THE MOSQUE OF AHMAD IBN TULUN 263- 65H.(876/877- 879) . TULUN was one of the Turkish slaves whom the Governor of Bukhara had sent to the Khalif al- Ma'mun. He stayed in the service of the 'Abbasid Court until he was promoted to the rank of prince. His son, Ahmad, showed inclination towards scientific and literary studies; he learnt the Qur'an, Fiqh and Hadith (Traditions) , and displayed exceptional talent, surpassing all his colleagues. He was chosen deputy ruler of Egypt on behalf of Bayakbak whom the 'Abbasid Khalif had appointed as Governor of Egypt. He took up his appointment in 254H. (868). By good luck the governorship of Egypt, after Bayakbak's death was given to Amajur, Ibn Tulun's father- in- law, who approved the continuation of Ibn Tulun in office. The authority of Ahmad ibn Tulun was at first limited to Fustat, the Kharaj (land tax) being controlled by Ibn al- Mudabbir. Ahmad ibn Tulun gradually increased his influence until the whole of Egypt came under his control. He was also put in charge of the Kharaj and extended his rule over Syria and Cyrenaica. Ahmad was the first of the Tulunids, whose rule over Egypt lasted from 254H. (868) until 292H. (905). He died in 270H. (884).
Ahmad ibn Tulun may be regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Muslim Egypt. During his rule, Egypt, from being a province of the 'Abbasid Khalifate, became an independent state. When he had completed his palace at the foot of al- Muqattam, planned the maydan (square) in front of it, and founded al- Qata'i', Ahmad ibn Tulun built his great mosque on an outcrop of rock called Gabal Yashkur in 265H. (879) ; the date of completion is confirmed by the foundation inscription which is carved on a marble slab fixed to one of the piers of the qibla riwaq (sanctuary). This mosque, although the third founded in Egypt, is the oldest that has preserved its original plan and architectural details. This is due to the fact that nothing remains of the first, the Mosque of 'Amr built in 21H. (642) , and that the second, the Mosque of al- 'Askar, built in 169H. (785/86) , disappeared when the city was ruined. Like many other ancient mosques, it has passed through various phases of restoration and ruin. It was in the year 470H. (1077) , that Badr al Gamali, the Wazir of the Fatimid Khalif al- Mustansir carried out some restorations in the mosque; and inscription to this effect is to be found on a marble slab fixed over one of the doorways of the north fašade. In the sanctuary, al- Afdal added a stucco mihrab to one of the piers, the decoration of which attains a very high standard.
Two more mihrabs were installed, the first during the Tulunid period, and the second during the Fatimid period; both of them are in the sanctuary. The most important restorations, however, were those carried out by Sultan Husam ad- Din Lajin, who in 696H. (1296) , constructed:. 1- The dome in the centre of the sahn, which replaced that built by the Fatimid Khalif al- 'Aziz Billah in 385H. (995). The latter had replaced the original dome of 376H. (986). 2- The present minaret with its external staircase. 3- The present minbar. 4- The marble and mosaic lining of the main mihrab. 5- The pendentives of the dome over the main mihrab. 6- Numerous pierced stucco windows. 7- A stucco mihrab similar to that of al- Afdal, which was added to a pier next to it. The sabil in the southern ziyada was built by Qayt- Bay; it has been restored by the Department for the Preservation of Arab Monuments. Towards the end of the twelfth century H. (XVIII th A.D.) , the mosque was turned into a workshop for the manufacture of woollen girdles, and in the middle of the last centuary it was used as an asylum for the disabled. As soon as the ComitÚ de Conservation des Monuments de l'Art had been established in 1882, they rescued it from its shameful condition, and started to restore it. It was in the year 1918 that the late King Fouad I authorized a project for its complete restoration and the pulling down of all the buildings surrounding it. A sum of L.E. 40,000 was allotted for the purpose.
This sum, however, was spent on restoring the parts which had fallen, the renewal of its roofs and the reparation of its stucco decoration. The mosque consists of an open Sahn (court) about 92 sq., m. in the middle of which is a dome supported on an octagonal drum resting on a square base, with four arched openings and an ablution fountain in the centre. A curious feature of this structure is the presence of a staircase, leading up to the level of the drum, which has been constructed inside its north wall. The Sahn is surrounded by four riwaqs, the deepest being the sanctuary which is formed by five arcades, whereas the others are of two only. The arcades consist of pointed arches resting on rectangular piers with engaged brick columns at the corners. All four riwaqs are covered with modern timber roofs, copied from fragments which remained of the original one. Below the ceiling runs the famous wooden frieze, carved with verses from the Qur'an in early Kufic. The mosque proper is about 118 m. wide and 138 m. deep; it is surrounded on the northern, western and southern sides by three ziyadas (extensions) , each of which is about 19 m deep.
The whole, therefore, forms a square meauring 162 m. each way. In the centre of the western ziyada stands the unique minaret which has no parallel in Egypt. It is most probable that this minaret derived its external staircase from the original minaret of the mosque, which al- Quda'i says was copied from the minaret of Samarra. The present minaret consists of a square lower storey, surmounted by a circular one. This is crowned by an octagonal top storey with a small fluted dome. The whole structure is about 40 m. in height. The scheme of the fašade of the mosque is a simple one. The lower half is bare, except for the door openings; the upper part is occupied by a row of windows with stucco grilles of various designs and different periods, alternating with niches with fluted hoods.
The whole is crowned with beautiful open- work cresting, like that on the walls of the ziyadas. To each doorway of the mosque proper, there is a corresponding one in the outer walls of the ziyadas. The latter opened on the bazaars which led up to the doors of the mosque. A small doorway, however, was opened in the qibla wall, leading the Dar al- Imara, which Ibn Tulun had built on the eastern side of the mosque. In the middle of the qibla wall is the main mihrab, of which the original niche and marble columns flanking it on either side still remain, likewise the frame and spandrels, but the marble and mosaic lining is the work of Sultan Lajin as mentioned above.
The bay in front of the mihrab is covered with a wooden dome, with pierced stucco windows in its drum, decorated with coloured glass. Alongside the mihrab is the minbar, which was constructed by order of Sultan Lajin. It consists of a geometrical wooden framework filled with richly carved panels; it ranks among the most beautiful of those in the mosques of Cairo. Although a great many of its panels have been replaced, it still retains its importance, for it is the third oldest in Egypt, the first being that in the mosque of the monastry of St. Katherine on Mount Sinai, made by order of al- Afdal Shahinshah during the rule of the Fatimid Khalif al- Amir in 500H. (1106) , the second is that in the Masjid al- 'Atiq at Qus, made by order of as- Salih Tala'i' in 550H. (1155). There remains the stucco decoration to be seen running round the arches and openings, and below the wooden frieze under the ceiling, also on the soffits of some of the arches round the Sahn. Although most of these have been restored, they still retain their Tulunid style, which derives its elements from the ornament of Samarra. The designs carved on the wooden soffits of the doorways are also closely related to those of Samarra