chapter  1
41 Pages

The 'Addil Minaret: Reconsidering the Role of the Mosque Minaret in Sana'a

When the minaret of the Masjid al-Shahidayn (located in the heart of the Sana'a souk) collapsed in the year 1302 of the Hejira (1885 AD), its structure was renewed by the distinguished Master of the Waqfs, Qadi Husayn bin 'A li al-Amri. He told me that he spent one hundred and thirty riyals from the property of the Sana 'a waqfs on its rebuilding, and the remainder was collected from the charitable merchants of the city. The collapse of the minaret had crushed the mosque's adjacent lavatory building where the Faqih 'Abdullah alKhabat had been performing his ritual ablutions, and resulted in his martyred death. During his lifetime, the Faqih, a learned man in the science of calculations, was regularly asked by the people (of the city) to foretell when the release from their suffering and hardship would come. He would respond: 'When the minaret of the al-Shahidayn is destroyed'. 1

Since my childhood I've been enthralled with building. I have distinct memories of my parents lifting me up to the portholes cut in plywood barriers around construction sites so that I could peer into the vacuous foundations of new office buildings. From building blocks and crayon drawings I went on to study architecture at university and to design my own projects, but a persistent interest in the people who do the actual building led me to pursue studies in anthropology. Deeply inspired by the towering architecture of Yemen during previous travels in the Middle East, I chose to return to Sana'a, the capital city, in 1996 for field studies. That Spring I periodically passed by the site of a new minaret being erected in the former Turkish quarter of Bir al-'Azab to marvel at the efficient organisation of the building team and the precision of the masonry work. When I left Yemen for the Summer months, the foundations had been completed and the elegant black stone base of the tower was well underway.