Faidabad, in the northern suburb of Uttara, is among the poorest areas in Dhaka. The narrow dirt streets and the shacks that line the main arterial road are witness to that. It is far from any tourist spot – it can take a couple of hours of driving through Dhaka’s chaotic traffic and legendary jams to reach Faidabad from the centre of the city. Faidabad is also home to a remarkable mosque, modernist, austere and strikingly beautiful. Designed by Marina Tabassum, one of Bangladesh’s leading architects, the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque is built on land donated by her grandmother, Sufia Khatun, who unfortunately passed away before its completion in 2012.
The mosque is constructed out of terracotta brick, not covered in plaster but left exposed both inside and out. It is almost monastically minimalist, with no dome, minaret or mihrab, no decoration or ornamentation and virtually no furniture inside. Nor are there columns in the main prayer room, adding to the feeling of simplicity while giving a sense of great spaciousness.
Natural light filters into the mosque during the day, through open corners, perforated brickwork and holes in the ceiling through which dappled light caresses the floor of the main prayer room. It creates a stillness inside to which many religious buildings aspire but is quite unlike that of any other I have visited.
There is no separate area for women, so congregations are mixed. The building acts not only as a place of worship, but also as a community centre, meeting room and school.
Tabassum sees the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque as taking its inspiration from the Sultanate architecture that flourished in Bengal between the 14th and the16th centuries which is defined by red brick and simplicity. It is, however, also a uniquely modern construction, a religious building stripped bare of all the richness and ornamentation in which many others drape themselves, inspiring a sense of awe and wonder.