Saturday, September 29, 2012

Religious Intensity at Sayyida Zaynab Mosque

Sayyida Zaynab Area: This area is a popular (common, poorer) quarter of Cairo. People definitely aren't used to seeing tourists, and I was the only outsider I saw on my venture. The district is significant enough to have a metro stop, carrying the saint's appellation . Sayyida Zaynab is the patron saint of Cairo and granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The mosque named after her encloses her shrine and is located on a square also bearing her name. Her memorial is surrouned by a finely worked bronze grille, although of an alloy that looks silver. I had read that it is a highly-visited pilgrimage site. And it did seem a bit like the Lourdres of this part of Cairo. Outside, I could see the maimed and poor, lying or sitting before the doorways, asking for donations. One woman with a bandaged ankle was stretched out on a mat resting on her elbow directly next to the mosque entrance. Others in need were offering miniature Qur'ans for a contribution or simply begging. I got a small red one with gold script for a small contribution. It must have been ladies' time/day, since I was allowed to enter the part of the mosque with the shrine. I asked the man collecting the shoes if I needed a scarf; and he said "no." He also said I shouldn't give money to anyone on the inside. I was surprised and the liberal (or so I interpreted it) gesture of headscarf-waiving definitely did not prepare me for what I found inside. I saw women standing with their heads pressed intently against the tomb enclosure, as if beseeching a higher power. While waiting for an older woman to rise with assistance from the floor (there were no chairs), I began taking pictures, when suddenly a caretaker, collecting money and presiding over a niche along the shrine, began screaming at me to delete the pictures. I deleted the ones including her.
Other women were seated on a carpeted floor around a small court area, offering supplications or pleading for help for serious concerns. One of them in a corner, with legs stretched out in front under her black gown, entreated me to sit down beside her. She and the alms collector, relentlessly yelling "delete, delete," looked through all of my pictures, until they were satisfied that the necessary ones were gone. The woman on the ground noticed that I had the small Qur'an, given to me in exchange for a donation. She wanted it, began reading the verses, kissing it, praising Allah and Muhammad, and seemed to be indicating that I shouldn't have it, since I wasn't a Muslim. She intuited that I was American. She didn't seem hostile but certainly wanted to express her passion and love for the Prophet and her religion in the face of my calm composure.
Finally, a man escorted me out of the sanctuary. All of the women had been dressed in black of a style designating them as traditional, lower middle class and believe me they were religious. None of them, however, had their faces completely covered. All of them, when picking up their shoes while leaving, were reverent, deferential, and generous in their offerings. I definitely wished my Arabic was better. Old-Style Market: On the side of the mosque facing the square, vendors were selling Qur'ans and religious sundries. On the other side was a huge customary market. Spices were sold in one area, clothes in another, food in another, etc. What fun to wander through the narrow passages and see what was for sale and who was shopping. A few people seemed startled to see an outsider. Here, though, I was basically unnoticed and in general pictures weren't questioned.
Spice Market area.
Child on table in the midst of selling dinnerware.
Navigating the passageways.
Freshly baked bread.
Fruit stand.
Many butcher shops across the square from the mosque/shrine. Unassuming sheep about to meet their fates.
More meat for the butchers. Carcasses are hung on hooks in or in front of the shops.
I followed narrow streets of the Sayyida Zaynab neighborhood back to my own, Garden City. I remember the one of furniture makers. Bought some bread from a bakery.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Dr. Sally Michael Hanna, Vice Dean for Education and Student Affairs at October 6 University, is a Coptic Christian I met at St. Andrew's United Church of Christ. She has been a Fulbright Scholar at the State University of New York-Cobleskill. She is unmarried living with her parents in Heliopolis. Yesterday, I went to Cairo Plaza Turgoman Bus Station to get my ticket to Bahariyya. It's a modern bus station, inside a fenced square, located next to the very busy 6th of October overpass. Underneath the overpass, mostly clothing vendors are competing to attract customers with their racks of dresses, suits, ties, etc. It took forever for the ticket to print out; but I'm set to go–leaving Sunday.
Sunset from front window of apartment at 5:00 PM.
Sunset at 5:30 PM. As sun continued to set–becoming bright tangerine and ever more florescent against a grayed purplish background, photographs on my camera wouldn't turn out at all.
Moonrise as seen from back window of apartment, approximately 5:30 PM. Remember, there's smog in Cairo.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Here I just want to post some photos of the Zar. The rhythms of the music were great and the singing due to the dancing and expressions of the performers (especially the woman in the beautiful red gown–sparkling gold trim and large gold earrings and rings, colored sequins in the patterns below the neckline of her dress) made it such that the show was never dull.
Name of the center.
Plate with incense passed in front of performers as Zar begins.
Many types of drums, tambourines, rattles used and sometimes a flute. I saw the group tightening the skins of drums and tambourines over a heating element before the show began.
The dancer using large brass finger cymbal clapper castanets.
Enticed the audience with bodily movements in sync with the music as well as with facial expressions and gestures (using her gold-trimmed veil) to engage and seduce spectators.
At intervals, music reached a frenzied climax.
Background drummers.
Male dancers wearing belts of shells and feathers. Black and hibiscus teas were offered free at intermission.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Townhouse Art Gallery and Pastries

The Seven Billionth Citizen: Townhouse Gallery, off Talaat Harb Circle, is showing an exhibit by this name. The world's seven billionth citizen was born on October 31, 2011, according to an announcement by the United Nations. Seven collaborators, representing the arts and social sciences, from the world's five major population zones displayed video projections on large canvasses. They sought to capture the strangeness of the moment and engage with the sublime, "describing a relation of perception, between mind and a universe of daunting scale." They wanted to reflect on the impossibility of truly comprehending even that which is thoroughly measured by science. Certainly made me introspective.
Atelier: Nearby was a place called the Workshop (Atelier) showing works of expressionist art, ceramics, jewelry, and other crafts. It was fun watching people in the neighborhood and felt a bit like being in downtown Chicago–a lot of diversity. Smart shops on a main street (Talaat Harb, founder of the Bank of Egypt), small outdoor cafés with men smoking shisha or playing backgammon (one woman in a back row) lining the smaller lanes. I took to an elegant corner patisserie (named Al Abd) selling all types of pastries, small cookies, and ice cream cones. I had to take home a couple boxes of treats. Women in the area were attired all in black, in black dress with African affects, in what any European or North American female would wear, and in colorful clothes with the hijab. Young women often wear quite suggestive outfits usually with the headscarf. It seems that once they're married with children, more conservative dress takes over.
Unexpected and Unwanted Charm Offensive: My cabbie for the trip home was a modern day representative of Gamal Abdul Nasser exuding tons of charm. I could feel it radiating outward, conveying itself throughout the front seat. I had gotten in the front, as another passenger was soon to exit the back. He was really handsome and dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt and light pants. He offered me a cigarette, which I declined. What I could understand of his Arabic indicated that he liked American women, who he said were thinner than Egyptian woman (in his perception). Took a longer way home; it did prove to avoid heavier traffic. On the way, a truck swiped and scraped his side mirror. When he wanted to go a different way on a freeway exit, he just backed up. Many taxi drivers do this, as police surveillance is basically nonexistent. A lot of small talk; and then he said we could go to Sharm al-Sheikh together. I said I'd been there. So he suggested Alexandria. Good thing I was finally home. Usually no one pays that much attention to me. I guess here was an unmarried man who wanted a vacation.
Zar: Tonight, I attended a Zar at Makan (means Place in Arabic) - The Egyptian Center for Culture and Art. It's walkable from my apartment. Now basically a cultural, musical event, the Zar (the word means visit) is a trance religious ceremony, still practiced a bit in Upper Egypt, that uses drumming, flute playing, singing, and dancing to cure an illness thought to be caused by a demon. The lady you see at the center of this photo was the star of the show. The Zar is not an "exorcism," as the spirit is not intended to be removed from the body. The main purpose of the animal sacrifice is appease a deity and to secure its favor. There was no animal sacrifice in this performance, although a friendly cat appeared startled at the suggestion. I went with some friends and had a fun night out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Still Some Democracy Promotion

Meeting Attempt: Tried to have meeting with Dr. Heba Raouf, Professor of Political Theory at Cairo University. Met her but she seems reluctant to have a discussion. So Riham told me a bit about her doctoral thesis (a transnational perspective on how Muslim women intellectuals have fought for rights within Islam) and her work as as an advisor for the Model U.S. Congress. The Congress gets funds from the U.S. Embassy and is entirely student run. Students get to meet two U.S. Congress persons (representing both U.S. political parties) at the U.S. ambassadors residence. One of the six female members of the Constituent Assembly, Manal Al-Tiby, resigned on Monday September 24 to protest “the dominance of political Islam over the assembly.” Riham said one of the main problems regarding women's rights is that they are associated with the old regime and called "Suzanne's laws." Popular Islam in Egypt doesn't see women as fit to hold political office and that hasn't changed.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sun and the Nile

Sun and River: Every night, either when I'm walking along the Corniche (coastal road) near my building or in my apartment, I get to see the two marvels that were most important to the ancient Egyptians, the sun and the Nile River. For people in ancient Egypt, the sun was a source of life. It was power and energy, light and warmth. It was what made the crops grow each season, so it is no surprise that the cult of Ra had immense power and was widespread. By the time of approximately the fourth dynasty, the pharaohs themselves were seen as incarnations of Ra, assuming themselves absolute power. And the sun is still so important; it impacts the rhythm of every day life. During the hottest days of summer, the pace slows. During winter, energy can rebound. And it's worth repeating what Herodotus said so many years ago, "Egypt is the gift of the Nile." It's where the world's first civilization began in the 31st century BC. And today, most of Egypt's 85 million people are crowded into the areas along its shores. Immersing myself in the country and its culture gives me a vivid and immediate appreciation of those events and artifacts I had only read about in books. Through the Fulbright experience in Egypt, I can make the country's past come alive and understand directly contemporary issues. Reliving the past helps make sense of Egyptian identity today.
Today's Taxi Experience: My driver to the Seoudi Market today had a torso sculpture of the Virgin Mary in a domed terrarium on the dashboard of the taxi as well as stickers of St. George and Jesus. He was listening to Qur'anic verses recited on the radio. Yet, I got a detour version of the trip I usually take to Doqqi (where the market is). Also, even though he was making more money, the driver was impatient and bad-tempered. When I reprimanded him that the trip was "very, very expensive," since this particular trip usually didn't cost that much, he started to get argumentative. So, I just paid the fare and got out. He had suggested waiting for me. I'm definitely glad I didn't agree to that. Voted: Faxed my write-in absentee ballot today along with a secrecy waiver. I'll eventually receive an official one, which can be sent by mail. In case that one doesn't arrive at the DuPage Election Commission by November 6, my write-in one will be used.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lunch and Al-Muizz Street (Tour Continuation)

Lunch at Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant in Khan al-Khalili: Lunch was at a traditionally decorated restaurant in the heart of Cairo's noisy bazaar area. The staff wore customary waiters' outfits; the ceiling was of long, linear arches with colorful tiling. Starters were Arabic bread, baba ghanouj, and chopped cucumber in yoghurt. My entrée was kofta, grilled lamb pieces (very tender), grilled vegetables, and rice. Many types of smoothies and fruit drinks were available. Some customers were smoking shisha in the café portion.
Muizz Street: Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street was named for the Fatimid caliph who conquered Cairo in 969 AD and was the main street of medieval Cairo. The wall of the ancient Fatimid City had eight gates of which 3 remain. Our bus parked close to Bab al-Zuwayla (named after members of the Fatimid army who hailed from a North African Berber tribe called the Zuwayli), which marks the southern end of the Fatimid city, as Bab al-Futuh (Gate of the Conquest [literally Gate of the Opening]) marks the north. Al-Muizz, the central artery of medieval Cairo, runs (.6 mile long) from the latter through the former. Between the Two Palaces: The Fatimid general who organized the town (Al-Qahirah) did so in such a way that the caliphal palace was at the center. Fifty years after the construction of the first palace, another smaller palace was erected to the west of the first. The area and plaza between these two palaces received the name of “Bayn al-Qasrayn”. This name still marks the area, even though later dynasties destroyed all the original Fatimid buildings. The site influenced a novel by the Egyptian Nobel prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz. Palace Walk is a novel by the author. Originally published with the title Bayn al-Qasrayn (lit. Between the Two Palaces), the book was translated into English as Palace Walk. The setting of the novel is Cairo during and just after World War I. It begins in 1917, during World War I, and ends in 1919, the year of the nationalist revolution. The book's Arabic title, literally meaning "between two palaces," highlights the cultural and political transition Egypt experienced at this time, developments brought into focus by the lives of the Al-Gawad family.
Mashrabiyya Windows: Muizz street is lined with many buildings displaying the distinctive architectural style of Islam -- embellishment with fine mashrabiya (decorative woodwork) façades. Fountain-School: Sabil-Kuttab of Katkhuda is one of the most important monuments in this old part of Islamic Cairo, Egypt. This building is an example of Ottoman and Mamluk architecture mixed with Islamic architecture. The Sabil-Kuttab was constructed to achieve maximum availability–at the juncture of two streets and thus able to have three free-standing sides. Sabils and Kuttabs were almost everywhere in old Islamic Cairo during Mamluk and Ottoman times. Sabils are facilities providing free, fresh water for thirsty people who are passing by. Kuttabs are religious schools that teach children to read and write the Qur'an.
Al-Aqmar Mosque: This mosque (The Moonlit) is one of the few dating from Fatimid times. Its façade is inscribed with a medallion including the names of both Muhammad and Ali, indicating that it is a Shiite mosque. The name Ali is at the center of the ornamentation with Muhammad around the periphery. The entrance is covered by a ribbed and fluted ridge within outer bands of simple geometric design. This is an open enclosure mosque, rectangular in plan. The site was originally occupied by a Coptic monastery. Restoration has been carried out by the Bohara Indian sect.
Bayt al-Suhaymi: Branching off Muizz Street is a fine mashrabiya window-lined passage, where Bayt Al-Suhaymi or (Al-Suhaymy House) is found–a great example of Ottoman-style architecture. Photo to left is actually an embellishment from the Sabil-Kuttab mentioned above. When sabils first appeared in Cairo in the fourteenth century, they were attached to mosques and other religious buildings that were founded by sultans and elite members. Later, wealthy men and women built them as separate structures at prominent locations in the city. Only in Cairo was an elementary school, called a kuttab, included in the same building, above the sabil. These sabil-kuttabs became a standard feature of the city’s landscape. When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, his surveyors counted more than three hundred of them in Cairo.
Mosque of Al-Hakim: The mosque is named after Imam Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the sixth Fatimid caliph, the 16th Ismaili imam, and the first Fatimid ruler to have been born in Egypt. Hakim's erratic behavior left a controversial legacy. Al-Hakim used to wander alone at night on his donkey in the Muqattam hills. One night, he mysteriously disappeared, probably killed. A vizier of his called Darazi fled to Syria where he preached his divinity, founding the Druze sect. Its two corner minarets, different in shape and decoration, are encased in projecting trapezoidal stone structures that project into the street. The tops were replaced in 1303 during the Mamluk period after an earthquake destroyed the upper portions. The Bohara Indian sect has been active in restoring this mosque and many Fatimid-era buildings in Cairo. Dawoodi Bohra is a subsect of Ismaili Shia Islam. The Dawoodi Bohra trace their belief system back to Yemen, where it evolved from the Fatimid Caliphate and where they were persecuted due to their differences from mainstream Sunni Islam and Zaydi Shia Islam. Before the northern gate is a building that housed the huge cistern which supplied water to the surrounding area.
Bab al-Futuh: Bab al-Futuh is one of three existing gates of the Fatimid walls of Cairo. The square-towered Bab al-Nasr (Gate of Victory) and the rounded Bab al-Futuh were built in 1087 as the two principal northern entrances to the walled Fatimid city of Al-Qahira. Finally, an interesting, informative, even inspirational day has ended. Note on the Fatimids: The Fatimids (descendants of the Prophet's daughter Fatima and her husband Ali) founded Al-Qahira shortly after the taking of Fustat in 969 . Al-Qahira was designed to house only the governing elite; the population of Fustat was not initially allowed to settle here. As Shia Muslims, the ruling dynasty held different religious views from the Sunni Egyptian population. Al-Qahira, the area of modern Cairo now called "Islamic," formed the centre of the city up until the mid-nineteenth century.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reviewing History Day/Coptic and Islamic Cairo

Babylon Fortress: Dr. Chahinda Karim, Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the American University in Cairo, served as the guide for for our Fulbright group today; she was terrific! And we started out with falafel patties in pita bread! First stop was Babylon. All that's left of the fortress founded in 30 BC and rebuilt in the 2nd century is part of a towered entrance. The site was closer to the Nile, which has shifted westward. The Romans brought Christianity to Egypt. Traditional religious beliefs in Egypt facilitated an acceptance of Christianity. Egyptians, for instance, recognized one supreme god; all others were manifestations of this, according to Karim. For example, a holy family, trinity, resurrection, purgatory, heaven, and hell were all concepts found in ancient Egyptian religion. Under Diocletian the streets of Alexandria were said to have run red with the blood of martyrs. However, with the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Hanging Church: St. Mark is said to have brought Christianity to Alexandria in the 4th century AD and was martyred on the site of what is today St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in that city.
As many as twelve churches once existed within the walls of the old Roman fortress. St. George's Greek Orthodox Church is one that has survived. Most churches in Egypt today are Coptic, a denomination that split off from the Greek Orthodox Church. After three indecisive church councils, Egyptian Christians split with Greek Orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon. Copts today are called monophysites, since they believe in one nature of Christ, the divine, hence the focus on "mono." Since Christ was divine, the Virgin Mary in Coptic Christianity is also divine.
The Hanging Church is as old as the 3rd century AD. It's called hanging because it was built over a gatehouse and passages of Babylon Fortress. Logs of palm trees and layers of stones were constructed above the ruins of the Roman fortress to be used as a foundation. The Coptic Church still conducts its services in the Coptic language (usually repeated in Arabic), which is descended from ancient Egyptian. Hieroglyphics was reserved for the elite. Ancient Egyptians used first hieratic, then demotic, followed by Coptic written in Greek letters with six or seven additional demotic signs to account for sounds not in the Greek language. Eventually, with the Arab invasion in the 7th century, Arabic gradually replaced Coptic in Egyptians' daily speech.
Church of the Holy Family: No pictures are allowed in this church. However, it's believed that this is where Jesus and his parents stayed on their return from close to present day Assyut in Upper Egypt (where they received the news that Herod's edict had been lifted) to Palestine. The place is actually in a crypt below the present church, since street levels have risen tremendously over the years. The church, known in Arabic as Abu Serga, is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus, who were soldier-saints martyred during the 4th century in Syria by the Roman Emperor Maximilian. Coptic churches always have a separate sanctuary, which only the priest can enter.
Ben Ezra Synagogue: No photos allowed here either. The synagogue is a historical monument and no longer used for services. Very few Jews reside in Egypt today. Professor thinks that Exodus didn't occur during the time of Ramses II, since his mummy has been found; and he lived to be 90. She thinks it occurred during the rule of his son, Merneptah and that he's the one who perished in the waters of the Red Sea. A stele in the Egyptian Museum inscribed by Merneptah includes the first probable occurrence of the name "Israel" in the historical record. Although some traditions date the synagogue to Moses (who accordingly may have been found by pharaoh's daughter in a nearby Nile tributary), more common is the idea that Jeremiah was the founder of the synagogue. Tradition marks this as the spot where the prophet Jeremiah gathered the Jews in the 6th century after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Jerusalem temple. This was the synagogue whose geniza (or store room) was found in the 19th century to contain a treasure of abandoned Hebrew secular and sacred manuscripts. A balcony above the basilica-planned building is reserved for women. The famous medieval rabbi Moses Maimonides worshipped at Ben Ezra synagogue when he lived in Cairo.
Amr ibn al-'As Mosque: This mosque is the location of the oldest mosque in Egypt and all of Africa. Nonetheless, nothing of the original mosque remains above ground. The Arabs came to Egypt in the 7th century, having first conquered Syria and then traveling across the Sinai. They didn't choose to camp near Alexandria, since they were not a "sea" people, but chose a piece of desert north of the old fortress of Babylon. This became their capital, Fustat. The city's name comes from the Arabic word fusṭāṭ (فسطاط), which means a large tent or pavilion. The earliest mosques were enclosed areas with half-shaded (from palm trees) and half open parts. As heat was collected in the foliage of the palms trees, those coming for late afternoon and evening prayer late could utilize the cooler open space of the mosque. Friday is the only day Muslims are required to pray in a mosque. Early mosques did not have mihrabs, minarets, or minbars.
One corner of this mosque was thought to have been the burial place of the commander's son, although Muslims then were careful to erect mausoleums separately from mosques. Archeologists have found no traces of any burial in the earth below, although the latticed room signifying the alleged burial site in the mosque remains. The mosque has had several reconstructions. One important one in the 18th century changed the orientation of the aisles to make them perpendicular to the qibla (direction of Mecca) wall. Later, they were again reoriented.The mosque today attracts an overflow of Friday worshippers due to its charismatic Qur'an chanters and preachers (imams) of the Friday sermon.
Sultan Hassan Mosque: First stop in Islamic Cairo is Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa near the Citadel. Under the Mamluks, mosques came to incorporate madrassas (schools). This mosque was designed to include provision for the study of all four of the Sunni divisions of law: Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanafi and Hanbali. Each had its own iwan (alcove). The Hanafi came to dominate in Egypt during the Mamluk era. The exterior of the entry doors were originally covered in embellished metal. They were confiscated by an admiring ruler. Next to the mosque was a covered market area and waterwheel to support and provide for the scholars in the schools of law. During the medieval era, an open space connected the mosque and the Citadel. The never used mausoleum was placed directly behind the prayer hall. By this time, such placement was no longer considered profane. A pattern based on the geometrical elements of a star and polygons is a characteristic decoration scheme of the Mamluk years. Fused marble is noticeable in the decoration above the schools' entrances–an exquisite architectural innovation at the time. Although its main function was
that of a school, its size and the beauty of its prayer hall meant that it was recognized as a congregational mosque as well. Al-Rifai Mosque: Just next to the Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hasan is the huge mosque complex from the modern period built to honor a medieval Sufi saint. A man had his head pressed against the latticed framework around the green velvet mausoleum of the saint decorated with gold-embossed verses from the Qur'an. It was originally commissioned by Khushyar Hanim, the mother of the 19th century Khedive Isma'il Pasha, to expand and replace the preexisting zawiyya (shrine) of the medieval era Islamic saint Ahmad al-Rifa'i. The zawiyya was a pilgrimage site for locals who believed that the tomb had mystical healing properties.
The building contains a large prayer hall as well as the shrines of Al-Rifa'i and two other local saints. The mosque is the resting place of Khushyar Hanim and her son Isma'il Pasha, as well as numerous other members of Egypt's royal family, including King Fuad and his wife, King Farouk, Egypt's last reigning king, whose body was interred here after his death in Rome in 1965. The mosque served briefly as the resting place of Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, who died in exile in South Africa in 1944, and was returned to Iran after World War II. Part of the burial chamber is currently occupied by Reza Shah's son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who died in Cairo in 1980. His first wife was the daughter of King Farouk. In these last two mosque complexes, European influences begin to emerge with the use of domes and stained glass windows. Extensive use of marble points to the further reaches of Egyptian power. Egypt has no marble itself; it had to be imported from Syria.
Historical Span: With the Roman conquest, Egypt became a province of an empire. With the rise of Ibn Tulun (868 and 905 AD), scholars could begin to talk again about an Egyptian history. A tremendous experience to follow Egypt's Islamic history starting with a picture of the very simple building of Amr ibn al-'As, which measured 56 x 95 feet, had walls built of mud brick and a roof constructed of split palm trunks–supported by palm trunk columns, covered with a thatching of palm leaves and mud. The floor was strewn with pebbles. Nothing whatever remains of the first mosque, on account of the numerous re-buildings. From there it was a leap to the Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrasa, regarded as the most important of all Mamluk buildings, in terms of both size and magnificence.
From these mosques representing the Orthodox Caliphate and Mamluk periods, the last mosque on the tour, the Al-Rifai, was constructed during the modern period. The section reserved for prayers is a square, covered by a dome with beautiful stalactites, supported on four arches, resting on four biers. At the corners of each bier are four marble engaged columns, the capitals of which are carved and gilded. The dome is surrounded by wooden roofs, the ceilings being decorated with beautiful gilded ornamentation. Various periods succeeded one another beginning with the Arab conquest (640 AD). Each of these periods had its own conditions and its own architectural features. Periods not specifically covered were the Tulunid, Ayyubid, Ottoman, and Muhammad Ali eras, although these influences are prevalent due to reconstruction, extended areas of structures, or at a distance. Fatimid architecture is talked about in the next blog. I included photos reflective of various ways Egyptians utilize a mosque–to rest, to wind down, to study and reflect, to pray while checking a smart phone.
Comments: Screens separating areas for women were visible in some mosques. This is a recent innovation. Although women did enter and sit in areas different from the men in mosques traditionally, the concern with even greater separation of the sexes and invisibility is new. Wearing a headscarf and taking off one's shoes is mandatory in a mosque. Some of the women in our group had also to put on a long hooded cloak because the clothes they were wearing were considered "too tight." In a September 22 interview with the NYTs, President Muhammad Morsi repeatedly promised to uphold equal citizenship rights of all Egyptians, regardless of religion, sex or class. Yet he defended the religious arguments he once made as a Muslim Brotherhood leader that neither a woman nor a Christian would be a suitable president. “We are talking about values, beliefs, cultures, history, reality,” he said. Regardless of his own views or the Brotherhood’s, he said, civil law was another subject. “I will not prevent a woman from being nominated as a candidate for the presidential campaign,” he said. “This is not in the Constitution. This is not in the law. But if you want to ask me if I will vote for her or not, that is something else, that is different (NYT, 9/22/12)."