The Mosque of Sayyidna al-Husayn (our lord Husayn) exemplifies Islamic revivalism popular in the khedival period. Three high-tech umbrellas open in front of the mosque to shade the overflow congregation on Fridays. They are similar to courtyard umbrella-columns in the Great Mosque at Medina. The mosque is a major center for congregational prayers in Cairo today, and on Fridays at noon the sidewalks and maydan are covered with mats and rugs laid down by the overflowing congregation.
Al-Husayn was the son of 'Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and the fourth and last of the orthodox caliphs. After his father was assassinated, Husayn was urged to claim the caliphate, but he was killed at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq in 680, an event commemorated by Shiites with yearly rites of flagellation. A head believed to be Husayn's was brought to Cairo in 1153 and a shrine was built for it on the site of the mosque. All that remains of the Fatimid structure (and even this is doubtful) is the lower part of the gateway at the south corner of the present mosque -- the Bab al-Akhdar. A minaret with wonderfully carved arabesque panels in stucco, added by the Ayyubids in 1237, rises above the remains of the Fatimid gateway; the additional Turkish-style minarets are part of Khedive Ismai'l's mosque. Al-Husayn's wooden cenotaph, a magnificent specimen of twelfth-century wood carving, is on display in the Museum of Islamic Art.
The shrine is also still a major pilgrimage center. Men and women enter the tomb chamber through separate doors, the men through one in the mosque sanctuary and the women through one beyond the Bab al-Akdhar. The great silver mashrabiya screen that surrounds the grave was a present from the Bohra Isma'ili brotherhood in India. For the Shiites, Husayn is the supreme Muslim martyr; for the Sunnis he is the beloved grandson of the Prophet. All therefore continue to seek his intercession in many areas of their daily lives.
In 1187, Ibn Jubayr, a tourist in Cairo, recorded his impressions of a visit to the shrine: "We observed men kissing the blessed tomb, surrounding it, throwing themselves on it ... calling out invocations ... and offering up humble supplications such as would melt the heart and split the hardest flint."
Warner, Nicholas. The monuments of historic Cairo: a map and descriptive catalogue, 92. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2005.
Williams, Caroline. Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide, 193-194. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2002.
al-Husayn Mosque (Variant)
Masjid al-Imam al-Hussayn ibn 'Ali (Variant)
Sayyidna al-Hussayn Mosque (Variant)
Mosque of al-Imam al-Hussayn ibn 'Ali (Variant)
original structure, 1154/549 AH, Ayyubid minaret, 1237/634 AH, existing mosque completed, 1873/1289 AH, new minaret, 1878/1294 AH