Details for this article have been taken from a story reported in The National News on February 28, 2023 and also in The Business Standard.
The Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah masjid, a nearly 1000-year-old structure in the heart of the Egyptian capital of Cairo, has reopened following extensive renovations that took six years to complete. The renovations were undertaken as part of a large-scale plan by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to boost tourism to Cairo’s Islamic sites. The work was co-funded by the Dawoodi Bohra community.
Work on the masjid began in 2017 and included repairs to water damage and cracks in the walls, according to Brig Gen Hisham Samir, a tourism and antiquities ministry official who spoke at the reopening ceremony on February 27, 2023. Wooden fixtures, including the masjid’s doors, its pulpit and the signature decorative wooden tiles that line the base of its ceilings, were bolstered. The ornate chandeliers of the masjid, 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 masjid is known for. Intricate restorations were also undertaken on the masjid’s facades and marble floors, Brig Gen Samir said.
‘Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, like his predecessors, has been a true patron of Fatimi heritage and architectural legacy. He continues to uphold the Fatimi teachings of compassion and philanthropy by making contributions to the socio-economic development of Egypt and its peoples,’ said Mufaddal Mohammedhusain Poonawala, representative of Sultan al Bohra in Egypt who joined the event alongside several dignitaries and officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Egypt.
The Fatimi Legacy in Cairo
Construction of the Imam Al Hakim bi Amr Allah masjid was started by caliph Al Aziz in 990 AD and completed by his son Imam Al Hakim, the sixth caliph of the Fatimid era in 1013 AD. The masjid covers an area of 13,560 metres square of which the iconic sahn or courtyard at the centre occupies 5000 metres square. It also has the distinction of being the oldest masjid in the world to have two minarets erected together at the time of its initial construction. The masjid, with its combination of pointed and slightly horseshoe arches, its symphony of bold piers and colonnades, its royal, raised transept, it’s repetitive crenellations and its harmonious proportions and scale, is an architectural marvel and a testament to the great civilizations that flourished under the patronage of the Fatimi Imams.
The Fatimi imams, adopting their name from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed ﷺ, functioned first from Medina, spreading over to North Africa and Egypt in later centuries. During the 10th – 12th centuries, they ruled over large parts of the Islamic world extending from North Africa in the west to as far as Pakistan in the east. Their eras saw unrivalled efflorescence of thought, art and culture. Reigning in glory in Egypt, they founded the city of Cairo, started the celebrated centre of learning, al-Azhar University, which is the oldest institution of its kind in the world and wrote into Egyptian history the unforgettable Fatimi era.
Perpetual Bond with Fatimi Culture & Heritage
The Dawoodi Bohras follow the Fatimi Ismaili Tayyibi school of thought. Their distinctive heritage originated in Egypt and later moved its seat to Yemen before establishing a presence in India in the 11th century when the administrative apparatus of the al-dai al-mutlaq was transferred from Yemen to India.
The masjid of Imam al Hakim bi Amr Allah is an important cultural site for the Dawoodi Bohra community in Cairo. The latest renovation project is the second such initiative undertaken by the Dawoodi Bohra community after the first renovation and restoration project that was completed nearly forty years ago.
The 52nd al Dai al Mutlaq, the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin spearheaded the challenging project which required overhauling the masjid’s dilapidated and ruined state and restoring it to its former glory. The mammoth restoration project involved cleaning the masjid’s interiors, restoring the architectural finesse adorning its walls and installing necessary implements while safeguarding the masjid’s architectural heritage in order to facilitate the worship of Allah, the primary purpose for which it was constructed.
The current leader of the community, His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin was instrumental in the endeavour to restore these Fatimi monuments dating back to the 10th through 12th centuries. This movement began in the late 1970s with the restoration of the masjid of Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah, also known in community parlance as al-Jami al-Anwar.
For centuries, this ancient place of worship had suffered abject neglect. Due to the late Syedna Burhanuddin’s unwavering resolve and guidance and through Syedna Saifuddin’s dedication and intensive involvement, this key Islamic monument in historic Cairo was restored within the short span of twenty-seven months and reinstated to its former glory.
The then restoration project was a precursor to several other restoration projects undertaken by the community in Cairo.
An Enduring Effort
In addition to the restoration of the masjid, the nearby Al Hussein masjid, Al Ashraf Street and other culturally significant sites have also been restored under the ministry’s plan. His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin made valued efforts in the renovation and restoration of the shrines of the Ahl al-Bayt (members of the prophet’s household) and a number of Egyptian historic masjids, including the El-Hussein, El-Sayyeda Nafisa, and El-Sayyeda Zeinab masjids.
In April 2022, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin was received in Cairo by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi for the inauguration of the Al Hussein masjid after it was renovated. In an address delivered by the President during the inauguration of the Al Hussein masjid, he thanked Sultan al Bohra “for [his] enduring attention and endeavour towards the shrines of the Ahl al-Bait.”