After 21 days of non-stop work, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi inaugurated the Imam Hussein Mosque in central Cairo. The mosque has recovered its charm as one of the most prestigious, historic, and religious landmarks in Egypt following a renovation project that cost 150 million Egyptian pounds (1$-18.5 Egyptian pound).
Accompanied by Sultan of the Bohra sect in India Mufaddal Seif Al-Din, Sisi visited the mosque and examined the renovations including the new cabin in the Imam Hussein shrine.
“The development of the Imam Hussein Mosque came in light of the president’s directives to restore the shrines of Ahl al-Bayt including the tombs of Imam Hussein, Sayyida Nafisa, and Sayyida Zaynab. The renovations included repairing the interior halls of the mosques and their architectural decorations, along with developing services and facilities surrounding the sites including roads, squares, and entrances leading to them. This project aims at supporting the government’s efforts to develop the historic sites in the capital,” said Presidential Spokesperson Ambassador Bassam Rady in a statement.
The project kicked off in mid-March. The mosque was closed and the renovations were launched based on a protocol signed in December with the Ministry of Awqaf, syndicate of Al Ashraf, the Sufi Association, and Mawadda association for the development and embellishment of the Imam Hussein Mosque. According to the protocol, the Masajid Development Foundation pledged to fund the project with 150 million Egyptian pounds.
Sisi and the accompanying delegation started their visit with prayers, and then examined the Imam Hussein Shrine where he read Al Fatiha. Then, he visited the chamber featuring the memorabilia of the Prophet Muhammad including hair strands, kohl tool, a sword and a cane, in addition to a Quran written by Imam Ali on deer leather, comprising 501 pages and weighing 4.5 kg.
The project manager briefed the president on the renovation, saying “the development works were accomplished in a record time. They took 21 days with the participation of 300 workers. The works included restoring walls, replacing damaged parts, selecting colors matching the historic columns, painting over 4,000 square meters of ceilings, changing electricity grid and improving its efficiency, equipping the mosque with a central cooling system, replacing the lightning and sound systems, expanding women’s praying space to accommodate 450 instead of 85, adding an external space that accommodates 3,000 worshipers, building a fence featuring six entrance gates and four parking gates, and adding a Qibla in the external space and a stage for Eid prayers.”
The president assured that ‘the landmark was preserved during the project,” stressing that “all the works were implemented in coordination with the ministry of tourism and antiquities.” For his part, the project manager emphasized that “all the implemented works were executed in coordination with the ministry, even the controversial restoration of the dome and its improved air conditioning system.”
The restoration of the Imam Hussein Mosque sparked some controversy over the past weeks. Archeologists and heritage advocates shared photos of the projects on social media and criticized equipping the dome with an air conditioner, and constructing a wall around the mosque for fear of “affecting the historic identity of the mosque.” The closure of the mosque before the Holy Month was also criticized, which prompted the ministry of Awqaf to reopen it for prayers as of the beginning of Ramadan.
“According to historic writings, the head of Imam Hussein ibn Ali ibin Abi Talib was transferred from Ashkelon to Cairo, on 8 Jumada al-Thani in 548 AH/1153 AD. It was carried in a cellar to the Emerald Palace, then it was buried in the Mashhad Dome, which was constructed for this purpose in 549 AH (1154 AD). When Saladin took the rule of Egypt in 1171 AD, he built a school near the dome, which was later turned into the current Imam Hussein Mosque,” said Dr. Abdullah Kamel, professor of Islamic antiquities, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“In 1235 AD, Abu Al Kassem bin Yahya bin Nasser al-Sukari, launched the construction of a minaret that was completed in 1236. It’s a decorated gypsum minaret above the green door, dating to the Fatimid Caliphate, and it was constantly renewed and maintained. The current mosque was built during the rule of Isma'il Pasha. It took 10 years and was completed in 1873. The area of the mosque was expanded from 1,550 meters to 1,840 meters in the 1950s,” Kamel added.
Ambassador Rady hailed “the appreciated efforts of Sultan of the Bohra sect to renovate and restore the shrines of Ahl Al Bayt and other historic mosques in Egypt, in addition to contributing to various charity works such as supporting the ‘Tahya Masr Fund’.”
Egypt has built great ties with the Bohra sect. Over the past years, the Egyptian president and Bohra Sultan met several times: in August 2014, July 2019, and in 2018. During each of the three meetings, Sultan Mufaddal Seif Al-Din donated 10 million Egyptian pounds to the ‘Tahya Masr Fund’, according to official reports.