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The Al-Hussein Mosque (Arabic: مسجد الإمام الحسين; Egyptian Arabic: جامع سيدنا الحسين) is a mosque built in 1154. (Alternative transliterations include Husayn, Hussain, Husayn, and Hussayn; also, the mosque's name is prefixed by the honorific title Sayyidna). The mosque is located in Cairo, Egypt, near the Khan El-Khalili bazaar. It is considered to be one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt.
The mosque was built on the cemetery of the Fatimid caliphs, though this was not known until the site's archaeological excavation. It is named for Muhammad's grandson, Husayn ibn Ali. Dawoodi Bohra and other Sunni Muslims believe that Husayn's head is buried on the grounds of the mosque. The complex includes a mausoleum, which dates back to the mosque's original construction in 1154.
The currently standing building was constructed in the 19th century, and was influenced by Gothic Revival architecture. Today, the mosque houses some items considered sacred by Muslims, such as the oldest complete manuscript of the Quran.
Fatimid beliefs regarding Husayn's head
According to Fatimid beliefs, in the year 985, the 15th Fatimid Caliph, Abu Mansoor Nizar al-Aziz Billah, traced the site of his great-grandfather's head through the office of a contemporary in Baghdad. It remained buried in the town of Ashkelon at "Baab al Faradis" for about 250 years, until 1153.
After the 21st Fatimid Imam At-Tayyib Abi l-Qasim went into seclusion, his uncle, Abd al Majid, occupied the Fatimid Empire's throne. Fearing disrespect and possible traitorous activity, the Majidi-monarch, Al-Zafir, ordered the transfer of the head to Cairo. Husayn's casket was unearthed and moved from Ashkelon to Cairo on Sunday 8 Jumada al-Thani, 548 (31 August 1153). Yemeni writer Syedi Hasan bin Asad described the transfer of the head thus in his Risalah manuscript: "When the Raas [head of] al Imam al Husain was taken out of the casket, in Ashkelon, drops of the fresh blood were visible on the Raas al Imam al Husain and the fragrance of Musk spread all over."
According to historians Al-Maqrizi, Ahmad al-Qalqashandi, and Ibn Muyassar, the casket reached Cairo on Tuesday 10 Jumada al-Thani (2 September 1153). Taken by boat to the Kafuri (Garden), the casket was buried there in a place called "Qubbat al Daylam" or "Turbat al Zafr’an" (currently known as "Al Mashhad al Husain" or "B’ab Makhallif’at al Rasul"). Thirteen Fatimid Imams, from the 9th, Muhammad at-Taqi, to the 20th, Al-Amir bi-Ahkami l-Lah, are buried there as well.
Regarding one of the "custodians" who brought Husayn's casket to Cairo, the famous Mamluk historian of Egypt, Mohiyuddin Abd al Zahir, wrote:
"When Salahuddin came to power he seized all the Palaces of the Aimmat Fatemiyeen and looted their properties and treasures. He destroyed the valuable and rare collection of hundreds of thousands of books available in libraries, along the river Nile. When he learned through his intelligence agents that one of the custodians of Raas al Imam al Husain was highly respected by the people of the city of Qahera, he surmised that perhaps he would be aware of the treasures of the Aimmat Fatemiyeen. Salahuddin issued orders to present him in his court. He inquired of him the whereabouts of the Fatemi treasures. The nobleman flatly denied any knowledge of the treasures. Salahuddin was angered, and ordered his intelligence agents to ask him through 'third-degree-torture', but the nobleman bore the torture and repeated his previous statement that he knew nothing of any treasures. Salahuddin ordered his soldiers to put a cap containing centipedes on the head of the nobleman, such a type of punishment was so severe and unbearable that none could survive even for a few minutes.
"Prior to putting the Cap of Centipedes on the head, his hair was shaved, to make it easy for the centipedes to suck blood, which in turn made holes in [his] skull. In spite of that punishment the noble custodian of Husain's Head felt no pain at all. Salahuddin ordered more centipedes to be put on the nobleman's head, but it could not kill or pain him. Finally, Salahuddin Ayyubi ordered for a tight cap full of centipedes to accomplish the result. Even this method could not torture or kill him. The Ayyubid brutes were greatly astounded further when they saw, on removing the cap, the centipedes were dead. Salahuddin asked the nobleman to reveal the secret of this miracle. The nobleman revealed as follow[s]: When Raas al Imam al Husain was brought to Qasar, Al Moizziyat al Qahera, he had carried the casket on his head. 'O Salahuddin! This is the secret of my safety.'"
Today, the burial place of Husayn's head is also known literally as Raous (head)-us-Husain. A silver Zarih (Maqsurah) was created to honor the burial place by Dawoodi Bohra Dai. The location is visited regularly by many Shia Muslims.
According to believers, the story of the Maqsurah is also unique. The Maqsurah was originally constructed for the mosque of Al-Abbas ibn Ali, the Al Abbas Mosque, in Karbala, Iraq. When this Maqsurah reached that mosque, it would not fit into its planned location. The location and the Maqsurah had previously been measured precisely, and fit well at that time. Believers say that Al-Abbas received divine guidance by way of intuition, telling him that out of loyalty, he could not allow Husayn's head to be buried without a Maqsurah. Consequently, Al-Abbas's Maqsurah was brought from Karbala, Iraq to Cairo. According to the story, the Maqsurah fitted upon the original position of the grave known as Mashhad of Raas al Imam al Husain as if it had been made for Raas al Imam al Husain itself.
- Review of Mosque
- Williams, Caroline. 2002. Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 193-194.
- Restoration of the First Quran
- Brief History of Transfer of the Sacred Head of Hussain ibn Ali, From Damascus to Ashkelon to Qahera By: Qazi Dr. Shaikh Abbas Borhany PhD (USA), NDI, Shahadat al A’alamiyyah (Najaf, Iraq), M.A., LLM (Shariah) Member, Ulama Council of Pakistan , Published in Daily News, Karachi, Pakistan on 3 January 2009.
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