Egypt reopened the largest mausoleum dome in the country, on Sunday, of Al-Imam Al-Shafie after a restoration and maintenance project that has lasted for almost five years.
The inauguration was attended by: Khaled El-Anani, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities; Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, Minister of Religious Endowments; Governor of Cairo Khaled Abdel Aal; the Chairperson of the Religious Committee at Egypt’s House of Representatives; and Jonathan Cohen, the US Ambassador to Cairo.
The conservation project on the dome started in 2016, and was implemented in cooperation with the Athar Lina Initiative- Megawra. It received funding from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
El-Anani expressed his pleasure at the completion of the huge project, which cost more than EGP 22m.
The minister described the opening of the dome, which serves as the shrine of Imam Al-Shafie, as the best celebration of World Heritage Day.
He stressed that this project is an embodiment of the role played by his ministry in preserving Egyptian antiquities in general and Islamic in particular, whether through self-financing or in cooperation with international bodies.
Last November, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities inaugurated the Imam Al-Shafie Mosque adjacent to the dome following restoration, funded by the Ministry of Religious Endowments.
Both the mosque and dome serve as a new tourist attraction for visitors, particularly as the dome is one of the most important Islamic monuments in Egypt, as well as one of the most famous shrine domes in the country.
Boasting the largest wooden dome in the country, it is famed for its architecture, as well as being the tomb of Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Idris Al-Shafie, the founder of the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence. He was also known as a judge, jurist, traveller, and poet.
El-Anani noted that the dome includes rare examples of stucco ornamentation, ornate woodwork, and exquisite compositions of stained wood with distinctive patterns. Put together, this ensures that the building is a visual record of Islamic patterns throughout the ages.
At the end of his speech, the minister thanked Ambassador Cohen and all those in charge of the restoration work which has preserved a significant historic attraction for Egypt.
For his part, Cohen said that the US is pleased to support the conservation of the Al-Shafie dome through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
The work ensures that an important symbol of religious history and Islamic architecture in Egypt is available to visitors.
“This project is part of our $100m investment over the past 25 years, aimed at preserving, restoring, and protecting more than 85 cultural and religious heritage sites across Egypt,” he said.
Muhammad Bin Idris Bin El-Abbas bin Othman bin Shafi, also known as Imam Al-Shafie, was born in Gaza in the year 150 AH/767 CE.
Growing up in the Saudi city of Mecca, he studied under the Imam Malik, founder of the Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence, before establishing his own doctrine of Sunni jurisprudence.
Al-Shafie came to Egypt in 198 AH/813 CE, and started giving his lessons at the Mosque of Amr ibn Al-Aas, guiding many Egyptian scholars. He died in the year 204 AH/819 CE, and was buried in Cairo’s City of the Dead.
During the reign of Salah El-Din Al-Ayyubi, a small mausoleum was built for Al-Shafie in 572 AH/1176 CE, the first building to be built as the tomb of Al-Shafie.
The current mausoleum is attributed to the Ayyubid Sultan Muhammad, who built it on the site of a former Fatimid mausoleum after his mother was buried there.
In 1178 CE, the wooden sarcophagus that tops the burial place was completed. It is decorated with geometric fillings engraved with very elaborate inscriptions of Qur’an verses. The sarcophagus also features the translation of the life of Al-Shafie, and the name of its maker (Ubayd al-Najjar), both of which are written in Kufic and Ayyubid scripts.
The current wooden dome is one of the renovations made by Sultan Qaytbay in 885 AH/1480 CE, who also renovated the mausoleum. Further restorations were conducted in later years by Sultan Qansuh Al-Ghuri, and the governor of Egypt, Ali Bey the Great.