Professor of Islamic art and architecture at the American University in Cairo, Bernard O’Kane wrote The Mosques of Egypt, published by AUC Press in 2016.
It is a magnificent fully color-illustrated celebration of Egypt’s Islamic architectural heritage, with 450 of his own photographs.
Would you say this is the comprehensive book on the mosques of Egypt?
We have been lacking an up-to-date book in English on the mosques of Egypt that covers the full chronology to the present day and the whole of the country.
How hard was it to gain access to some of the remote mosques?
I suppose I was lucky in that I traveled by car to some of the more isolated locations in Upper Egypt before the revolution when security considerations were not an issue. Once there, since I had the cooperation of the Ministry of Antiquities, access was not a problem.
But even afterwards, I had no difficulty visiting the mosques in remote locations in Lower Egypt, for instance. The only monument I failed to access was the Shrine of al-Guyushi on the Muqattam cliff, in a military zone. The Mosques of Egypt
How much has the function of the mosque evolved over the centuries?
From the beginning, mosques were multifunctional buildings. It is only quite recently, with the increase in population and the spread of more specialized locations for socializing and commerce that their function has been much more limited to places of prayer.
What are some of the very essential features of a mosque?
They are invariably oriented to the qibla and will include a mihrab in the qibla wall to commemorate the place where the Prophet led the first prayers.
How important are the artifacts inside the mosque, such as lighting, carpets, stands, minbars, etc.?
They are not essential, but of course, they can provide some of the most valuable aesthetic additions to the building. The Mamluk period contributed immensely to the building of mosques. The Mosques of Egypt
Is it the most critical period in Egypt’s Islamic architectural heritage?
Under the Mamluks, Egypt was the main territory of an empire that ranged from Upper Egypt to Anatolia. It invariably received the bulk of patronage of the rulers and their amirs.
They were extremely active builders, being concerned not only to assist their fellow Muslims and assure their place in heaven but also to safeguard their wealth by making their families control their religious endowments. The Mosques of Egypt
Do you have a favorite mosque in Cairo or Egypt?
The undoubted aesthetic masterpieces are the mosques of Ibn Tulun and Sultan Hasan, but the lesser-visited mosque of Sulayman Pasha in the citadel is also an unexpected gem. The Mosques of Egypt
Is enough being done today to preserve Egypt’s mosques?
The situation has greatly improved since I came to Cairo in 1980 when the rising water table led to crumbling foundations and decoration of many buildings.
However, more recently problems have arisen from occasional over-restoration of buildings, and the theft of artifacts, such as minbars, the metal fittings of doors, and wooden and marble friezes.