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Islam on the island of Ovalau

Vishaal Kumar
Monday, October 30, 2017

FOLLOWERS of Islam on the island of Ovalau have been going to one mosque all their lives to pay their respects and to conduct prayers. With a small population on the island, the Waitovu mosque is that particular place.

With Levuka having such a rich and important history associated to Fiji, the first Muslims who arrived in the country settled in Levuka and established the first mosque at Waitovu just outside the Old Capital.

Speaking to this newspaper, the mosque president, Mohammed Khan, said the place held a special bond and significance for the Muslims on the island.

He said the mosque had a history that translated way back to the first indentured labourers on the Leonidas that came to Fiji.

"The boat came from India carrying passengers of which about 82 Muslims were onboard," Mr Khan said.

"They travelled for nearly four months and about 35 people died on board. The boat was carrying passengers from Pakistan, Lahore, India and Kolkata to name a few.

"On this boat, my grandfather was also travelling as an engineer. He was known as 'Budda Khan' that time. He was 19 years old when he came to Fiji.

"My grandfather came with other people on the boat and settled here in Levuka near Waitovu and from here, they started their own lives."

Mr Khan said the then Tui Levuka gave a piece of land to the early Muslim settlers to start their life and build homes.

"When they got the land, then it was my grandfather who first called the 'adhan' (call for prayer) for the Muslims in the area," he said.

"That time they didn't have much materials to make a proper mosque, so they made a little shelter with whatever they could find. Later on, with the support from the other members of the community, which included both the iTaukei and Fijians of Indian descent, they were able to build the mosque at its current location."

He said these first group of Muslim settlers began their life in their new home by working on road constructions and in Levuka Town before they managed to move to other parts of the island.

But now, Mr Khan leads the welfare and services of the mosque on the island with only a handful of Muslim followers.

"I like doing my job which is to serve the people here and also to practise the word of Allah. It is not easy but I have been given the responsibility and I am doing my very best," he said.

According to Mr Khan the mosque needed repairs and maintenance works to be carried out in order to get its structure back in shape.

"The mosque was heavily damaged because of Tropical Cyclone Winston last year. Since it is situated near the seaside, the impact was far more," he said.

"The best thing after the cyclone was that everyone came to help us rebuild the mosque.

"We still need some more renovations to fully complete the works. We are asking for people to come forward if they want to help us. We have managed to get a new cement wall made and also painted the mosque as well."

Mr Khan said at the moment there were about 30 committee members who were part of the mosque.

"Before in the old days, some 40 to 60 years back, people who visited and prayed at the mosque were a lot. But now this number has come down because most of them have passed on or have migrated."

The 64-year-old said he was proud that the first Muslim mosque and Islam culture started in the Old Capital of Fiji.

He said he was also happy to be part of the mosque that played an integral part for all Muslims around the country.

"Everything to do with our culture happened here in Levuka and then it spread to other parts of the country," he said.

Mr Khan said the mosque was always open to all people with different religious background.

"We have children and also youths visiting the mosque on many occasions. Sometimes Fijian youths come down with their Bibles and we often sit and discuss about how our two cultures and beliefs relate to each other," he said.

"The people in the community are very supportive towards each other. If someone is in need, everyone shows up to support them. This is one unique thing about the people of Levuka, that they live in unity and harmony.

"The mosque is situated between villages and you will never feel that we are living with different people. We are all one because over the years, we have forged this bond with each other."

Mr Khan also revealed he had future plans for the mosque which included the construction of a new house for the "Molvi" (priest).

He said the Muslim community in Levuka was a small one and they were trying to get as much help as possible.

"We do get some help from the Fiji Muslim League and also from the members. "We have been staying on the island for so many years now and we are used to the way of living here," he said.

Mr Khan said he had been given a responsibility to look after the mosque and he would continue to do so in the future.

For whatever reasons there may be, the presence of Fiji's first mosque will always be remembered and cherished by thousands of Muslims in the country.

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