It was 640 AD when General Amr Ibn Al-Aas led the army of the Rashidun Islamic Caliphate into Africa. The general and his army came to the area of present day Cairo in order to attack the fort of Babylon along the banks of the Nile. Camping north of the fort and the settlement around it, the Muslim army began a siege. While they were camps outside the city, legend says that a dove nested in the roof of the general’s tent. After defeating Babylon, the army prepared to move on Alexandria, the capital of Egypt during the Greco-Roman period, but Amr ordered that his tent be left where it stood, taking the dove’s nest as an omen of God’s will.
The Muslim army captured Alexandria, establishing control over Egypt, but word came from the Caliph Umar in Medina that they should establish a new capital closer to Medina. Heeding the omen of the dove, Amr Ibn Al-Aas built a mosque at the site where his tent had stood and it became the center of the new Muslim capital of Egypt, Fustat. This mosque, founded in 642 AD and named after the general, was the first mosque on the continent of Africa.
The mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Aas was originally constructed using palm trunks, mud-brick, and palm leaves for a roof so none of the original structure remains and it has been rebuilt many times since the 7th century. The first arcades of columns were erected in 827, giving it a permanent form that has since been expanded. Only a small number of these original architraves remain today and can be viewed along the mosque’s southern wall. The building was most recently rebuilt in 1875.
Despite the fact that most of its original structure has been replaced, the mosque’s historical significance as the site of the first Muslim settlement in Egypt and the first mosque in Africa still attracts tourists. It is conveniently located in Old Cairo (Fustat) very near the Mar Gargis metro station and Coptic Cairo.