While in this region of the south of France one cannot avoid the force of the Old Winds –
the katabatic Mistral that blows up to 100 days a year and keeps cyclists and joggers indoors. It’s blowing forcefully right now as the sun shines gloriously. The Mistral is a fixture here and has swept up numerous legends and lores in its path. The BBC Weather page for the Mistral notes that “Locals claim that a sudden feeling of dejection sweeps through them just before the Mistral arrives; once the wind gets up, depression gives way to headaches and irritability.” (Ah! I say. Explains the temperaments of people around me this past day.)
About an hour from here another wind is blowing through France at the same time, one that has been whipping up equally forceful reactions. In 2001 the Mayor of Marseille, Jean-Claude Gaudin, publicly lent his support to the building of a grand mosque in Marseille. On 6 Nov 2009 the green light was given for the building. The grand mosque has been scheduled to start construction on 21 April 2010 with its doors opening to welcome Eid in November 2011. It will house the largest prayer hall in France – capable of holding up to 7,000 worshippers, and it promises a minaret towering up to 25 metres. It will also house a library, an amphitheatre, a restaurant and a school. It is a mosque Marseille’s 200,000 Muslims are looking forward to. But in these times when the Swiss vote against minarets and the UK government is publicly announcing plans to racially profile travellers as part of enhanced airport security, we can be assured that there will probably be *some* resistance to the building of the grand mosque in Marseille.
Le Front National (founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972) is the most visible opponent to the building of the grand mosque. A party close to the heart of the UK’s BNP (read here for Le Pen and his position on the Holocaust), Le Front’s main stand is that the grand mosque will be an affront to French national identity, further remarking that the majority of French citizens oppose the building of minarets in France. They have demanded a referendum to decide on the construction of the grand mosque. French Muslims are determined to push forward with building plans.
Find out more about the grand mosque from the official website.
I first visited the Ibn Tulun mosque in 2005, again in 2006, and again this afternoon. Sitting in the central courtyard’s ablution fountain (or domed sabil) I remember why this mosque is my favourite in Cairo. Its walls are so thick that once inside them you don’t hear Cairo’s streets anymore – a welcome respite, even in scorching hot weather.
The mosque was built for Ahmad Ibn Tulun, son of a Turkish slave of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun, and founder of Egypt’s Tulunid Dynasty (868 – 905 AD). It is heavily influenced by the Samarra style, Samarra being Ibn Tulun’s home. The mosque’s original inscription slab identifies the date of completion as 265 AH, or 879 AD, making it arguably the oldest mosque in Cairo still in its original form.
In 2006 the minaret was closed off and I had to pay one of the caretakers to unlock the door at the base. This time round the tourist police at the main door of the mosque informed us that the minaret was open. If you get the chance to go all the way up, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the surrounding district and the citadel. As well, you’ll see lots of graffiti on the walls of the minaret – some written in with ink, others carved into the walls (I had time to take in the graffiti, as I needed a five-minute break after climbing those stairs, which to be fair, weren’t a severe climb, but dehydration and 40 degree heat don’t help). But before you climb all the way up to the minaret, be sure to climb out onto the first floor of the mosque, but hang on to your animals and children or they’ll fall off the open edges! The most memorable aspect of the mosque for me has always been the crenellations. The first time I saw them in 2005 the first thought that came to mind was, “Oh, Keith Haring figures!”
But what immediately struck me as a third-time visitor to this calm oasis in the midst of a very dense and congested district is the evident decaying condition of the mosque. I remember a couple of months ago visiting the Citadel, and the Sultan Hassan and Rifa’i mosques for a third time as well and thinking how dilapidated they all appeared, compared with the last time I visited.
Is it just my imagination, or are these important mosques in Cairo not being suitably taken care of?
(For more information on the Ibn Tulun mosque, visit this “Tour Egypt” site)