What would you do if you saw people defiling a mosque?
Throwing garbage on the steps.
Letting it fall into disrepair.
Spray painting the walls.
Bringing dogs to defecate and urinate.
Littering the area with used needles from their heroin habit.
For me, I don't have to imagine because I saw this at a mosque in Alexandria.
While every mosque is important to believers, what makes this especially difficult to stomach is that I'm talking about the Mosque of Abu al-Abbas Mursi.
El-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque (Arabic: جامع المرسي أبو العباس) is a famous mosque in Alexandria,Egypt. It is dedicated to the 13th century Alexandrine Sufi saint el-Mursi Abul Abbas whose tomb it contains.
The Mosque was redesigned and built in today's current form by Eugenio Valzania and Mario Rossiin the years 1929/1945.
This beautiful mosque, with its high minaret and four domes, is Alexandria's largest and one of the most important Islamic monuments.
Abu Al-Abbas Al-Mursi is Alexandria’s largest mosque; with a cream coloured façade, four great domes, arabesque designs and a high minaret, the mosque is a beautiful sight.
Built in 1775 to commemorate the life of an Andalusian Sheikh that was buried on the site, it is one of the most visited mosques on the White Med coast.
While visiting this amazing sanctuary, do not forget to have a long and thorough look at the colonnade of elongated arches, the eight monolithic granite columns and the beautiful marble floor.
This stunning mosque, with its high minaret and four domes, is considered Alexandria’s
largest and most important Islamic monuments. It was built in 1775 A.D. on the eastern
harbor of Alexandria over a tomb of a Spanish saint and scholar. El-Mursi Abu Al Abbas
Mosque was dedicated to the Muslim hermit, el-Mursi Abu Al Abbas who was born in
Murcia, Spain, in 1219. He came to Alexandria to teach the Islamic theology in the Mosque
of El Attarin. He died in 1287 and was buried in the site where the mosque now lies.
Built in 1929, the present mosque was modeled on the Andalusian style with a
unique octagonal plan with sides measuring 22 meters. The entire area the
mosque covers 3000 square meters. His tomb became a pilgrimage for Muslims
from Egypt and other Islamic regions when the rich trader El Sheikh Zein El Din Ibn El
Qattan founded a mausoleum and small dome for the tomb in addition to a small mosque in
1307. It was occasionally restored until a much larger mosque was built by Sheikh Abu Al
Hassan EL Maghrabi, and its renovation was finally completed in 1863 when the ritual of
celebrating the birth of Abu Al Abbas became an annual festival.
This mosque is the place where architecture becomes an exploration. If you are an
architect, you will feel that you have found your perfect inspiration, and if you’re a tourist
then you have found the subject of your next gorgeous photos that will be added to your
I hope you read some of what others are saying about the importance of the mosque.
This is Islamic architecture at its finest. Here is a 1945 document from Yahia Qadri detailing the well-planned construction of the complex. Large teams of dedicated people really cared that this building would last through the ages.
Remember that many people discover beautiful Islamic buildings first and then search deeper into the faith which was the initial inspiration. Truly, Islamic architecture is dawah or religious outreach; if the place of worship is a peaceful sanctuary then perhaps the religion itself is a pathway to that peace.
The Mosque of Abu al-Abbas Mursi is many things:
a place to worship The Almighty;
a resting place for an important Muslim scholar;
an instrument of dawah;
an architectural achievement;
a historical site important for not just Muslims in Alexandria but worldwide, and not just for Muslims but for all of humanity.
For all these reasons, seeing the Mosque of Abu al-Abbas Mursi was on our "Must See" list for our visit this week in Alexandria.
Our plan was to be there for the magrib prayer at sunset. We walked along the Cornish as if we were heading back to the Fort. There was the upscale Fish Market restaurant on our right. A little further on, we reached the fountain.
Walking through the large crowd, we could see a wide range of couples, families with small children and roaming independent teens. Everyone was enjoying the carnival atmosphere of ice cream, face painting, trinket sellers and carnival rides. It was a fair of sorts that took precedent over the needs of a holy place. Litter was everywhere as was disregard for the mosque.
When we reached the steps, a man inside motioned us in but I couldn't. I was really sick from seeing the condition of the entrance. How could a place that values cleanliness be this dirty? I didn't take any picture of that entrance. I was too sad.
We walked past two sedentary police officers around to the side of the mosque. We looked to be the only tourists that night. Yes, I wanted a picture of a place I'd dreamed of seeing but it needed to be a picture from my imagination and not reality. The whole place was so chaotic and messy. We walked to the side and I tried to take a photo like how I used to for real estate brochures. There's a way to focus only on the best while cropping out the worst.
The gate which used to protect the courtyard was open to all. We walked in and the the scene was dismal. The courtyard was filthy.
There were children who had brought two puppies to the courtyard and the dogs were using the place to relieve themselves.
For Muslims, having a dog in a holy place is considered very bad.
I then saw the graffiti.
There has been some publicity about Egyptian churches suffering since the Revolution. I know that is true and it is heartbreaking. What I hadn't realized is that the majids/mosques are also suffering. That destructive thoughtlessness is not limiting itself to one religion.
Take a closer look at the names. I see Muslim names.
Some boy named after the Prophet (pbuh) has his name spray painted on the side of the mosque. Shame. That's a big shame. In another section, there was the name "Ahmed". So, if you're wondering who is responsible for this graffiti, look for Muslims not Christians, Jews or Hindus. Muslims themselves are destroying their own masjids.
Remember that there was a whole HUGE crowd of Muslims outside this area, laughing it up, eating until their buttons popped, spending money and time on frivolities. I have no problem with people having fun---I was on vacation myself. What I hate is that I had only to spend two days in Alexandria to discover this problem yet no one in Egypt's second biggest city has. How is THAT?
It gets worse.
My husband decided to walk ahead of me and called for me to go down some stairs. He thought there might be a better area below. I followed him in a bit of a daze. My son (El-Kid on this blog) was tagging along although he'd been begging to leave because the place, "really creeps me out".
Three steps down I saw the hypodermic needles. A click went off in my mind. I remembered the strange scene of a young man freaking out on the sidewalk. He'd been so wild with agitated shouting that I'd been reluctant to pass by. Now, his antics made sense. This was a place for drug addicts to shoot heroin or mix.
"T'allah delwaty---DELWATY!" I commanded my husband to come right away without telling him anything more. To his credit, he took me at my word that we needed to leave immediately. It's not easy for a woman to order an Egyptian man around but in a marriage built on trust it can happen. Thank God that he followed me up the stairs. Once we were up into the courtyard again, I told him that I'd seen needles. He then told me that he'd seen a man down there.
We were clueless and we would have been helpless if that man had turned on us. Really? Going to one of the most famous mosques in Egypt should not have to be life threatening. We could have been attacked by someone high on drugs that night. Addiction is a very powerful force and can produce unpredictable behavior.
What's important to remember is that we're NOT typical tourists. I'm very world-wise and careful. My husband is actually from this country and is always looking for trouble to avoid. We fell into a big dangerous situation. If this is what happened to us, then what could happen to first-time tourists to Egypt?
The sun was setting. We quickly made our way out without looking back. Through the crowds we went again.
I had a bad feeling towards all the people----sorry, but I was mad at them for allowing the destruction of such an Islamic treasure. They were like the people of Jahiliyya the time before Islam; basking in the Dunya the worldly pleasures and forgetting the Akhira the after life.
We walked away and I felt guilty to leave the mosque in such a state. It was as if I were leaving a sick old man to die. Astragferallah. The truth is that I couldn't do anything that night. We walked and it was a kind of escape.
My husband said that he felt like throwing up.
I felt like washing---and then I realized that washing my skin wasn't enough. I said, "I feel like I need to wash my soul."
El-Kid was grossed out and said he couldn't believe we'd brought him to such a place. As a Muslim mom who has always tried to instill pride in my son, that comment hurt. He was right that it was a bad place. You could feel the evil. How very sad that one of the most majestic Islamic landmarks in the country had that affect on him.
When we had set out our walk, we were going to have dinner after our tour of the mosque. Now, we weren't hungry even though we were at the restaurant. We went in, washed up and tried to make the best of it. The meal wasn't sitting well with us because our eyes had already taken in too much. My husband complained to the manager about everything; he was in a horrible mood. I understood.
Do you understand? There is a real need to rectify this problem. What I'm doing now is publicizing this and I hope you can also pass this along to people and groups who care. It is an embarrassment for Egypt but that is not my goal. My intention is to clean up a treasured jewel of Islam.
May God make it easy on those who can find a way to help.