Archaeologists have uncovered a 1,000-year-old mosque close to the construction site of the Sheikh Khalifa mosque in Al Ain – making it the earliest yet discovered in the UAE.
The remains, which date back to Islam’s Early Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate, were found close to several falaj, or irrigation waterways, and comprise at least three buildings made of mudbrick.
Archaeologists from the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) discovered a mihrab – the niche in the walls closest to Makkah in mosques – both inside and outside the building.
This means the faithful would have prayed inside and outside the mosque, just as they do today.
Fragments of pots, which were likely used for ablution, or ceremonial washing, and other ritual purposes, were found inside the remains and date from the ninth to the 10th Centuries CE.
Radiocarbon dating of one of the nearby falaj confirm that the mosque is the earliest yet discovered in the UAE.
“The new findings at the Al Ain archaeological sites prove the richness of the region’s history, which allows us to expand our knowledge of ages long past,” said Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi.
“The discovery of a mosque from the Abbasid period in Al Ain demonstrates the deeply rooted influences of Islam in the region, despite the immense distance from where Islam first emerged and at a time when modes of transportation were quite rudimentary,” he said.
The findings display “clear and profound cultural influences” that reveal how the connections established by our ancestors with neighbouring cultures and nations transcended borders and surmounted difficulties associated with transport, said Mr Al Mubarak.
The buildings at the site are the remains of a small fortress and several other structures.
People living in the buildings would have obtained fresh water from several falaj constructed around the settlement.
The technology used to create falaj waterways in Al Ain dates back 3,000 years.
In the early Islamic period, people in Al Ain improved the existing technology by using fired bricks to ensure the stability and durability of the underwater channels. When excavated these falaj were still intact.
Experts believe the mosque indicates the popularity and position of Islam in the UAE in the centuries following Prophet Mohammed. And they say the finds of the fragments of pots and other artefacts show how the spread of Islam opened up trade and ushered in a new global age of commerce.
They included ceramics which had been imported from the rest of the Arabian Gulf, along with several fragments of Dusun ceramics, which were discovered in the mosque and adjacent buildings. Dusun ceramics were produced in the Guangdong province of south China and traded across east Asia and the Middle East.
Archaeologists are continuing to research Al Ain and elsewhere in Abu Dhabi in an effort to further understand the early centuries of Islam, said DCT Abu Dhabi.
Archaeologists have also investigated a Christian church which dates to this period on the island of Sir Bani Yas. Discovered during excavations in 1992, the Christian monastery and church are evidence of another feature of the early Islamic period, say archaeologists, the tolerance and acceptance of other religions, which is still a feature of life in today’s UAE, said DCT Abu Dhabi.