Rufahe Mosque

Authors: Emine Bala, Mohammed Abdulghani, ALi Bala, Suraya Mohammed Ahmed

Foundation and History

One of Erbil’s most prominent mosques is Rufahe Mosque, founded on May 5, 1988, by Haji Aidan and Said Ahmed. Because Haji Jamal later made donations to the mosque, he is credited as a co-founder. The building has never been renovated due to a lack of government funds. One of the most interesting aspects of this mosque is that it is crowded at every prayer. The preacher is Mulla Saman, who holds a master’s degree in theology. He studied in Koya – a historical city in Erbil province – as well as in Sulaimani and Baghdad.[1]

Front view of the mosque. © Suraya Mohammed
Prayer hall. © Suraya Mohammed

[1] Interview with Mulla Saman, March 2, 2019.

Location and Building

The mosque is located on Nawroz Road, near the busy Hay Al-Askari road in the old Nishtiman district. Nishtiman used to be popular with rich Turkmen families, but after the economic crisis resulting from ISIS attacks in 2012, it became quite mixed with both poor and rich families. Few foreigners live here. The mosque covers 3,400 square meters, and has a capacity of around 600 people. At first glance it is hard to tell this is a mosque, since it has neither tall minarets nor a high dome. The design is simple, unlike other Middle Eastern mosques, and the dome is small and white.

In front of the mosque, there is an old park where most children head after the prayers. On the left side of the mosque, there are three schools: Sabat Girls’ School, a primary school and a boys’ school. There are some small shops besides the school. The imam said these businesses are the property of the mosque, but that it earns no income from them.[1] The mosque has a big green entrance door, from where you can see ablution places for both genders. Beyond that lies the large mosque garden some 150 square meters in size and tended by two workers. Inside the mosque, there are three doors that lead to the main praying areas. Two of these doors are for the male section on the ground floor, while another opens onto the second floor directly in the female section, which is open Friday, Saturday and during the month of Ramadan. A small cabinet acts as a lost and found station, which does not exist in many

Minaret of the mosque. © Suraya Mohammed
The mosque garden. © Suraya Mohammed

[1] Interview with Ali Mayser, April 2, 2019.

Prayer and Worship

This mosque attracts around 500 believers to daily prayers because of the spiritual atmosphere deriving from Sufi tradition. Almost 100 visitors come to Fajr, 180 each to Dhuhr and Asr, 200 to Maghrib and 250 to Isha prayers.

Before prayers, attendees wait for 15 minutes while doing individual prayers and dhikr sitting in the lines, to let other people get prepared for the prayer. At Friday prayer, Muslims try to reach the mosque at least 30 minutes before the Adhan to recite or listen to the Holy Quran and get a spot on the front line, in order to listen more closely to the imam’s words from the prophet Muhammad’s hadith. 

“Whoever performs ghusl on Friday and causes (his wife) to do ghusl, then goes early to the mosque and attends from the beginning of the Khutbah and draws near to the Imam and listens to him attentively, Allah will give him the full reward of fasting all the days of a year and observing night vigil on each of its nights for every step that he took towards the mosque,” according to a hadith in the Sahih Abi Dawd collection.[1] Generally, the mueddin recites the Quran, but sometimes a recording is played if he is not available. After the Quran recitation, the sermon starts. The topics of the khutbas are decided by the Ministry of Endowment and Religion Affairs, as in the other mosques in Erbil. However, the imam discusses the ministry’s selection with his colleagues and chooses the khutba topic of the week. The topics are not only about religious and spiritual issues, but might also relate to matters in daily life. In March, for instance, picnic rules are a familiar topic since that month is the best time of the year for picnics. Usually, there is space for 500 men in the male section, but people sit outside as well on Fridays, when up to 600 visit. In the female section, there is space for nearly 100 visitors. On Fridays can get crowded, but usually only around 50 females attend prayers.

At Rufahe Mosque, the way Ramadan is observed is unique among the mosques. On Ramadan days after the morning prayers, the congregants stay in the mosque to perform khatm, which entails reciting the Quran from beginning to end. Then they perform the Duha (sunrise) prayer together, after which some people go to work and others return home.

Friday breakfast at the mosque. © Ali Rashad

[1] Sahih Abi Dawd, 345 (Arabic version).

Community and Group Activities

At Rufahe Mosque, both the members of congregation and the mosque administration organize community and group activities throughout the year to meet the people’s social needs. For example, Quran lessons are offered for both genders on separate days. Females are taught on Saturdays, and males are taught on Wednesdays.[1] However, this mosque does not give Islamic lessons as some other mosques do.

During Ramadan after Asr prayer, some of the congregants gather in the mosque garden to prepare a meal for breaking the fast. Also, almost 750 people have Suhoor in the mosque garden. Friday breakfasts are held at the mosque as a continuation of Ramadan, when congregants meet after morning prayer and go to a restaurant to eat lentil soup. Only some mosques in Erbil follow these traditions.

At least twice every spring, the mosque administration organizes picnics, an important part of Kurdish culture.

There are many young members who voluntarily help elderly congregants to do their prayers properly within the mosque. Sometimes those young people help clean the whole mosque and repair broken items.

Some business people in the congregation usually give their sakat and sadaqah to the imam to distribute to the needy in order to buy clothes and food. These donations are in cash or as shopping checks. However, there has not yet been any special donation for a much-needed renovation of the mosque.

The imam of the mosque tries to solve the personal, social and spiritual problems of congregants. For these consultations, he does not set a specific time or place; people may see him whenever he is available, usually after prayers.

During the seasons in which the Hajj falls, the congregants who are accepted for this holy pilgrimage stay in the mosque with the imam. First, the imam congratulates them and gives advice about what they need to do before and during Hajj prayer. Then, they all pray together to ask for wellness and peace for all humanity and forgiveness for Muslims. The mosque also organizes and celebrates mawlud as a big event once a year.[2]

Since this mosque does not have a funeral hall, few funerals are held – about 10 every year. It is the same case for weddings, with about 10 engagement parties annually.[3]

[1] Interview with Mullah Saman, March 2, 2019.

[2] Interview with Ali Mayser, April 2, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

This mosque does not have its own website, nor has it ever published any literature. However, there is a Facebook page where it posts all its activities and announcements.[1] The mosque does not have official links to any institutions, but the preacher has good informal connections with many people from different businesses, because he has been to many places. Like most mosques in Erbil, Rufahe Mosque does not support any political parties in its official statements.[2]


[2] Interview with Mulla Saman, March 2, 2019.