Mohamed Aboutrika opened the scoring on 14 minutes with a great free-kick to hand the visitors the lead.
When it looked as if Pirates would go into the second leg in Egypt a goal down, Thabo Matlaba powered home an equaliser in the 93th minute.
The draw puts Al Ahly in a commanding position ahead of the second leg in Eygpt next Sunday, as they have an away goal in the bag.
Ahly are chasing their eighth Champions League title – and their fifth in nine years.
Pirates were not to be intimidated, however, and started the match brightly, pushing forward from the first minute, but some clumsy defending during an Ahly counter-attack led to the visitors being awarded a free-kick in a very promising area, just outside the penalty box.
And sure enough Aboutrika stepped up and sent the ball just over the heads of the Pirates wall and into the top right corner, leaving Senzo Meyiwa with no chance of stopping it.
It would have been a special moment for Ahly’s 35-year-old playmaker, who announced his intention to retire after the tournament, as he went one step closer to a fifth CAF Champions League medal.
And the Egyptian legend was back in the thick of things in the 51st minute, when he set up Ahmed Abd El-Zaher to hit home from close range, but luckily for the Buccaneers the linesman erroneously ruled him offside.
Ahly were content to sit back and wait for the counter-attack, while Pirates kept up a high-tempo passing game, although they were let down by decision making on the final ball.
On 57 minutes Andile Jali tried a shot from range, but Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy was up to the challenge and got a strong hand to the ball to palm it away for a corner.
With seconds remaining Matlaba picked up a short pass and bustled his way past the defence, before hitting a fairly tentative shot past Ekrami to send the Orlando Stadium crowd into raptures.
Pirates line-up: Senzo Meyiwa, Happy Jele, Thabo Matlaba, Ayanda Gcaba, Rooi Mahamutsa, Andile Jali, Tlou Segolela, Oupa Manyisa, Lennox Bacela (Collins Mbesuma 82), Daine Klate, Sifiso Myeni (Mpho Makola 76)
Al Ahly line-up: Sherif Ekrami, Sherif Abdel-Fadil, Wael Gomaa, Mohamed Naguib, Sayed Moawad, Ahmed Fathi, Hossam Ashour, Abdallah El-Said (Ahmed Shedid 91), Walid Soliman, Mohamed Aboutrika (Ramy Rabiea 81), Ahmed Abdel-Zaher (Dominique Da Silva 65)
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