Renovation of Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque

Nevine El-Aref , Saturday 18 May 2024

The official inauguration of Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque and Mausoleum in Historic Cairo after renovation work revives the legacy of the Prophet Mohamed’s granddaughter, reports Nevine El-Aref

Renovation of Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque


Early this week, Al-Sayeda Zeinab Square in Historic Cairo was buzzing as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and leader of the Bohra Community in India Sultan Mufaddal Saifuddin, along with several top government officials, inaugurated Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque and Mausoleum after the completion of its renovation.

Standing as a testament to faith, unity, and cultural heritage, Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque and Mausoleum is a beacon of spiritual solace and community for Muslims worldwide.

The mosque was named after Al-Sayeda Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed, a revered figure in Islamic history known for her piety and resilience. Its architecture seamlessly blends traditional Islamic design elements with modern aesthetics, creating a serene and welcoming space for worshippers.

This is not the first time that the mosque has been renovated and enlarged. Several earlier Egyptian rulers have built, rebuilt, renovated, or expanded the mosque at its current location, which is supposed to also be the location of the Mausoleum of Al-Sayeda Zeinab.

The present-day structure dates to 1884 and was commissioned by khedive Tawfik. During the reign of king Farouk, the mosque was enlarged and the mausoleum repaired in 1940. Following damage sustained during the 1992 earthquake, a comprehensive renovation project was undertaken to restore the mosque’s grandeur and integrity. These expansions and subsequent repairs adhered closely to the architectural styles and designs established during the era of the khedive Tawfik.

In 2022, the mosque and mausoleum closed its doors for restoration. The development work on the mosque was carried out by the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces, and it was enlarged to almost 12,000 square metres to accommodate around 11,000 worshippers. It houses 220 marble columns, 130 copper lamps, and 100 chandeliers.

The Islamic ornamentation adorning the interior marble structure of Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque was preserved while restoration work was undertaken on its external façade, interior shrines, and halls.

The project also included the revitalisation of the surrounding squares and streets, integrating a cohesive colour palette to elevate the overall visual appeal. Enhanced sidewalks have expanded green spaces, and the rejuvenation of the 4,000-square-metre Qandil Umm Hashem Park has further enriched the visitor experience.

Significant improvements have been made to Al-Sayeda Zeinab Square, including the addition of two 10-metre traffic lanes in both directions. Additionally, the project has seen the construction of four modern parking facilities accommodating a total of 250 vehicles. To facilitate transport for visitors, open-air electric cars will be available to ferry them from the park to adjacent Islamic landmarks.

This is the third mosque to undergo restoration under the government initiative to develop the Ahl Al-Beit (the Prophet Mohamed’s Family) mosques and mausoleums, following the restoration of Al-Hussein and Al-Sayeda Nafisa mosques, which have recently been reopened after development.

The Mosque and Mausoleum of Al-Sayeda Zeinab is always full of visitors praying or seeking spiritual nourishment. After her arrival in Egypt after the Battle of Karbala in modern-day Iraq in 680 CE, Al-Sayeda Zeinab was welcomed by the Egyptian population and gained titles such as Al-Tahra (The Pure One) and Umm Al-Awagez (the Mother of the Disabled) owing to her having taken care of the wounded during the Battle of Karbala and attended to the elderly and disabled.

Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed, was killed at the Battle of Karbala.

Al-Sayeda Zeinab was also known as Al-Mushira (The One to Consult) and the Raeisat Al-Diwan (Chief of the Diwan). Her life epitomised compassion, wisdom, and resilience. Born in the sixth year of the Hijra in Medina, she cultivated a reputation for intellectual prowess and simplicity.

Egyptian writer Aisha Abdel-Rahman’s book Al-Sayeda Zeinab, Aqilat Bani Hashim portrays her as the heroine of the Battle of Karbala, shielding women, tending to the injured, and safeguarding the fallen. After the battle, she faced persecution from the then Umayad Caliphs, leading to her exile in Egypt where she was welcomed with open arms.

She passed away in year 62 of the Hijra, yet conflicting narratives persist regarding her final resting place. Some assert she was interred in Medina in Saudi Arabia, while others claim her burial took place in Egypt. What endures is her significant presence in Egypt, where she is revered, honoured, and commemorated.

Her annual moulid (festival), a grand and cherished tradition, occurs on 28 Ragab in the Hijri calendar, drawing crowds to celebrate her enduring legacy.

The Bohra, a Shia community based in India with a substantial presence in Cairo, has funded the development work at Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque and Mausoleum. They have also funded the renovation of various other historic mosques in Egypt, including Al-Hussein Mosque and Al-Sayeda Nafisa Mosque and the restoration of other monumental mosques such as the Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah and Al-Aqmar Mosques.

The Bohra Community, originally from Gujarat in India, boasts a lengthy history in Egypt, tracing its roots back to the Fatimid era.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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