Even a casual visitor is struck with awe when he happens to visit Masjid Mahabat Khan. The magnificent 17th century Mughal era mosque is located in the narrow street of the famous Ander Sheher bazaar now known as jewellery market. It was built by Mahabat Khan, a powerful general in the Mughal army, statesman and governor of Peshawar during the rule of Shah Jehan and Aurangzeb Alamgir. Named after its builder, Mahabat Khan, as he used to fund and look after it, the biggest mosque of the historic city stands today proudly not only as a splendid Mughal tasteful architecture but also bespeak as an emblem of the Mughal king`s religiosity. The Mughal taste is reflected in the colours and designs manifested in the ornamentation work done all over the structure.
Experts have yet to determine the exact date of its completion in the absence of any epigraphically established details but most believe that it might have been completed in 1670 during the last days of emperor Aurangzeb`s reign. Once located on the highest point of the inner city, Masjid Mahabat Khan is now surrounded by busy markets and roads. Three raised entrances from east, north and south lead to the main structure of the mosque where a central ablution pond is surrounded by 15 low roofed cells and westward frontal prayer pad.
Rectangular in shape, the mosque is spread over an area of 30,155sq feet. Three beautiful fluted domes designed in cavettos and gilded finials with two minarets supported by a domed pavilion lend an attractive look to the mosque. The pavilion rests on a concave platform with screened railings. The minarets run high in three storeys that could be accessed with a thin flight of steps. Also there is a chain of low minarets along the fortifications supporting the structure of the arched opening. The other five arched openings from eastern side lead into its five compartments.
All the compartments have deep arches in the depth of the western wall to serve as pulpit. Arches bisecting the compartments stand on high wharfs. The central compartment supporting the main pulpit has much deeper arch. The frontal exterior and interior have panels of different shapes and sizes decorated with mural paintings, and floral patterns coupled with Quranic verses sprinkled all through pillars, ceiling, inner walls and concave dome and background of the main pulpit.
The mosque has a strange story of being razed and plundered during Sikh rule. The top minarets were destroyed by a great fire in June 1895. Paolo Bartolomeo Avitabile (Abu Tabela), an Italian mercenary serving as governor of Peshawar under Ranjeet Singh used to hang a local tribesman each day at the top of the minaret. However, local faithfuls and later on the British rebuilt the historic mosque. During the late 80s renovation work was again undertaken but it failed miserably as the interior floral designs and fresco decoration have started uprooting. Also lime coat from frontal walls of the cells is fading away which needs immediate attention of the concerned officials to save it from environmental hazards.