Located on Salah al‑Din Square (or Maydan al‑Qal’a “Citadel Square”), al‑Rifa’i Mosque was built in the nineteenth century to complement its fourteenth‑century neighbor, the mosque of al‑Sultan Ḥassan. It is a monumental structure that dwarfs the surrounding landscape. The mosque gets its name from imam Ahmad al‑Rifa’i (512–578 AH/1118–1181/2 AD), who founded the Rifa’i tariqa (Sufi path). Although he was never buried here, the mosque is the site of joyous annual Sufi celebrations commemorating his birth.
The original structure was a Fatimid mosque, which was then transformed into a shrine for Ali abu Sheibak. Finally, Ottoman queen Kosheir Hanim commissioned the current design of the mosque and put in charge of the construction the architect Hussein Pasha Fahmi. Part of the plan was to have a mausoleum for the royal family as part of the extension, which was made by imported building materials from Europe, such as Italian marble. In addition to traditional raw materials, cement has also been employed in the construction of the mosque—a first for any Islamic monument in Egypt—signaling the transition into modern times.
Al‑Rifa’i Mosque’s architectural design is as interesting as its construction history. Visitors stand in awe of the detailed decoration of the outer walls and massive columns of the outer gate. The minarets are distinguished by their beauty and elegance.
While a section of the mosque is dedicated to prayers, another is reserved for the members of the family of Muhammad Ali Pasha, which was in power from the early nineteenth century until the 1952 revolution, when the modern Egyptian republic was born. Khedive Ismail and his mother Hoshiyar Qadin, as well as Kings Fuad I and Faruq, the last two rulers of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, are buried here, all enshrined in elaborate tombs. The mosque briefly also served as the burial place of Reza Shah (king) of Iran (d.1363 AH/1944 AD), but he was returned to his home country following the end of World War II. Part of his burial chamber, however, is occupied by his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (d. 1400 AH/1980 AD), the last Shah of Iran.