DAMASCUS. Arabic Dimashq According to Jalilu ‘d-din Suyuti, Damascus is the second sacred city in Syria, Jerusalem being the first; and some have thought it must be the “Iram of the columns” mentioned in the Qur’an, Surah lxxxix. 6, although this is not the view of most Muslim writers. [IRAM] Damascus is not mentioned in the Qur’an. With regard to the date of the erection of the city, Muslim historians differ. Some say it was built by a slave named Dimashq, who belonged to Abraham, having been given to the patriarch by Nimrod; others say Dimashq was a slave belonging to Alexander the Great, and that the city was built in his day.
Damascus was taken by Khalid in the reign of the Khalifah ‘Umar, A.H. 13. and it became the capital of the Umaiyade Khalifahs under Mu’awiyah, A.H. 41, and remained the chief city of Islam until the fall of that dynasty, A.H 132, when the Abbassides moved their capital first to al-Kufah, and the to Bagdad.
The great mosque at Damascus was erected by ‘Abdu ‘l Malik ibn Marwan, the fifth Khalifah of the Umaiyades. It was commenced A.H. 86 and finished in ten years, being erected on the ruins of an ancients Greek temple and of a Christian church.
The great mosque at Damascus was erected by ‘Abdu ‘l Malik ibn Marwan, the fifth Khalifah of the Umaiyades. It was commenced A.H. 86 and finished in ten years, being erected on the ruins of an ancient Greek temple and of a Christian church.,
The account, as given by Jalain d-din Suyuti, in his History of the Temple of Jerusalem is curious and interesting, showing that for a time the Muslims and Christians worshiped in the same building together.
Here (in Damascus) all the servants of God joined and built a church to worship God in. Some say, however, that this church was built by the Greeks; for Abdu’llah Ibn Abbas, having marched against Damascus and besieged it, demolished the walls, after he had entered the city by storm. Then there fell down a stone, having certain letters inscribed thereon in the Greek language. They therefore sent to bring a certain monk who could read Greek; but he said, ‘Bring me in pitch the impression of the letters on the stone, which he found to be as follows: ‘Woe unto thee, mother of shame! Pious is he who inflicts upon thee with usury the ill which God designs for thee in retribution. Woe unto thee from five eyes, who shall destroy thy wall after four thousand years.’ Now, ‘Abdu’llah’s entire name was ‘Abdu’llah Ibn ‘Abdi ‘Ilah Ibn ‘Abbas Ibn ‘Abdu ‘l-Muqallib.
Again, the historian Ibn Isahir says: When God had granted unto the Muslims the possession, as conquerors of the whole of Syria. He granted them among other cities that of Damascus with its dependencies. Thus God sent down His mercy upon them, and the commander in chief of the army (besieging Damascus), who was either Abu Ubaidah or, as some say, Khalid Ibn al-Walid, wrote a treaty of capitulation and articles of surrender. By these he settled and appointed fourteen churches to remain in the hands of the Muslims. The church of which we have spoken above was left open and free for future consideration. This was on the plea that Khalid had entered the city at the sword’s point by the eastern gate; but that the Christians at the same time were allowed to surrender by Abu Ubaidah, who entered at the western gate, opened under articles. This caused dissension; but at length it was agreed that half the place should be regarded as having capitulated and half as stormed.
“The Muslims therefore took this church and Abu ‘Ubaidah made it into a mosque. He was afterwards appointed the Emir of Syria, and was the first who prayed here, all the company of the Companions praying after him in the open area now called the Companion’s Tower; but the wall must then have been cut through, hard by the leaning tower, if the Companions really prayed in the ‘blessed precinct’. At first, the Christians and Muslims entered by the same gate, which was ‘the gate of Adoration and Prayer’, over against the Qiblah, where the great tower now stands. Afterwards the Christians changed and went into their church by the gate facing the west; the Muslims taking the right-hand mosque. But the Christians were not suffered to chant aloud, or recite their books or strike their bells (or clappers), in order to hounour the Companions with reverence and fear. Also, Mu’awiyah built in his days a house for the Amir, right opposite the mosque. Here he built a green chapel. This palace was noted for its perfection. Here Mu’awiyah dwelt forty years: nor did this state of things change from A.H. 14 to A.H. 88. But Al-Walid Ibn ‘Abdu ‘l-Malik began to think of destroying the churches, and of adding some to those already in the hands of the Muslims, so as to construct one great mosque; and this because some of the Muslims were sore troubled by hearing the recitations of the Christians from the Gospel and their uplifted voices in prayer. He designed, therefore, to remove them from the Muslims and to annex this spot to the other, so as to make one great mosque. Therefore he called for the Christians, and asked them whether they would depart from those places which were in their hands, receiving in exchange greater portions in lieu thereof; and also retaining four churches not mentioned in the treaty – the Church of Maria, the Church of the Crucified, just within the eastern gate, the Church Talla ‘l-Habu, and the Church of the Glorious Mother, occupied previously by the burnishers. This, however, they vehemently refused to do. Thereupon the Khalifah said, ‘Bring me then the treaty which you possess since the time of the Companions.’ They brought it, therefore, and it was read in al-Walid’s presence; when lo! The Church of Thomas, outside the gate of Thomas, hard by the river, did not enter into the treaty, and was one of those called ‘the greater of churches left open’ (for future disposal). ‘There,’ he said, ‘this will I destroy and convert it into a mosque.’ They said, ‘Nay, let it alone, O commander of the Faithful, even although not mentioned among the churches, for we are content that you take the chapel of the church.’ To this agreement, then he held them, and received from them the Qubbah (or chapel vault, dome) of the church. Then he summoned workmen able to pull down, and assembled all the amirs, chiefs, and great men. But the Christian bishops and priests coming said, ‘O commander of the Faithful, we find in our books that whosoever shall demolish this church will go mad.’ Then said the Khalifah, ‘And I am very willing to be mad with God’s inspiration: therefore no one shall demolish it before me.’ Then he ascended the western tower, which had two spires, and contained a monastic cell. Here he found a monk, whom he ordered to descend. The monk making difficulties, and lingering, al-Walid took him by the back of his neck, and ceased not pushing him until he had thrown him down stairs. Then he ascended to the most lofty spot in the church above the great altar called ‘the Altar of The Martyrs.’ Here he seized the ends of his sash, which was of a bright yellow colour and fixed them into his belt. Taking, then, an axe into his hand, he struck against the very topmost stone, and brought it down. Then he called the amirs, and desired them to pull down the building as quickly as possible. Hereupon all the Muslims shouted, ‘God is great!’ three times; also the Christians cried out with their wailing and woe upon the steps of Jairun, where they had assembled. Al-Walid therefore desired the commander of his guard to inflict blows upon them until they should depart which he did. The Muslims then demolished all that the Christians had built on the great square here – altars and buildings and cloisters – until the whole square was one flat surface. He then resolved to build a splendid pile, unrivaled for beauty of architecture, which none could hereafter surpass. Al-Walid therefore commissioned the most eminent architects and mathematicians to build the mosque, according to the model they most preferred. His brother chiefly moved and stirred him up to this undertaking and next to him presided Sulaman ‘Abdu ‘l-Malik. It is said that al-Walid sent to the king of Greece to demand stonemasons and other workmen for the purpose of building this mosque in the way he desired, sending word that if the king refused, he would overrun his territory with his army, and reduce to utter ruin every church in his dominion, even the Church of Holy City and the Church of Edessa, And utterly destroy every vestige of the Greeks still remaining. The king of Greece sent, therefore, numerous workmen, with a letter, expressing himself thus: ‘If thy father knoweth what thou doest, and permits it, then truly I accuse him of disgraceful conduct and blame him more than thee. If he understandeth it not, but thou only art conscious, then I believe thee above him.’ When the letter came to al-Walid, he wished to reply unto it and assembled several persons for consultation. One of these was a well known poet who said ‘I will answer him, O Commander of the Faithful and of the Book of God.’ So said al-Walid ‘Where then is that answer?’ He replied this verse, ‘David and Solomon lo! They a right to the cornfield, a right to the place where the people are shearing their sheep. Also, we are witnesses of their decree for Solomon hath given us to understand it and both (David and Solomon) have come to us as judges and learned men. Al-Walid with this reply, caused great surpirse to the king of Greece. Al-Firsuk alludes to this in these verses: –
“I have made a separation between the Christians and their churches, and between the people who shine and those who are in darkness.”
I neglected for a season thus to apportion their happiness, I being a procrastinating vindicator of their grievances.”
Thy Lord hath made thee to resolve upon removing their churches from those mosques wherein good words are recited.”
The is no god but God. He has no partner. We will never adore any but our Lord, the one God. Our faith is Islam, and our Prophet is Muhammad. This mosque was built, and the churches which stood on the site of the chapel were demolished by order of the servant of God, the Commander of the Faithful, al-Walid Ibn ‘Abdu ‘l-Malik Ibn Marwan, in the month Zu ‘l-Qa’dah, A.H. 86.’ Upon another tablet was inscribed the whole of the first chapter of the Qur’an. Here also were depicted the stars, then the morning twilight, then the spiral course of the sun, then the way of living which obtained after the arrival of the Faithful of Damascus. Also, it is said, that all the floor of this mosque was divided into small slabs, and that the stone (carving) of the walls extended to the upmost pinnacle. Above was a great golden vine, and above this were splendid enameled knobs of green, red, blue, and white, whereby were figured and expressed all countries and regions, especially the Ka’bah, above the lower; also all the countries to the right and left (of Makkah), and all the most beautiful shrubs and trees of every region, famous either for their fruits or flowers. The roof had cornices of gold and silver, which branched off into seven separate lights. In the tower of the Companions were two stones – beryls (some say they were the jewels called pearls); they were called ‘The Little Ones’. When the candles were put out, they inflamed the eyes by their brilliant light. In the time of al-Amin Ibn ar-Rashid, Sulaiman, captain of the guard, was sent by the Khalifah to Damascus to steal those stones and bring them to him; which he did. When al-Ma’mun discovered this, he sent them to Damascus, as a proof of his brother’s misconduct. They afterwards again vanished, and in their place is a glass vessel. In this mosque all the gates from the dome ( gallery) unto the entrance, are open, and have no bars or locks. Over each is a loose curtain. In like manner there is a curtain upon all the walls as far as the bases of the golden vino, above which are the enameled knobs. The capitals of the pillars were thickly covered with dead gilding. Here were also small galleries, to look down from, enclosed on the four sides of the skirting wall. Al-Walid also built the northern minaret, now called the ‘Bridegroom’s Tower.’ As to the western gallery, that existed many ages before, in each corner of this was a cell, raised upon very lofty walls, and used by the Greeks as an observatory. The two northern of these fell, and the two opposite remained. In the year 740, part of the eastern had been burnt. It then fell down, but was built up anew out of the Christian’s money, because they had meditated the destruction (of it) by fire. It then was restored after a most beautiful plan. This is the tower (but God knows) upon which Jesus the son of Maria will alight, for Muhammad is reported to have said, ‘I saw Jesus son of Maria come forth from near the white minaret, east of the mosque, placing his hands upon the wings of two angels, firmly bound to him. Upon him was the Divine glory (the Schechinah). He was marked by the red tinge of baptism. This is the mark of original sin. Jesus, (it is also said) shall come forth from the White Tower by the eastern gate, and shall enter the mosque. Then shall the word come forth for Jesus to fight with Antichrist at the corner of the city, as long as it shall please God. Now, when this mosque (the slave’s mosque) was completed there was not to be found upon the face of the earth a building more beautiful, more splendid, more graceful, than this. On whatever side, or area, or place, the spectator looked, he still thought that side or spot the most preferable for beauty. In this mosque were certain talismans, placed therein since the time of the Greeks; so that no venomous or stinging creature could by any means obtain entrance into the enclosure, neither serpent, scorpion, beetle, nor spider. They say also, that neither sparrows nor pigeons built their nests there, nor was anything to be found there which could annoy people. Most, or all, of those talismans were burnt by the fire that consumed the mosque, which fire took place in the night of Sha’ban, A.H. 461. Al-Walid frequently prayed in the mosque. One night (it is related) he siad to his people, ‘I wish to pray to-night in the mosque; let no one remain there whilst I pray therein.’ So when he came unto the gate of the Two Moments he desired the gate to be opened, and entering in, he saw a man standing between the gate of the Two Moments and the gate of St. George, praying. He was nearer to the gate of St. George than to the other. So the Khalifah said unto his people, ‘Did I not charge you that no one should remain whilst I was praying in the mosque?’ The one of them said. O Commander of the faithful! This is St. George who prays every night in the mosque. Again, one prayer in this mosque equals thirty thousand prayers.
“Again, A certain man, going out of the gate of the mosque which is near the Jairun met K’ab the scribe, who said ‘Whither bound?’ He replied ‘To the Baitu ‘l-Muqadda, therein to pray.’ The said K’ab, ‘I will show you a spot wherein whosoever prayeth shall receive the same blessings as if he prayed in the Bait ‘l-Muqaddas.’ The man, therefore, went with him. Then K’ab showed him the space between the little gate from whence you go to Abyssinia, that is the space covered by the arch of the gate, containing about one hundred yards to the west and said, ‘Whosos prayeth within these two points shall be regarded as praying within the Baitu ‘l-Muaqaddas.’ Now, this spot is said to be a spot fit to be sought by pilgrims. Here, it is asserted, is the head of John, son of Zacharias (Peace be with him!). For al-Walid Ibn Muslim being desired to show where John’s head was to be found, pointed with his hand to the plastered pillr – the fourth from the east corner. Zaid Ibn Wakad says, ‘ At the time it was proposed to build the mosque of Damascus I saw the head of John, so of Zacharias, brought forth from underneath one of the corners of the chapel. The hair of the head was unchanged.’ He says in another place. Being nominated by al-Walid superintendent of the building, we found a caye, of which we informed al-Walid. He came, therefore, unto us at night, with a wax taper in his hand. Upon descending we found an elaborately carved little shrine, three withing three (i.e. within the first a second, within the second a third). Withing this last was a sarcophagus, and within this a casket; withing which was the head of John son of Zacharias. Over the casket was written “Here is the head of John son of Zacharias. Peace be with him!” By al-Walid’s command we restored the head to the spot whence it had been taken. The pillars which are above this spot are inclined obliquely to the others to distinguish the place. There is also over it a pillar with a head in plaster. He asserts again, that when the happy event occurred of the conquest of Damascus, a certain person went up the stairs which led to the church, then standing where the mosque now stands. Here the blood of John, son of Zacharias was seen to flow in torrents and to boil up, nor did the blood sink down and become still until that seventy thousand had been slain over him. The spot where the head was found is now called al-Sakasak (perhaps, the Nail of the Narrow Cave).
“In the days of ‘Umar, the Christian requested that he would confirm their claim to the right of meeting in those places which al-Walid had taken from them and converted into mosques. They, therefore, claimed the whole inner area as their own from ‘Umar. The latter thought it right to restore them what al-Walid had taken from them, but examination he found that the churches without the suburbs were not comprehended in the articles of surrender by the Companions, such, for example as the great Church of the Monastery of Observants or Carmelites, the Church of the Convent behind the Church of St. Thomas, and all the churches of the neighboring villages. ‘Umar therefore gave them the choice, either to restore them the churches they demanded, demolishing in that case all the other churches, or to leave those churches unmolested, and to receive from them a full consent to the free use of the open space by the Muslims. To this latter proposal they, after three days deliberation, agreed; and proper writings were drawn up on both sides. They gave the Muslims a deed of grant, and ‘Umar gave them full security and assurance of protection. Nothing was to be compared to this mosque. It is said to be compared to this mosque. It is said to be one of the strongholds of Paradise, and that no inhabitant of Damascus would long for Paradise when he looks upon his beautiful mosque. Al-Ma’mun came to Damascus in company with his brother al-Mu’tasim, and the Qazi Yahya Ibn Aksm. Whilst viewing the mosque he said, “What is the most wondrous sight here?’ His brother said, ‘These offerings and pledges.’ The Qazi said, ‘The marble and the columns.’ Then said al-Ma’mun, ‘The most wondrous thing to me is whether any other could be built at all like this.” (Hist. Temple of Jerusalem, by Jalalu ‘d-din, translated by Reynolds, p. 407.)
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam