Reflections at Hassan El Sharbatly Mosque

When a person longs to re-connect to the creator, there is nothing better than having your soul dipped in a concoction of spiritual pleasure, along with the rest of your senses. The Hassan El Sharbatly Mosque in New Cairo has this effect, with one’s thirsty eyes, so used to the sandy, yellow terrain of Cairo, drinking in its expansive gardens, its cool shades, its pretty winding paths. Walking towards the mosque through the manicured gardens, it is as though the architectures planned this deliberately, to have one’s mental palette cleansed through an ablution of, not water, but the perfection of nature; so by the time one reaches the soft prayer mat, one’s mind and soul has wound down and established a connection with God.

Delicately designed, paying attention to fine detail, the mosque attempts to be, albeit a man-made version, symmetrical to the perfection found in nature, and man’s quest to attain such harmony and perfection in his worship to the creator.

To give itself a distinct identity, one of ambition and beauty, such qualities taught to worshippers, the mosque installed what is now known, as of 2011, as the world’s largest chandelier in the Guinness Book of World Records. 17.7 meters high, 12.5 meters wide, the chandelier’s diameter is 17.6 meters and weighs three tonnes.

Smaller chandeliers are placed around the mosque, as though mimicking the orbit of the planets around the sun, or, in this case, mimicking the orbit of worshippers around the one God. The main chandelier is made of twenty-four carats of gold-plated brass, which made it quite an attractive place for looters during the revolution when the police disappeared from the streets of Cairo. Luckily, however, the hard work was not lost, as the army stationed several tanks around the mosque’s perimeters.

Expert engravings of the Qur’an decorate the walls, mimicking the way the holy words of God have been engraved in our minds, through understanding and memorization, and souls, through pure conviction and enlightenment. The cream walls compliment the brass chandeliers, the walls reflecting the desire of worshippers wanting to attain the noble qualities found in God’s teachings, the chandelier’s lights illuminating the way.

But the most attractive feature is how expansive the mosque is, and not just for men. The female prayer area is especially spacious, making it a few times larger than the central mosque of London. Understandably, the mosque in New Cairo had the advantage of using the uninhabited desert land to convert into an oasis. However, unlike several large mosques, it didn’t neglect female worshippers.

The female section also overlooks the men’s section below, another metaphor of how highly women are held in the religion of Islam, like queens on thrones. Conveniently, the female section has an elevator for those who find the flight of stairs a challenge.

It’s not just about the exterior and interior of the mosque, however. The imam’s voice is as beautiful as a bird song, lifting one’s soul to the highest levels of spiritual ecstasy. There are plenty of extracurricular activities in the mosque, from study circles for adults and children to talks given by male and female scholars on Islam.

If the mosque is the soul where we can reach God, its expansive gardens are the body and mind, where one’s senses can be soothed by the beauty of God’s creation. The mosque also has a function hall for weddings, with delicate white fabric securely attached to the railings leading to the function hall’s entrance floating in the wind.

A favorite time of day is watching the sun set behind the mosque’s dome, with melodious calls of prayer filling the twilight sky. This mosque is a testimony to the harmony found in God’s nature, and the luxury of Paradise we all dream to attain.

Hassan El Sharbatly,
Next to Hayah International Academy and CIC University,
South of Police Academy,
Off-Road 90,
5th Settlement,
New Cairo.

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Rain & Lessons from Nature

It’s only fair that I speak of the rain that graced Egypt’s dry and sandy terrain, after writing about the sandstorm. There must be an Arab proverb that states, “Don’t worry, where there is a sandstorm, rain will soon follow”, because thankfully supple raindrops fell like stardust from the heavens, purifying the air from the dust, sand, and pollution we had all endured for more than three days.

When I heard the pitter-patter sounds of raindrops falling on a nearby rooftop, I immediately sought out to the terrace to watch with delight as the rain cleansed the local mosque’s dusty dome. I could smell the heavy scent of rain from where I stood, watching it gracefully fall to the streets, watching the silent earth quench its thirst.

The rain continued on and off for most of the day. And the next. It was also bitterly cold, (made worse by the wind), cloudy and gloomy. This is London weather, I kept repeating to anyone who would listen. This is how cold it feels in November. (Because let’s face it, although it was bitterly cold, thanks to the wind, it was never going to get as cold as the subzero temperatures we faced in the United Kingdom).

Unbeknown to us, the recipe for appreciating a beautiful sunset was in the making all this time, as the sun made an appearance today, taking my breath away during the sunset.

I couldn’t believe the colors my eyes were going over in detail, caressing, almost drinking in, after so much darkness and gloominess. I could see textures in the sky again, patterns and formations in the clouds, rich variations of colors as the sun plunged into the horizon. I also couldn’t believe that I could see the Cairo Tower on the skyline again, and this clearly. It was usually obscured by smog, fog, or haze.

It is a beautiful realization, that I often learn so much from nature. I pick up so many fruitful signs. This week I saw that “Verily, with hardship, there is ease,” (Qur’an 94:6). Because indeed, after the sandstorm, we were blessed with rain that washed its traces away. And then, right in front of my very eyes, I was blessed to witness a beautiful sunset that made me forget the last few days ever happened.

(Until, that is, I look at the massive post-sandstorm clean-up operation I have to take on. But I pretend it never happened while I watch the sun gently sink into darkness, knowing full-well that it was really rising somewhere else).

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Busying Myself with Nature in Tumultuous Times

During the revolution, when I felt despair invading my veins, making its way to move my heart, I looked to nature to soothe my nerves and calm my mind. And nature always delivers, uplifting my spirits. The wind carries a soft but sure whisper that everything is going to turn out for the better. That it is always darkest before dawn. These days I am found pondering God’s creation, with my camera producing a few mirror images of God’s glory. Because I can depend on God, the Eternal, while everything else turns chaotic. And I can depend on the sun to always rise.

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour if we will only tune in.” ~ George Washington Carver

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e. e. Cummings

“Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.” ~ Alan Cohen

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” ~ John Burroughs

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

~ Anne Frank

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