A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
In January 2021, the artist Nezar Moqbel was in Taiz on a business trip and had the opportunity to visit Al-Ashrafiya mosque. Here we present his photo essay, and an interview he conducted with Abdullah Ahmad al-Buraihi, who is responsible for Al-Ashrafiya mosque as the resident curator and deputy imam.
When was the mosque founded?
The construction of the mosque began in 800 Hijri (1275 BC) and opened in 803 Hijri (1382 BC).
Who ordered the building of Al-Ashrafiya Mosque and who supervised its construction? Was it built to meet a certain need at the time?
King Al-Ashraf Ismail bin Al-Abbas bin Ali bin Dawood bin Yusuf bin Omar Al-Rasuli ordered and supervised the construction of the mosque. The sultans of the Rasulid Dynasty took interest in science and scholarship, so they built many schools, including Al-Ashrafiya madrasa-mosque. It is also well-known that among the apostles there were scholarly kings whose works are still widely read, even today.
Where exactly is the mosque located in the city of Taiz?
It is located at the foot of Jabal Sabr and overlooks the Cairo Citadel.
Which factors and characteristics make Al-Ashrafiya mosque unique and distinguished from other mosques in Taiz, in particular, and in Yemen in general, so much so that it garnered such great fame?
One of the most important factors is the presence of Islamic inscriptions and motifs that are not found in other mosques, in addition to rare stone carvings and wooden mashrabiyas. The mosque’s geographical location is characterized by a moderate climate in summer and winter, and it was distinguished in the past as a certified madrasa attended by some of the top scholars of that period, including Imam Abu Bakr al-Muqri.
The mosque seems to have many doors. How many main doors are there?
The mosque has three main doors, positioned on the east, west and south sides of the building. As for the number of doors in general, in the bathroom section there are twelve doors, and in the outer sections you will find eight doors. The interior sections have eight doors and the prayer hall has eight doors as well, in addition to three wall lockers. As for the cemetery, it has five gates: there are three entrance doors and the two lighthouses have a gate each.
What was the material used to build the mosque?
The material used in its construction is qadad, which is made of a lime plaster treated with slaked lime, oils and water. The mosque was built on top of storm drains, and everything built above the foundation is made from red brick.
How many worshippers can the mosque accommodate?
It accommodates approximately 120 to 800 worshippers.
Who do the shrines in the mosque belong to?
There are eight shrines: the tomb of King Al-Ashraf Ismail, the tomb of the son of King Al-Ashraf I, Ahmed Al-Nasir, and the tomb of the second son of King Al-Ashraf, Muhammad Al-Mufaddal. There are also the three tombs of the grandsons of King Al-Ashraf, the sons of Ahmed Al-Nasir, Abdullah Al-Mansour, Shams al-Din and Hazar al-Din. You will also find the tomb of Muhammad Al-Mufaddal’s son and King Al-Ashraf’s other grandson, Omar al-Mujahid. The last tomb is said to belong to the last king of the Rasulid Dynasty, King Zahir or al-Mu’ayyad.
Has the mosque sustained damage that required restoration? Or have the restorations been periodic for the purpose of maintenance and preservation?
The mosque was renovated because of the humidity that caused the near-crumbling and some collapse of the walls, and due to the salinity present in the building material. Restorations extended from 2005 to 2015, following the UNESCO standards stipulated by one of the parties that aided in the restoration, in cooperation with the Social Fund for Development in Egypt.
How did the mosque face the other natural challenges and dangers, such as weather changes and war?
Erosion and humidity factors had a great damaging effect on some parts of the mosque and caused disintegration in other areas. As for war, a bomb landed on the balcony of the mosque’s eastern minaret (lighthouse), resulting in the partial destruction of the balcony. Unfortunately, the mosque had its share of bombs and ricochets and sniper bullets that struck its satellite and outer domes and damaged the windows. But that has all now been restored.
The photo essay:
Photo of the first foundation stone
Inscription on the foundation stone: The construction of this happy madrasa began in the second spring of the year 800.
Photo of the second foundation stone
Inscription on the second foundation stone: The architecture of this blessed school was commanded by our Mawlana and King, Sultan bin the Sultan Al-Sayyid and the respected, the King Al-Ashraf, and he who paves the world and religion, Ismael Ibn Al-Abbas Bin Ali Bin Dawood Bin Yusuf Khald, whose monarchy and victory is forever immortalized.
General pictures of the mosque
The main gate
Photos from inside the mosque
An interior photograph of one of the windows of the mosque
The inscriptions on the roof of the mosque
Pictures of the main doors of the mosque
Three doors, east, west and south.
Photos of the subsidiary doors of the mosque
Bathroom section with 12 doors.
Outer section with 8 doors.
Interior section with 8 doors.
Prayer hall with 8 doors and wall lockers.
The cemetery has 5 doors.
Entrance has 3 doors.
The minarets have 2 doors
A side of the hallway of the mosque
The field with the lighthouse
The mosque from outside
The photo of Abdullah Ahmad Al-Buraihi, who is in charge of Al-Ashrafiya Mosque. He resides on the property and is the deputy imam of the mosque.
Translated by: Nicole Fares