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Sunday, November 3, 2019

The First Ever Mosque in Africa: Mosque Amr ibn al-As in Fustat


Most Muslims are familiar with the name of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ, a brave and close companion of the Prophet of Allah. But many would not know about Fustat, the first ever capital of modern day Egypt which was built by ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ when he as the commander of the Muslim army conquered Egypt in 641. And it was here in Fustat that Mosque of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ built the first ever mosque in Egypt, and the first ever mosque in the entire African continent.

Fusṭāṭ [Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author: Rappoport, A.S. (Angelo Solomon)/ Source: Gutenberg project: The book "History of Egypt", Volume 11]

Why the name Fusṭāṭ? Actually it was first named Miṣr al-Fusṭāṭ, or Fusṭāṭ Miṣr, popularly translated as "Metropolis of the Tent", though this is not an exact translation. As per a legend, the location of Fustat was chosen by a dove which laid an egg in the tent of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ just before he was to march against Alexandria in 641. His camp at that time was just north of the Roman fortress of Babylon. ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ declared the dove's nest as a sign from God, and ordered the tent to be left untouched as he and his troops went off to battle. When they returned victorious, Amr told his soldiers to pitch their tents around his. Thus the camp city around the Amr's tent thrived and became a city of tents.

And it was the Jamia Amro Bin al As, or the Mosque of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ which was built at the location of tent of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ, Today, none of the original structure remains, this mosque in its present shape is till know as the Jamia Amro Bin al As, or the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As.  

The original layout was a simple rectangle, 29 meters in length by 17 meters wide. It was a low shed with columns made from split palm tree trunks, stones and mud bricks, covered by a roof of wood and palm leaves. It was large enough to provide prayer space for Muslim army, but had no other adornments, and no minarets. It was in 673 that the mosque was completely rebuilt and four minarets were added, one at each of the mosque's corners, and doubled its area in size. 




Fusṭāṭ was very thriving city and was at its peak in the 12th century, and became the the centre of administrative power in Egypt. In 1169, Fusṭāṭ and the mosque were destroyed by a fire that was ordered by Egypt's own vizier Shawar, who had ordered its destruction to prevent the city from being captured by the Crusaders. The remains of the city were eventually absorbed by nearby Cairo, which had been built to the north of Fustat in 969 when the Fatimids conquered the region and created a new city as a royal enclosure for the Caliph.

After the Crusaders were expelled, and the area had been conquered by Nur al-Din's army, Saladin took power, and had the mosque rebuilt in 1179. During this time Saladin had a belvedere, an architectural structure sited to take advantage of a fine or scenic view, built below a minaret.  In 1303, Amir Salar restored the mosque after an earthquake. He also added a stucco prayer niche for the outer wall of the mosque, which is now gone.

In the 18th century one of the Egyptian Mamluk leaders, Mourad Bey, destroyed the mosque because of dilapidation then ordered the rebuilding of it in 1796, before the arrival of Napoleon's French Expedition to Egypt. During the said reconstruction, the number of rows of columns were decreased from seven to six, and changed the orientation of the aisles to make them perpendicular to the qibla wall. It was also probably at this time that the current remaining minarets were added.] Unfortunately, during the French occupation much of the interior wood decoration was taken for firewood by the French Army.
Arcades - Mosque of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ [Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Source / Author: Lekegian, G.]

In 1875, the mosque was again rebuilt. In the 20th century, during the reign of Egypt's Abbas Helmi II, the mosque underwent another restoration. Parts of the entrance were reconstructed in the 1980s. The only part of the mosque's older structure which can still be seen are some of the architraves, which can be viewed along the southern wall of the Mosque. These were probably added during reconstruction in 827.
Panorama view of the interior of the Mosque - 2011 [Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author: Frank Schulenburg]

One of the most remarkable facts about that mosque is that it was not only a place for prayer but a type of intellectual university built 600 years before the foundation of Al Azhar mosque in Cairo. It was an important place where lesson circles and religious lectures were held. One of the most renowned religious professors and Imams who taught in this mosque was the Mohamed Ibn Idris Al Shafi'. As a side note, it is known that in the Western Addition (Ziada) there was once a court of law that saw many trials during these ancient times.

The remains of Fustat are now part of Old Cairo, with few buildings remaining from its days as a capital. Many archaeological digs have revealed the wealth of buried material in the area. Many ancient items recovered from the site are on display in Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art.

Author's Note: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Header Photo: Mosque Amr Bin Al As [ Wikimedia Commons / Author: Mohammed Moussa ] References: | Wikipedia2 | 3 | 4 |

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