Refaí Mosque lies right beside the huge mosque of Sultan Hassan. Seeing these two mosques from a distance makes one think that they are one mosque split in two. This is because of the many similarities between the exterior designs of both mosques. The Refa'i Mosque was designed so that it would not look dwarfed by the huge Sultan Hassan Mosque.
Refai Mosque is located next to Sultan Hassan Mosque in Salah El Din Square near the Citadel in Cairo. Actually, it is separated from the mosque of Sultan Hassan by a pedestrian street.
The designers and builders of the huge Refa’i mosque paid considerable attention to every single detail of its ornamentation.
The Al-Rifai Mosque was constructed in two phases over the period between 1869 and 1912, when it was finally completed. Khoshiar Hanem, the mother of Khedive Ismail, was really the one who wanted the mosque built in 1869. It's construction took 40 years. It now contains the tombs of many royal family members in Egypt, which is the reason why Khoshiar Hanem wanted it built in the first place. She placed the most important engineer in Egypt, Hussein Fahmy Pasha, in charge of its design.
The Mosque is rectangular in shape, measuring some 6500 square meters in size. 1767 square meters of this area is reserved for praying, while the remainder is the mausoleum of the royal family. The Refa'i Mosque was built in the Bahri Mamluk style which was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. This style was similar to the European style of buildings at the time. Most of the materials were imported from Europe. The building of Refa'i Mosque was part of a vast campaign by the 19th century rulers of Egypt to both associate themselves with the perceived glory of earlier periods in Egypt's Islamic history and modernize the city.
Construction on the mosque was moving along at a good pace when, first Hussein Fahmy died and then in 1885, Khoshiar Hanem also died. She was granted her wish of being entombed here, and then in 1894, when her son Khedive Ismail also died, he was entombed next to her. All of this caused the process of building the mosque to stop for about twenty five years. During Hussein Hilmy II rule of Egypt, he ordered Max Hertz Pasha, who was Austrian, and his Italian assistant Carlo Virgilio Silvagni, to finish the enormous task of completing work on the mosque. They also completed the decorations of the mosque, for which the original architect had left no plans, from models taken from the best mosques in Cairo. This was accomplished in 1911, and it was opened for Friday prayer for the first time in 1912. The mosque came to represent a turning point in the cultural and political history of Cairo.