Friday, September 5, 2014

Cairo Islamic Attractions (9), Mosques & Minarets: Al Refaie Mosque

The mosque of Al Refaie' is considered one of the remarkable Islamic structures in Cairo. The mosque is located in the Qala'a square in front of the citadel just facing the great Mosque of Al Sultan Hassan. The Refaie Mosque was embellished by Khoshiar, the mother of Khedive Ismail to be the mausoleum of the royal family.

Nobody knows why exactly did Khoshiar choose that location this small "Zaweya" praying place, to build the mosque. Maybe because she wanted to build a mosque that is similar to that of Al Sultan Hassan in its size and greatness. She wanted to renew the Zaweya of Al Refaie so she bought all the surrounding areas around it and then she destroyed the Zaweya all in all and started to build a new huge mosque.

The mosque was built on the site of an older mosque called mosque of "Al Zakhira" which was built in the Ayubids era and it contained the dooms of many Islamic Imams and religious people.

Although the mosque of Al Refaie is named after Sheikh Ahmed Al Refaie who was the Sufi leader of Al Refaieya method, he was never buried there. He was actually never buried in Egypt. However, the Zaweya continued having the name of Al Refaie and afterwards an ancestor of Al Refaie, Sheikh Abu Shebak was buried there.

Egyptian best construction engineer at the time, Hussein Fahmy Pasha made a design for the new mosque to contain the tombs of the royal family. He also added two domes for the two sheikhs who were buried there, Ali Abu Shebak and Yehia Al Ansary.

However, in 1881 the building work stopped to add some changes to the design, but the whole process stopped with the death of Khoshiar Hanem in 1885 and she was buried in the mosque. Twenty five years later, when Abbas Helmy the second became ruler of Egypt, he ordered Hatz Pasha, the director of the association of Egyptian Antiquities at the time, to continue building the mosque. The mosque was first opened for public on Friday of the year 1912.

The Mosque of Al Refaie was built to look like the great mosque of Al Sultan Hassan in its size, height, and luxury. It contained huge entrance gates with tall columns made out of rock and marble with rich Arabic decorations. The builders of the mosque didn’t want it to appear like an elf beside the giant.

The mosque from inside has a rectangular shape with the area of 7500 meter with 1767 meters prepared for praying and the rest was built as a mausoleum. The main gate of the mosque is located in its western side and above it lays a dome which is decorated with gold. Then there is a door that leads to the tombs of Abu Shebak and Ali Al Ansary.

Most of the walls of the Mosque are decorated with colored marbles that were imported from seven countries from all around the world. The walls, doors, and windows of the mosque is highly decorated with Abanos wood and a lot of golden ornaments. The Mihrab of the Mosque is located inside its Eastern walls and it is clothed with colored marble and has four marble columns. There are five colored lines drawn inside the Mihrab and some of them contain golden ornaments.

Beside the Mihrab, there is the fascinating Minbar which was decorated with ivory, ebony, and mother of pearl. It has a quite unique style as it was made in the Mamluk way. The small door of the Minbar is rich with wooden decorations.

One of the most remarkable items of the mosque is its white pure alabaster Dekka, or place of the prayer caller. It is unique in its design and decorations that you don’t find anything like it in the whole country of Egypt. It is built on eight white marble columns holding it and it contains some Quran inscriptions which were written with pure gold.

In the northern side of the mosque, there are six gates. Four of them lead to the burial rooms of the kings, queens, and royal family. The first of these rooms contains the tombs of four of the Khedive Tawfik sons and daughters: Wahida who died in 1858, Zeinab who died in 1875, Ali Gamal El din who died in 1893, and Ibrahim Helmy who died in 1926. There is a beautiful small dome above this room which is decorated with Quranic inscriptions.

To the west, there is another room where Khedive Ismail and his mother, Khoshiar Hanem, the builder of this mosque were buried. Afterwards, there is the room where the daughters of Khedive where the wives of Ismail were buried and they are: Shohrat Vasa who died in 1895, Ganayar who died in 1912, and Gushm Afet who died in 1907. There is a door from this room that leads to the room where Sultan Hussein Kamal, the son of Ismail who ruled Egypt in 1914 and died in 1917 to be followed by his brother kind Farouk.

The Shah of Iran, Mohamed Reda Bahlawy, the former husband of queen Fawzeya was buried in the Mosque of Al Refaie and this incident has a tragic story behind it. When the Islamic revolution rose in Iran, he was exiled. He couldn’t find a place to host him until the former Egyptian president Anwar El Sadat welcomed him in Egypt and when he died, Al Saddat ordered that he should be buried in the Mosque of Al Refaie. His tomb room is one of the most amazing in the mosque as it is decorated with beautiful marble floor and walls. Strangely enough, the father of the Shah was buried for some time in the same room.

Beside the room of the Iranian Shah, there is the burial room of king Foaud (1868- 1936). In the eastern wall of this room, there is a door that leads to the tomb of king Farouk who died in Rome in 1965.

King Farouk wanted to be buried in the Mosque of Al Refaie beside his family and relatives. However, the former Egyptian president at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser, didn’t like the idea. He agreed that King Farouk can be buried in Cairo but not in the Mosque of Al Refaie and this is what actually happened. Until in 1970, when Nasser passed away, the body of King Farouk was transferred to the Mosque of Al Refei.
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