Shiite mosque in Cairo dating back 1,000 years reopens after renovations

Work on Al Ḥakim bi Amr Allah Mosque included intricate restoration of the chandelier, facades and marble floors

A tour inside the newly renovated 1000-year-old Shiite mosque in Islamic Cairo

A tour inside the newly renovated 1000-year-old Shiite mosque in  Islamic Cairo
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A 1000-year-old Shiite mosque in the heart of the Egyptian capital Cairo has reopened following extensive renovations that took six years to complete.

Work on the Al Ḥakim bi Amr Allah mosque began in 2017 and included repairs to water damage and cracks in its walls, according to Brig Gen Hisham Samir, a tourism and antiquities ministry official who spoke at the reopening ceremony on Monday night.

Wooden fixtures, including the mosque's doors, its pulpit and the signature decorative wooden tiles that line the base of its ceilings, were bolstered.

The ornate chandeliers of the mosque, one of Cairo’s most prominent Fatimid sites, were also restored.

Security cameras were installed as well as more efficient electrical wiring to service both the indoor areas and the large courtyard that the mosque is known for.

Intricate restorations were also undertaken on the mosque's facades and marble floors, Brig Gen Samir said.

The work was co-funded by the Bohra community, the western Indian branch of the Musta'li sect, itself a sub-branch of the Ismailite sect of Shiite Islam. The Ismailite sect originated in Egypt and later moved its religious centre to Yemen before gaining a foothold in India through missionaries in the 11th century.

There are only a handful of Shiites left in Sunni-majority Egypt.

The renovations were conducted as part of a large-scale plan by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to boost tourism to Cairo’s Islamic sites.

The nearby Al Hussein mosque, Al Ashraf Street and sites visited by Jesus, Mary and Joseph when they escaped to Egypt from Palestine have also been restored under the ministry's plan, Cairo’s governor Khaled Abdel Aal said at the ceremony.

The government wants to make the Islamic sites of Cairo's medieval quarter more accessible to tourists.

Residents in parts of the area have been relocated to make room for infrastructure projects.

Thousands of graves in the area have also been demolished to make way for the roads and flyovers that authorities say are needed to give visitors easier access to the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish sites.

Funds of an undisclosed amount for the renovations were provided in part by Mufaddal Saif Al Din, the Sultan of India’s Bohra sect, who was received in Cairo by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in April for the inauguration of Al Hussein mosque after it was renovated.

A presidential statement at the time lauded relations between Egypt and the Bohra people and thanked the Sultan for his “sizeable efforts to restore many historical Egyptian mosques”.

The Sultan, whose representative was present at the mosque's reopening on Monday, has also donated undisclosed sums to Mr El Sisi’s Tahya Misr social welfare fund.

Construction of the Al Ḥakim bi Amr Allah Mosque was started by caliph Al Aziz in 990AD. It was completed by his son Al Hakim, the sixth caliph of the Fatimid era, who named it after himself.

A 14th century earthquake destroyed a portion of the mosque. It was rebuilt over the centuries by several Egyptian Muslim leaders. It was also where Napoleon Bonaparte stationed some of his battalions during the 1798-1801 French campaign in Egypt.

The Fatimid Caliphate represented one of the most prominent Ismailite groups and the only Shiite group to ever rule Egypt. The caliphate was the ruling Islamic dynasty from the ninth to the 12th century.

The Fatimids ruled with Cairo as their capital and dozens of their relics remain.

Updated: March 02, 2023, 7:21 AM