Al-Hussein Mosque or al-Husayn Mosque, also known as the Mosque of al-Imam al-Husayn (Arabic: مسجد الإمام ٱلحُسين) and the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Husayn, is a mosque and mausoleum of Husayn ibn Ali, originally built in 1154, and then later reconstructed in 1874. The mosque is in Cairo, Egypt, near the Khan El-Khalili bazaar, near-by the famous Al Azhar Mosque, in an area known as Al-Hussain. It is one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt. Some Shia Muslims believe that Husayn’s head (ra’s mubarak) is on the grounds of the mosque where a mausoleum is today and what is left of the Fatimid architecture in the building.

Al-Hussein Mosque
مسجد الإمام ٱلحُسين
Al-Hussein Mosque

History of Al-Hussein Mosque

Fatimid period

According to Fatimid tradition, in the year 985, the 15th Fatimid Caliph, Abu Mansoor Nizar al-Aziz Billah, traced the site of his great-grandfather’s head through the office of a contemporary in Baghdad. It remained buried in the Shrine of Husayn’s Head, Palestine, for about 250 years, until 1153. It “rediscovered” in 1091 at a time when Badr al-Jamali had just reconquered the region for the Fatimid Caliphate. Upon discovery, he ordered the construction of a new Friday mosque and mashhad (memorial shrine) on the site.

After the 21st Fatimid Imam At-Tayyib Abu’l-Qasim went into seclusion, his uncle, Abd al Majid, occupied the Fatimid Empire’s throne. Fearing disrespect and possible traitorous activity, the Majidi-monarch, Al-Zafir, ordered the transfer of the head to Cairo. Husayn’s casket unearthed and moved from Ashkelon to Cairo on Sunday 8 Jumada al-Thani, 548 (31 August 1153). Yemeni writer Syedi Hasan bin Asad described the transfer of the head in his Risalah manuscript: “When the Raas [head of] al Imam al Husain was taken out of the casket, in Ashkelon, drops of the fresh blood were visible on the Raas al Imam al Husain and the fragrance of Musk spread all over.”


Left: One of three canopy umbrellas placed in the courtyard of the mosque. Right: Gothic-style windows and Ottoman minaret.

The building of the mausoleum completed in 1154. Of this original Fatimid architectural structure, only the lower part of the south side gate called Bab Al-Akhdar remains original in the mosque today. A couple years later, a minaret added to the original Fatimid gateway by the Ayyubids in 1237. The minaret has panel carvings of overlapping lines that create patterns called arabesque popular in Islamic Architecture. The different minarets among this mosque play a role in portraying the various powers that ruled Cairo and the way they laminated their power through architecture. Finally in 1874, Isma’il Pasha (Khedive Isma’il) reconstructed Al-Hussein mosque inspired by the Gothic Revival Architecture. Wanting to modernize Cairo, Isma’il Pasha created a mosque with Italian Gothic style and Ottoman style minarets. This mixture of various architectural styles famous in Islamic architecture during the khedival time period is called Islamic eclecticism.

Today, the latest addition to Al-Hussein Mosque are three large canopy umbrellas. Added to protect those praying outdoors from the sun during the summer days and from the rain during the winter. They are mechanically operated and follow the designs of many Saudi Arabian mosques made from steel and teflon. Many people still come to this mosque to pray and visit the mausoleum on a normal basis. Although non-Muslims not allowed into the building, the structure still viewed from the outside by tourists.