Impacts of Individual Interpretations on Preserving Islamic Monuments against Indigenous Ritual Visits in Arabic Societies



Case Study
Mashhad of Sayyadah Ruqayyah, 1133AD
Cairo, Egypt


Pilgrimage is an ancient practice that synchronized the existence of mankind. Types, duration and publicity of pilgrimage vary among cultures and religions. Anthropology describes this purification practice as expression of the contradictions that Man could not find an answer for. People used to fight for their inherited beliefs or surrender for new concepts that may reflect mightiness rather than ideology. Therefore, converting among religions, and so the purification practice, reflects the political history rather than the epistemological one. Practically, political influences are shaping Mankind culture more than knowledge. Great ideas were always in search for political tools prior to rational discussion and understanding. This is historically the main introduction for political corruption and stability as equal.


Visiting religious monuments and shrines is reflection of culture and tradition. Also, in a complicated social research, it indicates the public conclusions against their political order. During the last forty years, many spots around the world had watched different events that marked the social unrest in terms of violence against the religious monuments. Leading developing countries, where major changes are experienced, are exposed to violent expression for either approvals or rejections. India, Iran, Syria and Egypt are some examples of socio-political interchanges. Religious tolerance is linked to development and advanced standards of living; hence preserving religious shrines is respected among the debating parties. Dubrovnik case in Croatia 1991 was and extreme example that contradicts the other of Babri mosque in India in the same year.


Sequence and visiting behavior vary in the same country, and sometimes in the same society. The theological and religious grading of the shrine is affected with many factors. Managing the visits is also a changing operation. Both visiting behavior and visiting management are accumulative and synchronized process to reflect the philosophical and operational development. In most societies, organization of visiting of memorial and monumental locations and site is subject to various interventions between indigenous and formal structures. Therefore, the role of the private and NGOs is crucial and important despite the grade of tightness the ruling organizations have. In addition, developing visiting process is mainly depending on upgrading the non-governmental sectors rather than improving the governmental performance.


Seeking the ancestors’ wisdom and support is common in all societies; hence the folkloric teachings contain important gesticulations for. Therefore, tombs were known as important architectural feature. World Heritage List includes various types of tombs that associated with local and international interest in their cultural and historical values. These values are not necessarily reflecting the bygone epistemologies, but also the recent ones in many cases. The revival mystery of life\death will likely continue forever as an intellectual evidence of mankind. The graving techniques may develop, but the aspect of graving itself stills the same. Visiting cemeteries is a common practice in all societies regardless technological development or cultural distinction.


Early Islamic cemeteries were only vast plots outside the urban fabric. Orthodox Muslims prohibited the demarcation of the graves, except what is necessary to warn the visitors. By the Fatimid era the graves of the Prophet Mohammed and his descendants became in growing focus, which encouraged the distinction of Ahlu Al Bait (Descendants of Prophet Mohammed) and their tombs. Fatimid Cairo became one of the most important locations for the Fatimid architecture and its spiritual assets. One specific type of tomb, which only lasted during the Fatimid period was the Mashhad (Place of witness) erected over graves of descendants of Khalif Ali. Adjacent to the tomb was a small courtyard with an arcade, allowing devotee to walk in the presence of the spirit of the deceased.


Mashhad of Sayyadah Ruqayyah is a distinct architectural and historical monument that is only listed in the Egyptian inventory. The building is ignored in the formal architecture syllabus as a respond to formal policy that maintains Sunnite definition since the dethronement of Fatimid from power in early 1200th. Only some postgraduate researches had investigated the architectural features of the shrine with no details on its history or function. As a matter of fact, the Mashhad is a unique structure in Egypt, which not only symbolized the influences of Persian architecture, but also an accumulative urban setting that include various functions that confirm the and maintain its original purpose. Unfortunately, the Sunnite powers had ignored the required seriousness to maintain the shrine and generously allow the individuals to carry on the maintenance and restoration works without proper plans or guidelines.


Sayyadah Ruqayyah had neither visited Egypt nor buried in as proved by historical records and researches. The anniversary celebrations of her birthday are significant occasions, as well as the inheritance among Egyptian public towards Ahlu Al Bait and other holy men and women. These weeks long celebrations are important part in Egyptian social and cultural textures. They are the indigenous peaks of theological and religious practices that reflect the organizational behavior and implementations. Although Egypt is known with its ancient organizational fabric, the parameters of involvements are fade and unclear in concern with religious shrines. In addition, these shrines are practically managed by indigenous initiatives and assignments that always and routinely approved and acknowledged by both governmental and religious authorities. The conclusion is a unique management structure that equally confirms and revolts the religious character within the same society.


The research targets the disclosure of informal and individual interpretations of religious beliefs that compromise formal ones in shaping the public character. Such effort will identify the practical means to provide scientific preservation of architectural monuments in balance with irrevocable public interests and traditions. The research will experiment two options as main modules, the first is based on developing indigenous practice in both visiting and visiting management, while the second will discuss improvements of the formal authorities for better performance that will affect both visiting and visiting management as well. Both routs will establish integration grounds that will preserve both the culture and the monument.


There is no yet clear vision for the research structure, but initially it will maintain series of papers and abstracts on agreed topics. Naturally the research will require site visits, data collections, questionnaires and surveys to establish the knowledge foundation. Partially, the research will have to discuss historical, theological and political matters that frame the conclusive understanding of both society and culture. Comparisons among other visiting guidelines and experiments will set the experimental tracks and backgrounds.


As a part time research, means of discussions will be through remote techniques, while annual visits to Nottingham School of Business will be scheduled to monitor research development and achievements.


Adil M. Abdalla


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