In the Houses of Worship series’, this time, we will introduce you to some of the astonishing mosques of Egypt.
1. Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun
Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque was built in Hijri 265 by the first Turk State, the Tulunids. The mosque welcomes its guests with an architecture relatively different from the Middle East structures. Its architecture has an essence from Central Asia, which is the homeland of the Turks.
There are many kind thoughts Turks left along with the mosque. Just as every historical artifact has a trace and a story, this mosque also has traces left behind. There are some incidents that happened during the construction of the mosque. One day in Ramadan, Ahmad Ibn Tulun goes to check the construction of the mosque and he sees that the workers are planning to work until sunset. He says to those in charge there,
“When will these poor people go home with their iftar food?”, then orders the workers to stop working in the afternoon. After that, all shifts in the month of Ramadan in Egypt stop after the afternoon prayer. There is another rumor about the mosque; Ahmad Ibn Tulun wants the mosque to be built on a high place where there are steep rocks around. When they ask the reason for that, he says, “I have to build the mosque in such a place that even if Egypt gets flooded, the mosque will stay dry, even if all Egypt gets burned down, the fire won’t get near it.”
Aside from being a historical artifact that contains the traces of Turks who ruled Egypt once upon a time, the mosque has also become a part of the culture.
2. Al-Azhar Mosque
Al-Azhar Mosque is the first mosque built by the Fatimid Empire. After the madrasa was established in 988 with 38 scholars, the journey of Al-Azhar University; one of the best universities in the Islamic world, began. Thus, the sun of wisdom of Islam shone over North Africa.
Al-Azhar Mosque entered a period of stagnation in education during the reign of the Ayyubid Empire that put an end to the Fatimids. When the Mamluk Empire, which put an end to the Ayyubids, was established, the university re-opened its doors as a Sunni education center. Azhar is a long-established mosque and madrasah which also witnessed Ottoman rule. One of the great rulers of the Ottoman Empire, the Conqueror of Egypt, Yavuz Sultan Selim, prayed many times in the Al-Azhar Mosque and listened to the Qur’an by making it read there.
During the French occupation, Napoleon first had Al-Azhar in Cairo in mind to destroy. Because the mosque was a deep-established education and science center where Islam spread from. When the French invasion was repelled, the Ottomans wanted to repair the damage the invasion caused, by appointing Muhammed Ali Pasha of Kavala as the autonomous governor. Thus, Al-Azhar entered into a process of change just like the rest of Egypt. Later on, courses such as mathematics, physics and European philosophy were added to Al-Azhar’s curriculum. In a short amount of time, Al-Azhar Mosque with the identity of today’s Al-Azhar University spread wisdom all over the Islamic world.
This well-established structure, which took part in resistance movements with the states that dominated Egypt, is waiting to walk you through the dusty pages of history in Cairo.
3. Mosque of Amr bin al-As
In Hijri 642, Muslim commander and the conqueror of Egypt Amr b. As (r.a) ordered the construction of a mosque in Fustat, which was the capital of Egypt for centuries. This mosque is considered to be one of the first religious buildings of Islam and the first mosque in Africa. The mosque is called “The Crown of Mosques” because of this.
Archaeologist Muhammed al-Mahjub, who works in Fustat, expresses the depth of the public’s sensitivity towards the mosque as follows;
“This mosque, built by Amr bin al-As in 641, is the first mosque in Africa and Egypt. Destruction and theft cases that took place in various cities of the country did not occur in Fustat thanks to the sensitivity of the people of the region”.
Amr bin As (r.a.) chose the site of the mosque because it faces the east of the Nile River because it looks towards the holy places, namely Mecca and Medina. However, as a result of geographical degeneration, the Nile riverbed has shifted westward. Thus, the mosque ended up being 500 meters west of the Nile River.
It was a place of worship, but also, a madrassa where many scholars and leaders studied at, and an important center that knowledge spread from in Egypt. The rules and values that form the basis of Islamic sciences and Arabic language literature fed Africa from this mosque.
Amr bin As Mosque also became famous for its conquests, like the commander, the Companions, after whom it was named. One of them conquered the land and spread the light of Islam. One of them conquered hearts with the wisdom of Islam and raised scholars and leaders.
4. Madrasa and Mosque of Sultan Hasan
When Sultan Hasan was only 23, he called over distinguished architects from all over the world and said; “Build the most impressive mosque on earth!”
Although Sultan Hasan was the ruler of the Mamluk State for a short time, he accomplished a lot. We see one of these accomplishments in the Sultan Hasan Mosque, which embraces the city in the heart of Cairo.
The architectural structure of the mosque bears the traces of Anatolian architecture in its domes, as well as the traces of Mamluk architecture. When visiting North African mosques, the foreign architecture of the mosques usually creates a different atmosphere as they are drifted away from the Anatolian architecture. However, unlike other mosques, Sultan Hasan Mosque creates a sense of intimacy in people.
When you enter the mosque, the corridor welcomes you to the jamaat. You reach the mihrab by going through history. Throughout the history of the madrasa one can appreciate the circles of knowledge of all four schools of thought. A subtle thought welcomes you in the structure of the madrassa. That is to say, the madrassa in the Sultan Hasan Mosque is spread over all four corners. The reason for that is the classrooms of the four schools of thought being in different corners.
5. Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah Mosque
Was inherited to Cairo in 1003 from the Fatimids. Al-Hakim Mosque is located within the old walls of Cairo and welcomes its visitors with its 1017-year history. With an unusual architecture, this mosque has a large courtyard surrounded by four walls. This mosque, which also has an imposing minaret, draws attention with its masjid structure divided by columns, too.
At sunrise, you can see the reflection of the sky on the floor of the courtyard of the mosque. In the desert heat of Cairo, this courtyard presents its community a fountain in the open air; the heated marbles give the feeling of walking in the desert to its visitors who want to reach the jamaat for prayer. While making you feel like you are walking in the desert, this mosque makes you walk in the old times.