The Other Mohammed Ali

Of course, coming to a 90% Muslim country was top of mind given the current political situation south of our border. Many of us, without consultation, plastered Canada flags everywhere, on our collars, purses, luggage etc. It was interesting that local baggage handlers also kept the distinction in the forefront:

I don’t think I’ve ever had pre-conceived notions about Muslims; Toronto is a cosmopolitan city but I grew up in a neighbourhood that was primarily me-ish and Jewish. Before I was a Justin Trudeau fan, I was a Pierre Trudeau fan; I am proud of our openness and our refugee policy and I hope the xenophobia happening today never creeps across our border.  The West may be bombing Syria for justifiable geopolitical reasons, but that bombing is leading to people fleeing their homes, and it is to me intrinsically a moral imperative that we take responsibility for them. It must be heartbreaking for Syrians to see the photographs of the destruction of Aleppo, I try to imagine if that were my home town in Victoria or Vancouver or Toronto.

I have always thought of Egypt as a moderate, tolerant, well-educated society.  It may be slightly more conservative today but as I have said, most Egyptians welcome us with open arms in displays that most Canadians would be too restrained to reciprocate.  I also think about my own impatience on lunch hours working in a tourist town with dawdling, gawking tourists.

Sorry for the digression, but it seems necessary.

So, it was a great experience for me to visit a mosque for the first time, the most important mosque in Cairo, the Mohammed Ali Mosque and the Citadel.  Ali was a Turk who conquered Egypt in the 9th Century but, like the Moors who occupied Spain, he was only interested in collecting taxes from Egyptians and was actually a tolerant leader and did not impose his culture and laws on Egyptians. In fact, he conceived of and built the country we now know as Egypt, eventually returning Egypt to its people and ending tax collection on Egyptians so they could move forward with their own country.

Our shuttle climbed to the Citadel surrounding the Mosque, which is modelled on the gorgeous Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Gleaming silver domes and minarets rise above the city from every viewpoint.


Although the Mosque is treated as a museum, it remains a house of worship with an Imam and students of the faith. In the centre of the courtyard is a fountain where the faithful ritually cleanse themselves before entering (“Wudu”). We arrived as the call to prayer began. We women put on our scarves and we all took off our shoes and carried them with us.

Blue domes rose above the huge space. As we entered, we laid our shoes on one of the rich red rugs covering the inner surface of the mosque.


The gorgeous interior was lined with gossamer alabaster marble typical of Egypt; it glows in light.

We saw a few men and boys run to the sanctuary to pray (mostly tourists visiting the site). A leader at the front gave the word for them to stand, bend, kneel, and drop their foreheads to the ground in supplication. Some men wear bruises on the foreheads as a symbol of their devotion to Allah. Sunni Muslims follow the Quran, of course, which incorporates Christ, Moses and others as prophets in their religion.


Parenthetically, this notice on a tabletop was typical in our hotel rooms:

Orients guests to the direction of Mecca

A lovely woman outside the Mosque was happy to be photographed in a quiet moment with her baby against the Cairo backdrop.

Other mosques dotted the landscape from this high vantage point.


It was a brief passing experience, and I don’t pretend to have a full grasp of the religion, but hopefully experiences like this open doors to understanding.

Before heading to the airport, we had a lovely lunch in a garden where the Mosque still hung in the frame.

Aish Baladi, Egyptian puffy “flatbread” eaten fresh from a scorching hot oven with a variety of dips that usually includes Baba Ganoush.



1 thought on “The Other Mohammed Ali

  1. Many of us from the US feel the same openness & welcome to other races & religions. Hoping and working that someday we can proudly display our symbols as Canadians do.

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