacher collaborates with the congregants to identify the topics based on their problems.[1]

Gate of the mosque. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal

[1] Interview with Ali Wishyar Jamai, grandson of Haji Jamal Bazzaz, March 15, 2019.

Location and Building

The mosque is located in the Mufti district, which is a calm residential neighborhood 5 km from the citadel downtown. It has a capacity of 500 people with its extension in use, and this number may rise to 750 when other rooms are eventually opened. In the front part of the haram, there is a mihrab made of marble with an arched doorway. A wooden minbar stands on either side of the entrance, but only the right-hand one is used for khutbahs. The minbar on the left is there merely for the sake of architectural symmetry. Above the minibars are two curved wooden plates with inscriptions from the Holy Quran. Two large grandfather clocks stand next to the minbars. Above the arch, some verses from a surah called Fetih are written on blue ceramic tiles. Above these tiles is a golden inscription: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Set in the wall beside the minibars are 12 small bookshelves of different geometrical shapes. There are five function rooms in the prayer hall which are used for events such as Mawlud and funerals. Moreover, there is a public library in the courtyard where the congregants may recite the Quran or tafsir books before or after prayer times. The imam also has a room where people may go and consult him on various topics before the prayers.

The minbar. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal

The mosque is surrounded by private homes. There is no parking lot, so traffic jams can occur on the street as visitors get in or out of vehicles. There are three more mosques in the neighborhood, yet Haji Jamal draws the most visitors due to its large size, and thanks to the popularity of Dr. Said Ahmad and his sermons. People even come to the mosque from abroad just to listen to his sermons, especially on Fridays. There is a specific hall for women that is similar to the men’s, but it is smaller because far fewer women attend than men.

Entrance hall. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal
Yard of the mosque. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal

Prayer and Worship

About 220 people attend daily prayers in this mosque. Compared to the other times, the congregation is smaller for morning prayers, around 20 people join the Fajr prayer. Approximately 40 people go to the Dhuhur, 30 to the Asr, 60 to the Maghrib and 70 to the Isha prayers, respectively. The congregation for daily prayers consists only of males; however, female attendees can be observed in Friday prayers in this mosque. Almost 1,000 congregants participate in Friday prayers; 70% are male, 20% are female and 10% are children.

Wedding ceremonies are usually held on Mawlud, when sweets and soft drinks are served to the guests, who also listen to different poets praising the prophet Mohammad. The event lasts around three to four hours, and it’s a social norm rather than a religious practice. People claim the effect is so positive that they are purified spiritually.

Funerals are another frequent event in the mosque. A group of people gathers together and prays for God’s mercy on the deceased, and to console the family. The condolence takes about two days, with four hours on each day.

During Ramadan, the congregants perform the prayers Dhikr, Tarawih, and Tahajjud, and spend time in the mosque reciting the Quran.

In addition, almost 200 funerals and 30 wedding events take place in the mosque every year. Donations are collected from the congregates after Friday prayers for building repairs.

Entrance hall. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal
Prayer hall. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal
Prayer hall. ©Hasan Wishyar Jamal

Community and Group Activities

There are no group activities organized outside of the mosque, whereas many activities are held inside it. Most people prefer the Haji Jamal for their funeral or Mawlid ceremonies because some special and wide halls are allocated to these events in the courtyard. A vast number of people congregate in the mosque on the holidays Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, and Mawlid al-Nabawi. During these events, people congratulate each other and hold activities such as iftars during Ramadan. The imam states that around 700 male and 100 female participants join in these events. The government does not give them funding for any of these activities.

Public Relations

The mosque doesn’t have a website of its own; however, some of the volunteers are currently administering several social media pages. Dr. Said Ahmad has a Facebook page[1] (with 293,000 followers as of March 9, 2020. He publishes his speeches there on various topics.

The mosque does not publish a newsletter. There are contact numbers of the people who wash the deceased. Although the imam is known to be political, the mosque and its congregants are independent of any organizations or political parties as some of the other mosques have direct or indirect contacts.