Safeguarding Egypt's Islamic Heritage

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 30 Dec 2010

Although it was stolen three months ago, the theft of the minbar (pulpit) in Qanibay El-Ramah mosque was revived two days ago, creating a conflict between the Ministries of Al-Awqaf (religious endowments) and Culture

the stolen minbar

In the vicinity of the citadel, on a hill adjacent to the Al-Sultan Hassan mosque, stands the Qanibay El-Ramah mosque, with its distinguished Mamluke architecture.

The mosque consists of an open court at its centre, surrounded with four Iwans (vaulted halls), the largest is the Iwan Al-Qibla (in the direction of Mecca). The latter has a very beautiful mihrab (semi-circular niche), decorated with marble foliage and geometrical motifs. Beside it is the small, inlaid wooden minbar, decorated with star-shaped motifs, embellished with ivory and ebony.

The Qanibay Al-Ramah mosque, like other Islamic monuments, was also affected by the earthquake in 1992.  Before that in 1989, when underground water which had leaked under the mosque was pumped out, the soil under the foundations was disturbed, and the edifice began to collapse.

Three months ago the minbar was found missing from its original location and legal action were taken to retrieve it and apprehend the thief. At that time, the media did not make a fuss over the incident until two days ago when the Al Youm Al Sabea website reported the missing minbar.   They accused the ministry of culture of concealing the robbery to avoid criticism for the inadequate security system and their inability to safeguard a part of Egypt’s Islamic heritage.

Why has the news about the theft resurfaced again?  Culture minister Farouk Hosni told Ahram Online that the theft of the minbar has reappeared in the media as the investigation has already started but the news was leaked to the press as a recent incident.

 Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) asserted that the ministry of endowments is responsible for the theft as it is the owner of the mosque. He pointed out that the SCA’s role is to restore the mosque and hand it over the ministry of endowments.

In a responding statement from the ministry of endowments it was stated that the mosque is affiliated to the SCA and has been closed for two years.

Farouk Hosni asked Hawass to submit the case to the Prosecutor-general who will identify who is to be liable, the ministry of culture or the ministry of endowments.

He also called on Hamdi Zaqzouq, the minister of endowments, to hold a joint meeting to put an end to these thefts from mosques, as well as to discuss the possibility of assigning a private security organisation to safeguard these sites, as a large number of historic mosques are under the supervision of the Awqaf.

Hawass said the presence of scaffolding inside the mosque had existed since 1992, in an attempt to consolidate the wall of the mosque until its restoration.

“The SCA took over the ancient mosques from the ministry of endowments, according to official documents and returned them,  according to the same document,” asserted Hawass, adding that there aren’t any  documents in the case of Qanibay Al-Ramah because the SCA did not receive the mosque from the endowment ministry for restoration.

But this case raises questions on the fate of Egypt’s Islamic monuments and highlights the problem of security at Cairo’s historic mosques.

 In the last ten years, several mosques have been subjected to theft. Among the items stolen are the inlaid wooden panels from theminbars of Ganim Al-Bahlawan and Altinbua Al-Maridani mosques, as well as a marble relief from the Blue Mosque in the Darb Al-Ahmar area.

Thieves were caught red-handed, attempting to make off with a magnificent ironwork grill window from the sabil kuttab of Rokaya Dudu.


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