Shajarat Al-Dur: When Mausoleums Are Violated

Oct 182010

By Abdul Rahman Mahmoud

Translated by Aisha El-Awady

Al-Khalifa Street, one of the most famous Mamlouki streets in Cairo, has now become one the most neglected. A good example of this neglect is what has happened to Shajarat Al-Dur’s Mausoleum which is located on this street.

After having been executed long ago at the hands of the Egyptians by being beaten to death with their shoes, Shajarat Al-Dur’s memory is now being destroyed, also at the hands of Egyptians, who have been throwing their garbage onto her Mausoleum.

Shajarat Al-Dur, was a Turkish slave who was bought by the Sultan of Egypt, Najm Al-Din Ayyub. He fell in love with her, set her free and then married her which later resulted in her becoming the first Queen of Egypt since the time of the Islamic conquest and up until the present day.

The square Mausoleum is surmounted by a dome. There is a door in the center of each of its walls, with the exception of the fourth wall, which encloses the mihrab (prayer niche) that faces the direction of the Qiblah. Mounds of garbage are found in all corners of this Mausoleum.

Neglect has certainly not only affected Shajarat Al-Dur’s Mausoleum but all of the antiquities found on this street which includes the burial places of Prophet Mohammad’s (peace be upon him) descendents, the most famous being that of Sayyidah Nafisa (may God be pleased with her).

Abdel-Khaleq Mokhtar, the director of monuments in south Cairo, believes the problem lies in the fact that the Islamic monuments are found in poor districts, where the residents are not aware of their significance and have little interest in preserving them. Mokhtar affirmed that the Supreme Council of Antiquities is indeed concerned and that Shajarat Al-Dur’s Mausoleum has been cleaned up several times in the past but the residents keep throwing their garbage onto it.

“Most of the infringements on the Islamic monuments on this street have been removed and a number of repairs have been made to some of the monuments," said Mokhtar.

He also called on school administrators to arrange school trips to the various archaeological sites in Cairo, to establish a baseline of heritage awareness in Egypt.

Mustafa Mohammad and Ashraf Jaber, residents of the street, believe the government can solve the problem if it places roadside garbage bins on the street. They also said that the Supreme Council of Antiquities only inspects the Mausoleum once every two years.

“The garbage and the donkey carts next to Shajarat Al-Dur’s Mausoleum are bad for Egypt’s tourism industry since tourists see this sight every day and photograph the garbage found next to the monuments,” they said.

Despite the controversy and accusations being passed between the residents and the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the debate between archeologists over Shajarat Al-Dur’s actual burial place continues.

Some archeologists believe she was buried in the Mausoleum after her dead body was left by the citadel walls for three days, while another team of archeologists believe the Mausoleum is in fact empty and that it is impossible to determine where she was buried. If they are right, then Shajarat Al-Dur is having the last laugh at all those who violated the sanctity of her Mausoleum by throwing garbage on it.