One of the purposes of this trip was to enable students to visit historical sites connected to the Fatimid period such as the al-Azhar Mosque, arguably the most important building from Fatimid Cairo, and the mosque of al-Hakim, which lies between the two large monumental gates of Bab al-Nasr and Bab al-Futuh.
The visit also gave students an opportunity to understand the importance of Cairo in Muslim history and reflect upon the subsequent contributions by the Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans. Notable visits here included the mosque of Muhammed ‘Ali and the Madrasa of Sultan Hasan. The students also visited the Ibn Tulun Mosque, a masterpiece of Muslim architecture.
Finally, through their guided tour of Al-Azhar Park, an AKTC project, they learned about the valuable cultural, social and economic contributions of this project to the contemporary inhabitants of Cairo. The students found the eight-day visit to be a unique and educationally enriching experience.
The trip provided the STEP participants with experience to complement their academic studies. They can draw upon their personal observations of the city and its people to enliven their teaching. One of the students, Laila Allahwala, summarised the experience thus:
“Learning about our past is extremely important as it helps us to build a better future. Visiting Cairo helped me understand what the past meant more clearly as it allowed me to imagine how people lived and worked together to form a community in the past. We, both males and females, felt accepted by others in the Ummah when they extended their generosity by asking us to join them in the Salat in their mosques. Furthermore, what was important was that these sacred spaces were not destroyed, but rather were restored, built upon, and which continue to be revered spaces by tourists and citizens of this city.”
Muniza Ahmed spoke about her Cairo experience as follows:
“Cairo is a beauty – a surprising combination of a rustic and statuesque appeal – chaotic, crowded, colourful and exotic. It is also a relic where many civilisations and dynasties have left their mark. It has a legacy of many great empires but the one I most yearned to explore was that of the Fatimids. I experienced “Fatimid Cairo” not just by visiting the Fatimid mosques and monuments but its influence resonated in many other structures built by later rulers. It was nostalgic walking through Shari' al-Mu'izz and going inside the mosque of Al-Hakim and Al-Azhar mosque. Once inside these mosques, we sat on the floor and marvelled at the vast courtyards, the continuous arches and the intricately decorated domes and mihrabs. I find Cairo to be a masterpiece of time – its canvas displays remarkable feats of humanity.”