”I will go to the Sultan Hassan Mosque for the morning prayer. Would you like to come?” It’s Eid al-Adha, the Festival of sacrifice, one of the most important religious festivals celebrated by Muslims all over the world. My Egyptian friend seems to know me well. I’m too curious to say no to what might very well be a once in a lifetime experience.

When the alarm clock rings at 4.30 a.m., I regret my decision for a second, but then anticipation takes hold of me. I dress hastily, grab my camera and head for the taxi waiting for me around the corner. Cairo, the city that never sleeps, or so they say. This early morning in the month of September, she was surprisingly quiet as we crossed the dark and almost deserted streets. A striking difference from the bustling city I’ve come to both love and loathe; commotion of vehicles in heavy traffic, constant honking and loud, blaring music from often crackling speakers and people just about everywhere. It comes as no surprise to learn that Cairo ranks high on the list of worst cities for noise pollution.

Approaching the Sultan Hassan Mosque is sort of a humbling experience. It’s a colossal building, considered to be Cairo’s finest example of early Mamluk architecture as well as one of the major monuments in the Islamic world. Over the years it has become a favourite mosque of mine. From the outside you cannot really appreciate what to expect when entering the rectangular building. The hulky façade made of stone is hiding an inner world of lightness, colours and tranquillity.

But today I will not go inside. I climb the stairs and position myself so as not to be in the way for the women who have come here to pray but at the same time to get a good view. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of worshippers – men, boys, young, old – gathered in the large courtyard between the Sultan Hassan Mosque and the Rifai Mosque. But it is an ocean of solemn stillness. The red, yellow, green and blue dots against the dull greyish brown buildings remind me of an old black and white photograph coloured by a skilled hand. Then dawn breaks and the imam begins to recite the Quran. I’m not religious but to listen to the chorus of the vast crowd praying together while the sun rises was magical, powerful.

After the prayer, people look happy, big smiles on their faces. Laughter, chatter. Children running around chasing each other. It’s noisy, it’s chaotic, it’s back to normal. My friend hands me a balloon with the Arabic greeting “I wish you goodness every year”.

I’m sipping my cappuccino in one of those modern cafés where we are having breakfast, only a few kilometres away from the old city, in a way two worlds apart. But this is Cairo in a nutshell, breathing of contrast.

Photo Essay by: Susann Nilsson


Susann is working for the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Her job has takes her places and given her the opportunity to explore and discover. She is frequently using the camera in her mobile which she always carries with her. Lately she has been inspired to return to her old Nikon camera. Read mor about her on the FPC Community page.

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