Activists laud efforts to preserve historical mosques in Swat

Published April 22, 2024
A view of Mahmood Ghaznavi Mosque after conservation. — Dawn
A view of Mahmood Ghaznavi Mosque after conservation. — Dawn

SWAT: Cultural heritage activists and historians have commended efforts to preserve several historical mosques in Swat and highlighted the significance of the Mahmood Ghaznavi Mosque in Udigram, Swat, as the second oldest mosque in the country.

They said the region had a large number of historical sites and monuments from the Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, and early Muslim eras.

“The Mahmood Ghaznavi Mosque is the oldest mosque in the northern parts of Pakistan and the second oldest in the country. Recognising its historical value, we felt the urgent need for its conservation,” Swat-based cultural activist Usman Ulasyar told Dawn.

He appreciated the initiative to conserve the mosque.

Amjad Ali, a cultural activist in Swat, said protecting the past meant protecting one’s identity, and the heritage sites, including the oldest mosque in the region, were the identity of early Muslims here.

Highlight significance of Mahmood Ghaznavi Mosque

“Preserving Swat’s cultural heritage is not just about protecting buildings. It’s about safeguarding our identity, stories, and roots for future generations,” he said.

Cultural activists said Swat had a rich archeological and heritage history, with hundreds of sites still existing in different areas.

“Our heritage is a testament to the rich tapestry of our history and civilisations that have flourished here. By conserving it, we honour our past and pave the way for a more enlightened future,” said local heritage preservation advocate Ali Shah.

Dr Abdul Samad, the director of archaeology and museum in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, highlighted the significance of the Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi Mosque in Udigram and said it was one of the oldest mosques in northern Pakistan, dating back to 1044 AD.

He said the ongoing conservation and preservation efforts were led by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums and supported by the World Bank through the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Integrated Tourism Development Project.

“The Mehmood Ghaznavi Mosque in Udigram is a venerable monument in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, tracing its roots to 1044 AD. It holds immense historical and scenic value as an archaeological gem in the Swat Valley. The provincial government is committed to promoting religious tourism in KP and undertaking various conservation projects across the province,” he said.

He said those efforts not only focused on Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh heritage sites but also covered four historical mosques, Pishmal, Kalam Mosque, Udigram Mosque, and Masjid Mohabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar.

Archeologists said the Mehmood Ghaznavi Mosque was built in the former Hindu royal capital of Udigram shortly after the defeat. Dating back to 1048–49 CE, the mosque was built on an early artificial terrace with remains of Gandharan masonry. It has a splendid design of old Muslim architecture.

They said the most striking aspects of the mosque were traces of 30-foot-high walls, a graveyard, common rooms, student rooms, and a water mill.

The residential area to the west of the mosque was already abandoned and was being used as a cemetery by the end of the 12th century. The mosque is about three kilometres from Udigram town on the main Barikot-Mingora Road in Swat. It was built with stones during the Ghaznavid period.

The mosque is an essential landmark in the archaeological treasure of Swat, dating back to the period of Mahmud or his grandson Mawdud (1041–1050 AD). In 1984, an inscription in Arabic engraved on a block of marble was found by chance on the hill’s northern slope that rises above the mosque.

The mosque is named after Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi, who is believed to have brought Islam to Swat in the 11th century. Historians said the mosque was proof of the advent of Islam in Swat and was a significant historical and archaeological site in the country.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2024

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