After wrapping up a landmark first state visit to the United States, Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on a two-day trip to Egypt on Saturday. During the visit, Modi will visit the Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah Mosque, a 1,000-year-old mosque in the capital city of Cairo.
Why is the mosque significant?
The mosque, said to be the fourth oldest in Egypt, was built during the Fatimid dynasty. “It is one of the oldest architectural examples of projecting entrances, and was influenced by the great Mosque of Mahdiya in Tunis. The mosque once served as a Shiite center in Egypt, operating as al-Azhar Mosque did in the Fatimid period,” Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities states on its website.
The historic structure, which was once used by French forces as a barrack with its minarets serving as watch-towers, was renovated by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities over a span of six years. The Imam al-Hakim mosque holds a significant place in the hearts of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims as the community co-funded the renovation.
The mosque is a key Islamic site for the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims with whom Modi shares warm relations. The Dawoodi Bohras have a deep connection with Egypt—they adhere to the Fatimi Ismaili Tayyibi school of thought which is believed to have originated in Egypt and later shifted to Yemen. Decades later, the seat of the sect was moved from Yemen to India, taking into account not just the number of followers in India, but also the community's cultural and trade ties with the country. Interestingly, 'Bohra' is derived from the Gujarati word for traders.
According to reports, the Dawoodi Bohras are present in every part of Modi's home state Gujarat and comprise nine percent of the state's population. While Surat is their base, the Bohra Muslims also live in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In 2011, when Modi was Gujarat CM, he joined the community to celebrate the 100th birthday of Syedna Burhanuddin, who was the religious leader of the community then. When Burhanuddin died in 2014, Modi went to Mumbai to offer condolences to his son Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin who is the current head of the community. The Dawoodi Bohras have also massively supported Modi's diaspora events in the US.
Modi's visit to the Islamic site is expected to further strengthen his ties with the community.