The Haji Ibrahim Mosque, constructed at the beginning of the 20th century in the Issyk-Kul region of northeastern Kyrgyzstan, stands out as a captivating architectural wonder that draws the attention of both local and foreign tourists.
Situated in Karakol, the administrative center of the Issyk-Kul region, approximately 380 kilometers from the capital city of Bishkek, the mosque entices visitors with its distinctive Chinese Buddhist temple-style design. Erected by the Dungans, a Muslim people forced to migrate to Central Asia due to the civil war in China during the late 19th century, this mosque boasts 42 columns and an exquisite Chinese-style roof. Despite its outwardly complex appearance, the construction of this 27-meter long and 15-meter wide mosque relied on notches and grooves instead of iron nails.
According to Dungan culture, each color employed in the mosque carries various symbolic meanings. For instance, the color red is believed to ward off evil spirits, yellow signifies prosperity, and green represents happiness. The mosque stands on four pillars encircling its perimeter, which rest upon stone pedestals supporting the lower carved portion of the structure as well as the roof. Moreover, the mosque’s beams are not affixed but rather held together solely by sinuses and special sections, allowing for potential dismantlement at any given time.
Featuring three intricately carved roofs with south-facing pediments and curved corners, the four beams surrounding the mosque’s perimeter display Chinese figures such as dragons, lions, and phoenixes. Approximately 30 columns, painted in gold and standing on large dark blue pedestals, support the mosque, while decorative images of grapes, pears, pomegranates, and peaches adorn the edges of the roof. In adherence to the Muslim tradition of facing the holy Kaaba in Mecca during prayers, the mosque’s windows are positioned on the north and south walls.
The construction of the mosque was initiated in 1910 by Haji Ibrahim, a Dungan leader who migrated to Central Asia during the late 19th century. While local craftsmen handled the foundations and stonework, the wooden elements of the mosque were built by a Chinese wood architect and 20 skilled wood craftsmen, meticulously avoiding the use of nails. The entire construction process took three years and employed spruce, elm, and walnut wood.
During the Soviet era, the mosque was repurposed as a warehouse until it was restored and reinstated as a place of worship in 1947. Subsequently, it also functioned as a museum. In 2016, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) carried out renovations on the mosque’s landscaping and ablution hall. Furthermore, the mosque annually hosts religious holiday celebrations, attracting thousands of local and foreign tourists and solidifying its status as a prominent regional attraction.
For over 26 years, Nasser Nakizbek has been diligently tending to the mosque, ensuring its cleanliness and providing guidance to visitors. Nakizbek, in an interview with İHA reporter, emphasized that Haji Ibrahim, a Dungan of origin, sponsored the construction of the mosque, with Chinese wood craftsmen being responsible for its erection. Nakizbek proudly stated, “Our ancestors also contributed to the construction, bringing pine trees from the mountains for the mosque.” The absence of nails in the construction process remains a fascinating aspect for visitors, captivating their interest and drawing them to the mosque, which Muslims frequent for their five daily prayers.
Almazbek Sagındıkov, the representative of the Kyrgyzstan Muslims’ Religious Administration in the Issyk-Kul region, noted that the mosque attracts tourists throughout the year, both in summer and winter. He emphasized that it serves as the primary destination for those visiting the city of Karakol, and it receives visitors from Europe, Arab countries, and Turkey. Sagındıkov highlighted the curiosity of Turkish tourists regarding the mosque’s history and its endurance during the period of Soviet repression.
Sagındıkov acknowledged that Islam faced a challenging time during the 20th-century Soviet repression. In 1929, the mosque was converted into a warehouse, only to be reopened as a place of worship in 1947. The Soviet era saw the conversion of most of Karakol city’s nine mosques into cinemas and shops, resulting in the destruction of many of them. However, the Haji Ibrahim Mosque miraculously survived and played a pivotal role in the propagation of Islam in the region during that tumultuous period.
With its rich history, unique architecture, and religious significance, the Haji Ibrahim Mosque continues to serve as a symbol of cultural heritage and spiritual devotion. Its ability to captivate tourists and locals alike stands as a testament to its enduring allure and contribution to the cultural fabric of the Issyk-Kul region.