In Cairo, the students were accompanied by Dr Fahmida Suleman, Curator, Department of the Middle East at the British Museum. Dr Suleman was previously a Research Associate in the Department of Academic Research and Publications and Administrative Coordinator of the Quranic Studies Unit at the IIS. Dr Suleman provided academic background to students’ explorations of historical Cairo. Shellina Karmali, IIS’ Alumni Relations Coordinator, was also with the students to facilitate the trip.

The visit was linked to several aspects of GPISH courses and objectives. In particular, it was relevant for further exploration of topics such as ‘Ismaili History’, ‘Islamic Cities: History, Culture and Development’ and ‘Art and Architecture of Muslim Societies’.
Cairo holds a special place in Ismaili history as it was founded by the Fatimids and served as their capital for nearly two centuries. The students visited the historical al-Azhar Mosque and Madrasa, which are among the most important buildings from the Fatimid era. They also toured the mosque of al-Hakim, which lies between the two large monumental gates of Bab al-Nasr and Bab al-Futuh. Another important place visited was the Ibn Tulun Mosque, a masterpiece of Muslim architecture, dating back to the ninth century. A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx – an opportunity to reflect upon the grandeur of the civilisation they represent. The trip also gave students an opportunity to understand the role played by Cairo in Muslim history and reflect upon the subsequent contributions by the Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans. Some students commented that the familiarity with history added considerably to their understanding of Cairo, and Muslim cities generally, in modern times.

After their trip to Cairo, students travelled to Damascus for their summer Arabic immersion programme, which is an integral part of GPISH. The course provided an important opportunity to practice Arabic in its broader cultural setting and strengthen the learning of the language. The course, developed in collaboration with the GPISH Arabic Coordinator, Luay Mohammed, was held at the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO). Among the modules offered were Arabic Grammar and Conversation, Muslim Civilisations, Ismaili History, Arabic Literature and Mystical Poetry.

As part of the trip, IIS students also went on field trips to Salamieh, Aleppo, Masyaf, Palmyra, El-Khawabi, Tartous and Golan Heights. During these visits, they explored several historical sites, including monuments of particular significance to Ismaili heritage such as the fort and tomb of Rashid al-Din Sinan, an Ismaili dai of the 13th century AD, the tombs of Imam Radi al-Din Abdullah and Prince Aly Khan in Salamieh, and the tomb of Imam Wafi Ahmad in Masyaf. Camp Mosaic at the Muhammadiya School established by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III was another place which the students visited during their trip to Syria.


Related Pages on the IIS Website