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Mosque to visit after covid-19 ends(8): Umayyad mosque, Syria

World 10 Apr 2020
Beautiful Syrian mosque Damascus: Umayyad temple, mosque
Umayyad Mosque, Damascus historical site, Syria © Erdalakan | Dreamstime.com

Many of us have surely thought of the moment of having grandchildren. We even imagine telling them fascinating and maybe exaggerated stories about the crazy times when we were younger. Now, instead of telling falsified tales, we may simply evoke the events of 2020. I can guarantee an attentive crowd of grandchildren will sit around the carpet.

In the current state of the world, however, the situation is really no laughing matter. What we must do now is pray to our Lord in Dua for the safety and good health of others.

In the meantime, the lockdown has opened up new routes to online journeys set to unveil unbound historical treasures around the world. One of such golden ingots is the Umayyad Mosque found in Damascus, Syria.

This mosque is one of the oldest in the history of Islam. It holds importance not only to Muslims but to all Abrahamic religions.

After the Muslim conquest of Damascus in 634CE, the city became the administrative capital of the Muslim world. though quite a few Christians lived in the city.

Towards 706, a mosque was planned inside a Christian holy complex beside the John-the-Baptist Basilica. He was a Prophet both to Christians and Muslims. 

The Basilica was razed to give place for the new congregational mosque. The Christians revolted violently.  Then the reigning Caliph gave back all the previously confiscated churches throughout the invasion.

An impressive 12,000 people constructed this grandiose mosque. There is a story that some of the workers had found a box containing the head of Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā ( John the Baptist ). The Caliph ordered it to be respectfully buried under a special marble pillar.

During the Abbasid rule, Baghdad became the capital city attracting all the scholars, activity and trade. Consequently, both the mosque and the city of Damuscus were left neglected by the Caliphs for several decades.

There was another reason. Damascus reminded the current Abbasid Caliphs of the Umayyad rule. They did not like that much. That was one of the reasons for negligence. But Damascus was always an important historical site testifying of Muslim triumph.

Thus, having avoided the terrible fate of the rest of the Umayyad remnants, in 780, the rulers built a treasury for the mosque. It was originally named Dome of the Treasury.

Some 50 years later,  Caliph al-Ma’mun added a minaret to the northern part of the mosque.

In the following centuries, numerous civilisations conquered and reconquered Damascus and to some extent, added in their way to the mosque.

Much later in the 1980s, the mosque withstood some major restorations under president Hafez al-Assad’s order. It became the subject to the harsh opprobrium by UNESCO. This was the consequence of the destruction of a large part of its historical value.

The Syrians however, justified it to by the idea that it was more of a symbolic monument. Thus, the enhancements only serve as a lever to enliven its symbolism.

Today the mosque’s walls don’t testify to much of its history due to the restorations. Only the inner portions of the initial edifice still remain relatively intact. Also, its current architecture is certainly something to marvel at.  

In 2001 Pope John Paul II came to this mosque. He was there to visit the relics of John the Baptist. But it was the first time in history a pope ever set foot in a mosque.

This site can be relatively difficult to access due to the frequent political tensions and inner warfare.

In peaceful times this is definitely a visit you cannot miss. The mosque has been around for almost as long as Islam itself, holding the century long spiritual history in its protruding holy aura.