Religion in Cairo

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The Christian world celebrated Easter yesterday (originally a Pagan celebration of spring & fertility…hence the decorated eggs)…and our Jewish friends observed Passover, which as we all know happened in Egypt.

Although some sage warned me years ago never to discuss politics, religion, sex or to appear in a movie scene with kids or animals, I am going to plow ahead.

I had the unique experience in one day some thirty-four years ago in Cairo, Egypt to visit three historic and significant sites for three of the planet’s major religions — Christian, Judaism, and Muslim.

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We had a guide who did an excellent job describing the sites in detail as well as the religions the sites represented.

What struck me was the similarities among all three religion with the central theme being a belief in one God and a set of morale values…a guide to show us how we should lead our lives and  treat each other.

Abu Serga church is considered one of the oldest churches in Cairo. This church was built during the 5th century, burned during the fire of Fustat during the reign of Marwan II around 750, then restored during the 8th century, and has been rebuilt and restored since medieval times. PICT0142 (2)

The church is believed to have been constructed where the holy family rested at the end of their journey into Egypt.

On the first day of June, the Coptic Church commemorates the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt by holding a mass on that day in this ancient church.

The Ben Ezra Synagogue (Hebrewבית כנסת בן עזרא‎,) is situated in Old Cairo. According to local folklore, it is built on the site where the pharaoh’s daughter found Moses hidden in the reeds of the Nile.

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PICT0145 (3)The founding date of the Ben Ezra Synagogue is not known, although there is good evidence from documents found in the geniza or store room that it predates 882 C.E. and is probably pre-Islamic.

A young couple from Israel approached us while we were there and asked if we would take their photo in front of the Torah. We did.

This was the synagogue whose geniza was found in the 19th century to contain a treasure of abandoned Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic secular and sacred manuscripts. The priceless collection was originally brought to Cambridge, England but is now divided between several academic libraries.

This temple today is only used as a tourist site. Egypt’s Jewish community is at the end of a dramatic decline, going from about 80,000 people in the 1920s to less than a dozen of Egyptian ancestry left today (descendants of the slaves that built the pyramids).

PICT0017 (3)Built from 1830 to 1848 by the commission of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Muhammad Ali Mosque is the largest Ottoman mosque to be built in the early 19th century. The mosque is in the Citadel of Cairo, Egypt. With its twin minarets, animated silhouette and recognizable design, it is the most visible mosque in Cairo.PICT0156 (2)

The Mohammad Ali Mosque, designed by Greek architect Jacob Bushnaq of Istanbul, is eminently Turkish in style, echoing its Ottoman origins. The use of slim minarets, cascading domes, spacious interiors, large chandeliers, walls decorated with Thuluth inscriptions and beautiful hanging globe lamps are all reflecting the best mosques found in Istanbul. PICT0160 (2)

Set on the foot of the Mugattam Hills, the mosque dominates the whole Citadel, and it is the most visible monument on the Cairo skyline.

PICT0165 (2)On the inside, the rooms reflect some French Rococo as well as Art Nouveau influences, with heavily ornamentation of lines of green, red and gold. All in all, the mosque is as colorful as a Fabergé egg, and the exteriors are just exceptional. Interestingly, the mosque is made of some unusual choice of materials: alabaster and metal. Beautiful!

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What a speed dating type interaction with culture and religion…but one I will never forget…to walk the same alleyway as Mary carrying the Baby Jesus…PICT0136 (2)

To stand in a temple where Moses was found as a baby…

All set in ancient Egypt, land of pyramids & the Pharaohs…almost too much to comprehend.

Peace & Love & Happy Traveling.

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