A s a mellifluous azaan signals time for namaaz, several Muslims — be it hawkers selling accessories and clothes on road or local residents — make their way towards a leafy lane off the Causeway main road in Colaba to offer their prayers in the quaint and modest Allana House.
To a passer-by, the Grade III Allana House looks like one of the several old buildings constructed during the Apollo Reclamation scheme between 1910 and 1915 in the upscale Colaba area. But if one steps inside the humble structure, he is struck by the building which is primarily a corporate office for the Allana group but also houses a tiny mosque on its ground floor.
What is even more interesting is that it welcomes all sub-sects of Muslims, be it Shia or Sunni, to pray together. According to a local who visits the mosque daily, a message in Arabic at the entrance says, “Allah rehmat ka darwaza khol de” (God, please open the door of blessings).
Incidentally, the ground-plus-four-storey building’s address is BPT plot number 786, a number revered by the Muslim community.
“I have been coming here for years now to pray five times in a day. Though my house is few blocks away, it feels good to pray with everyone. This is the only mosque in the neighbourhood where hawkers and shop owners can come and pray,” says 50-year-old Shabbir Ahmed, adding that the building comes alive specially during Ramadan when food is served to break their fast.
The building, city historian Deepak Rao says, was constructed around 1915. “All the buildings in that area, from Regal cinema till the end of the road, was on land reclaimed by Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT). This building was given to the Allana family on lease during 1970s,” says Rao.
The structure is predominated by wood and was recently painted with a fresh coat of light yellow.
The lane on which Allana House stands today was named “Barrow road” after H W Barrow, the erstwhile secretary of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, says another historian, Rafique Baghdadi.
“The buildings in that lane and the parallel lanes have a New Orleans look. They is infused with French architecture. If one stands on the main road near Regal cinema and looks ahead, they will feel they are in New Orleans,” says Baghdadi.
Another dominant feature in buildings are “hoot-like-structure” on windows (parapet like projection often in arched semi-circle, or rectangular to protect it from rains) which were predominant during the early 20th century,” Baghdadi adds.
“The building was taken on lease by Allana group in 1979. Back then, men working in near-by lanes used to request us to provide a space to pray. Slowly, it became a favourite spot and finally a small mosque was set up,” says an employee of Allana House, adding that the mosque was set up in the garage space during eighties.
The mosque was briefly caught in a controversy when over-crowding forced several devouts to occupy space on the road for praying. The upscale society complained to the Colaba police. “The residents in near-by buildings did not appreciate it when the roads used to get blocked during prayer time. Later, proper provisions were made in the building’s ground floor for us. It is privilege to pray in a building so beautiful,” says the employee.
The building is currently undergoing small repair works to cope with rains. Umar Farooq, a maintenance worker in the building, said, “We are making sure there are no leakages in the structure. This is a very well-maintained building, so it does not need major repairs.”
In a measure of the building’s popularity, the lane’s name was changed from Barrow Road to J A Allana Road a few years ago.