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All mosques are aligned towards Mecca, which from Cairo means towards the southeast. Larger mosques will have a courtyard (sahn) in the centre of which there may be a fountain for pre-prayer ablutions, with the covered prayer hall at the Mecca-facing end. In mosques with a courtyard, the prayer hall is also sometimes called the liwan, which more generally means a covered area off an open yard.

Inside the prayer hall, the qibla (Mecca-facing) wall is marked by a niche called the mihrab, usually beautifully decorated. The mihrab is not religiously significant in itself: it merely marks the direction of prayer. Usually placed next to it is a wooden pulpit called the minbar, from which the imam (not a priest, but the person who leads the service and looks after the mosque, like a Protestant pastor) reads the Friday sermon.

The most striking feature of most mosques is the minaret, from which the call to prayer is issued. Nowadays, loudspeakers are used, but at one time the muezzin (the man who makes the call, sometimes the mosque’s imam) would have climbed the minaret five times a day and bellowed it out without any artificial aid.

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