The Sunheri Masjid, is a late Mughal architecture-era mosque in the Walled City of Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab. Sunehri Mosque is located in the Kashmiri Bazaar of the Walled City of Lahore.
Unlike the Wazir Khan Mosque and Badshahi Mosque which were built at the zenith of the Mughal Empire in the 17th century, the Sunehri Mosque was built in 1753 when the empire was in decline.
The architect of the mosque was Nawab Bukhari Khan, deputy governor of Lahore during the reign of Muhammad Shah. Local shopkeeper had objected to the construction of a large mosque in a congested area, so Bukhari Khan acquired a fatwa from local religious leaders in order for construction to begin.
The stories associated with this historic mosque are worth narrating. Built in the era of Mughal decline in 1753, almost half a century after Emperor Aurangzeb died, and 12 years before the Sikh rule commenced, its construction was opposed by both local traders and by the ‘mullahs’ of the area.
The traders opposed it because it would allegedly harm their profits by congesting the already congested bazaar. The ‘mullahs’ opposed it because traders threatened to cut off their funding if they supported the project. In the end, an interesting solution was arrived at.
The builder of the mosque was Nawab Bukhari Khan, the then deputy governor of Lahore in the reign of Mir Munoo, the Arain strongman of Lahore. Nawab Bukhari met the traders first and promised that they would not be asked to pay donations for the mosque. It would have shops on the ground floor, whose rent would pay for the maintenance of the mosque.
As the plot of land was a small vacant one, the mosque did not hinder the work of the traders. If anything, it added to their demand level. He then asked the traders, who were now satisfied with the solution, to convince the ‘mullahs’ to issue a ‘fatwa,’ stating that the building of a mosque was an Islamic act and much needed by the traders. In return, they promised to continue financing the ‘mullahs’.
So it was in 1753 that the beautiful mosque was completed. Soon afterwards, the Sikh triumvirate of Gujjar Singh, Sobha Singh and Lehna Singh of the Bhangi Misl conquered Lahore on April 12, 1765 and the Sikh era started. The city was conquered with assistance of the Arain traders of Lahore. Amazingly, it was these very traders who also, much later in 1799, assisted Ranjit Singh wrest the city from these very three rulers. The arrival of the Sikhs, at least, led to an era of peace and an end to the Afghan pillage.
Maharajah Ranjit Singh took over Lahore in 1799 and it took him a decade to completely consolidate and expand his empire. After a few years, once the new ruler had grown strong, a Sikh priest led a group of soldiers and Sikh residents of the area and took over the mosque. They complained to the maharajah that ‘Azan,’ the call for prayer, was making life miserable for the Sikh and Hindu residents in the neighbourhood and they just wanted to end the noise.
Initially, the maharajah allowed them to control the mosque, provided it was turned into a ‘gurdwara’. So a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib was placed in the middle of the mosque and for all practical purposes, it became a ‘gurdwara’. It even had a new name and that was ‘Chota Sunehri Gurdwara’.
Within a fortnight, the same Sikhs went back to the ruler and told him that they just could not carry out this duty as they could not sleep due to it. So the mosque was returned to the Muslims but on two conditions. Firstly, they were to call the ‘Azan’ at a very low volume. Secondly, the rent accrued from the shops beneath the mosque would go to the government. It was a solution that both sides ‘agreed to’.
Most interestingly, the Muslims allowed the Sikhs, on special occasions, to use portions of the mosque.
Before the mosque was built, the plot of land was a vacant one, which Nawaz Bukhari Khan purchased.
The design of the mosque needs some explaining. The pillars ending in a lotus configuration certainly does provide glimpses of Hindu-Sikh architecture but then the domes are more bulbous with plant formations. Traditionalists do not like the design while others find the amalgamation of several sub-continental traditions a beautiful mix. In all aspects, it is a beautiful building.
By the time the upheavals that followed the death of Ranjit Singh and the rise of the East India Company came, the mosque was in considerable disrepair. The British under McLeod did carry out essential repair work. Later on as 1947 approached, the Muslims of Lahore collected funds to maintain a falling structure. Further neglect began to further damage this beautiful mosque.
In 2011, the Government of Punjab began a ₨5.78 million (US$55,000) project to restore the mosque with funding from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation of the United States of America. Minarets were resurfaced while the domes were re-gilded, while new marble floors were installed.