In the heart of the busy streets of Pettah, rising proudly out of the bustling crowds of Colombo, the red and white structure of the Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque (colloquially known to locals as the Red Mosque) stands as one of the most popular tourist attractions of the city, as well as being one of the oldest mosques in Colombo. Its clock tower and candy-cane-striped minarets, towering over its surroundings, are visible for miles around and were once used as a landmark by sailors approaching Colombo’s ports. Commissioned to be built in the early 1900s by the local Muslim community, who were in need of a central location for their daily prayers, the construction of the mosque was completed and open to devotees by 1909. The mosque was designed by Habibu Labbe Saibu Lebbe, an unknown architect of the time, in the style of Indo-Saracenic buildings. One of its key features are the “pomegranate-shaped domes”, which are said to be different to the traditional onion-shaped domes of mosques.
The Red Mosque was originally built to accommodate 1500 worshippers. Today, the mosque has expanded its capacity and can hold up to 10,000 prayer-goers. Four beautiful teak columns within the structure helps to support the two floors of the mosque, and its interior has been renovated with tiles featuring early 20th-century designs. Visitors of all faiths are welcomed, although women are asked to cover their hair, arms and legs to respect the mosque’s religious customs.