Mosques to visit after the Coronavirus lets up (Chapter 8): Umayyad mosque, Syria

Beautiful Syrian mosque Damascus: Umayyad temple, mosque
Umayyad Mosque, Damascus historical site, Syria © Erdalakan |

Many of us have surely thought of the moment we will have grandchildren, telling them fascinating and maybe exaggerated stories about the crazy times that were around when we were younger. Now, instead of telling falsified tales of how you used to eat coal for breakfast, you may simply evoke the events of 2020 and be guaranteed an attentive crowd of grandchildren sat 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, our state of immobilisation has opened up new routes to online journeys set to unveil unbound historical treasures around the world. One of such golden ingots is the radiant Umayyad Mosque found in Damascus, Syria.

This mosque is one of the oldest in the history of Islam and holds importance not only to Muslims, but to all Abrahamic religions. After the Muslim conquest of Damascus in 634CE, the city was made the administrative capital of the Muslim world, though quite a few Christians still inhabited the city.

Towards 706, a mosque was planned inside a christian holy complex beside the John-the-Baptist Basilica; temple to one who was Prophet both to Christians and Muslims. 

Later on however, the Basilica had to be razed to give place to the reaches of the new congregational mosque. Unsurprisingly, this caused violent Christian revolts, to which the reigning Caliph responded by giving back all the previously confiscated churches throughout the invasion.

An impressive 12,000 people worked on the construction of this grandiose mosque and in the process, it is said that some of the workers had found a box containing the head of Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā ( John the Baptist ). Upon learning of this finding, the Caliph ordered it to be respectfully buried under a special pillar, layering it with marble.

During the Abbasid rule, Baghdad became the capital city attracting all the scholars, activity and trade. Consequently, both the mosque and the city were left neglected by the Caliphs for several decades. Nevertheless, though Damascus reminded the current Caliphs of the, despicable to them, Umayyad rule, it was an important historical site testifying of Muslim triumph.

Thus, having avoided the terrible fate of the rest of the Umayyad remnants, in 780 a treasury was built for the mosque, originally named Dome of the Treasury. Some 50 years later, a minaret was also added to the northern part by Caliph al-Ma’mun.

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

Despite all this, much later in the 1980’s, the mosque had undergone some major restorations under president Hafez al-Assad’s order, becoming subject to the harsh opprobrium by UNESCO, consequence to 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 and thus, the enhancements could only serve as a lever to enliven its symbolism.

Though today the mosque’s walls don’t testify to much of its history due to the restorations, the endoskeleton of the initial edifice still remains relatively intact and its current architecture is certainly something to marvel at.  

In 2001 surfaced an unprecedented occurrence when Pope John Paul II came to this mosque, though it was namely to visit the relics of John the Baptist, it was the first time in history a pope ever set foot in a mosque. 

This site can be relatively difficult to access owed to the frequent political tensions and inner warfare that tend to govern the country. Despite all this, in peaceful times this is definitely a visit you cannot miss as the mosque has been around for almost as long as Islam itself, holding the century long spiritual history in its protruding holy aura.