Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Al-Azhar mosque

My driver is convinced that I am a completely mad expat let loose in town! Last week, on my way back from Khan, I asked him to drop me off at the Al Azhar mosque.

'Mosque?' He practically screeched! "Sure? You pray at mosque? Hindi pray at mosque too?"

Well, not really, I shook my head as I tried to explain that all I wanted to do was to have a look at the mosque and the university which has a big place in the theology of Islam and also claims to be the oldest university in the world (estb in 970)!

Founded by the Fatimid conqueror Gawahar al-Siqilli, as the congregational mosque for Al Qahira, over the years it has emerged as the biggest center for Islamic learning. As you enter the mosque , and look up, you see a double arched gate with some fine work. I belive this used to be known as the Gate of Barbers, because this is where the students used to have their hair shaved off!

I must admit that for a moment I was a little hesitant about walking in cos I was wearing a skirt which was below my knees. So many books talk about the dress code in the mosques that I was wondering whether my dress would be considered appropriate. However, I was otherwise modestly dressed, so figured I should be alright! I did not have a scarf, but a shawl which would do just as well to cover my head. In fact, as I was fumbling with my shawl, the attendent pointed to it and indicated that I should cover my head when I went in. I smiled, nodded, waved at him and walked right in!

When you walk through the gate, you suddenly come into a bright marble lined courtyard, and its like emerging into bright sunlight after passing through a patch of darkness! The courtyard was lined with people lounging with manuscripts in their hands. Theer were a few other tourists, who I guess had the same idea as me.

Within the mosque are two madrasas built by two different people.

The left one, built by Amir Sayf al-Din Aqbugha ( or the White Bull) housesAl Azhar's collection of manuscripts and Qurans. It also has some beautiful mosaics done in glass and mother-of-pearl depicting braching sprays coming out of a bowl, a design and technique which came to Cairo from Syria.

The right one, built by Amir Ala al-Din Taybars al Khazindar, contains the most pecious manuscripst in Al Azhar's library.

As I walked around, I was surprised to see many young men studying manuscripts ( a kind English speaking Egyptian told me these were religious manuscripts that were being studied by the Al Azhar students)!

I am glad I visited the mosque. it gave me a sense of peace even though it was densely populated.


Anonymous said...

Interesting reading but your credibility is compromised because of your numerous misspellings and poor grammar.Examples: "...the bar are dominated" SHOULD BE "the bar IS dominated"; "...troop down the stairs", NOT "troupe down the stairs"; seafood, NOT "sea-food"; Heaven Help...Not "heavens help"; realized, NOT "realised"; etc. My suggestion would be that if you're having your comments translated to English from some other language, that you retain a better translator.

Manisha said...

My Lord, I plead guilty to both counts - grammatical and spelling errors..

Alas, I cannot pass the blame onto a translator, since I write myself. My impatient nature prevents me from proof reading what I have written!!

But just as an aside, grammatical errors don't compromise content or credibility of the text, they just irritate the reader.

But point well taken, shall try and make an effort to proof read before I post. But as long as you can comprehend what I've written, I'm happy....


Manisha said...

Actually on second thoughts, the blog is meant for my friends and anyone interested in finding out / reading about Cairo. As long as it serves that purpose, I'm cool...