Sayeda Nafisa mosque and mausoleum: Renovated and open

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 20 Aug 2023

The mosque and mausoleum of Sayeda Nafisa were finally opened to the public after being closed during the covid years for restoration, making quite a buzz in Egyptian society.

Photo of Sayeda Nafisa mosque in the early twentieth centry


Women visitors were delighted to donate their customary fresh red roses to the beautiful silver mausoleum of Sayeda Nafisa (145–208 hijra). 

Fresh flowers and zaghariet, happy vocal noises made by women to donate happiness and joy, are part of their ritualistic visits to Nafisat Al Elm (The One with Precious Knowledge), the granddaughter of Imam Hassan, the son of the Caliph Ali ibn Abi Taleb. 

Renovations scrutinized

Sayeda Nafisa's mausoleum was finally unveiled to the public last week after being shuttered for renovation work for several years, which caused quite a stir in Egyptian society.

The mausoleum and mosque's original interior, which reportedly reflected an authentic Egyptian architectural design and hues, is alleged to have been altered by the restoration and reconstruction work done by the Bohra Indian-Based community, whose Sultan was awarded the Nile Sash, Egypt's highest order.

“The rebuilt of the mosque and mausoleum used to reflect the new Mamluki designs, yet now they are covered with Asian style/pattern marble causing a change in the authentic visual context of the place,” explained Tariq El-Murri, Architectural Conservation Expert to Ahram Online.

El-Murri argued that the mosque of each of Sayeda Nafisa, Imam Al Shafaii and the rewaq of Khedive Abbas Helmi, the second inside Al Azhar Mosque, were created and renovated during the same era. Yet, Sayeda Nafisa’s mosque is the only one not registered as an antiquity.

“This is a problem of registration, but it does not negate the fact that it is an antiquity,” he added.

The former internal façade of Sayeda Nafisa is currently in the mausoleum of Ibn Ataa Al-Sakandary, and the interior of the mausoleum is now shimmering silver.

There was a plan by Mawadah NGO to renovate the mosques of  Ahl Al Beit throughout Egypt prior to the partnership with the Bohra community, which has helped to restore Al-Hussien Mosque, Al-Aqmar Mosque, and is currently working to rehabilitate Sayeda Zeinab Mosque. Regrettably, the plan did not go through.

The old internal facade of Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum, is now at Ibn Ataa Al Sakandary mausoleum

Who is Sayeda Nafisa?

According to Souad Maher Mohamed's 2017 book 'Egypt's Mosques and its Pious Wallies', Sayeda Nafisa first came to Egypt with her husband Ishaq Al-Moetaman in Ramadan of the year 193 hijra and stayed at Dar Ibn Haniea.

Egyptians came out to greet her in great public processions on hawdags (camel rides) all the way from the coastal city of Arish. She lived in Egypt for seven years and was a major icon of spiritual guidance. Egyptians honoured her dearly and valued her presence.

Her home served as both a haven for the poor and a tower for education during her lifetime. She used to hold a lot of information and science magalis (roundtables), and famous people from the time, including Imam El-Shafaai, even requested that she pray over his body when he passed away.

The mosque was constructed in her honour in the square and neighbourhood that bear her name. She dug her grave with her hands and was laid to rest in it in 208 Hijra beneath the dome that quickly became a mausoleum. Prayers in her mosque and visitors to her grave continued.

Presidents, Wallies, and Kings have all prayed in her mosque while on formal state visits.

Photos courtesy of Lenhart and Landrock, Dr. Edward Lambelet

Restoration: A history

The first mausoleum constructed over her grave dates back to the Umayyad era, according to historian Al-Maqrizi's book Khetat Al-Maqrizi. It was later renovated under the Fatimids and then under the Abbasids by Prince Abdel-Rahman Katkhoda, who renovated the mosque and the mausoleum and created two separate doors for men and women in 1173 hijra. On the tomb, he added the following writing in gold:

  • The throne of truth and secrets, the tomb of Nafisa, daughter of the source of all lights.
  • Hussein, son of Zaid, son of Hussein, son of Imam Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, the chosen one.

These mausoleums, sadly, did not withstand the test of time. The current mausoleum and mosque were restored in the neo-mamluk style by Khedive Abbas Helmi the Second (1874–1944).

The Egyptian government has repaired several mosques in Egypt with the help of the Bohra community, the most recent of which is Sayeda Nafisa Mosque.

Al-Hussien, Al-Aqmar, and Sayeda Zeinab mosque repair projects are all being assisted by the Bohra community.

Sayeda Nafisa Mosque by Mohamed Wassim 2001

Sayeda nafisa mosque by Amira Noshokaty 2023

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