Wahhabism and the problem of the Great Mosque of Damascus

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Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik or Al-Walid I (668 – 715 AD), the Umayyad caliph, reigned during the 1st century of Islam. “He commissioned the construction of a mosque on the site of the Byzantine cathedral in 706 AD. Prior to this, the cathedral was still in use by the local Christians, but a prayer room (musalla) for Muslims had been constructed on the southeastern part of the building. Al-Walid, who personally supervised the project, had most of the cathedral including the musalla demolished. The mosque was completed in 715 by the caliph, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik, shortly after the death of al-Walid that same year.” The Grand Mosque of Damascus, also known as the Umayyad Mosque, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. It is considered to be the fourth holiest mosque in Islam.

Now the significance of this is, the mosque holds the shrine which is said to contain the head of Prophet Yahya bin Zakariya/John the Baptist. “According to the 10th-century Persian historian Ibn al-Faqih, during the construction of the mosque, workers found a cave-chapel which had a box containing the head of Yahyā ibn Zakarīyā (a.s). Upon learning of that and examining it, al-Walid I ordered the head buried under a specific pillar in the mosque that was later inlaid with marble.”

One has to wonder, despite being the earliest periods of Islam why was there not anyone who declared this as an act of shirk, kufr or ‘grave worship’ or call for the destruction or raising of the tomb ?  Why was this mosque not labelled as a ‘temple’, as the Wahhabis have a habit of doing ? Despite the presence of the Hanbali community in Sham, why did the mosque not end up being demolished for this purpose ? From where did the 18th century Wahhabis get their religion from when, no one during fourteen hundred years of Islamic history called for the destruction of the Umayyad mosque nor label the mosque as a center of grave worship and idolatry? Why do Wahhabis call themselves “Salafis” and claim to  follow the early Muslims, when in this case they would have to label the Salaf as cursed idolaters ?

Moreover, this is the same mosque in which Prophet Isa ibn Maryam (a.s.) is prophesied to descend during end times. Perhaps, Wahhabis might even label Propeht Isa ibn Maryam (a.s.) a grave worshiper(?).  But more interestingly, the supreme leader, whom the Wahhabis claim to be a follower of  i.e., Ibn Taymiyya, preached from this Umayyad mosque. Was Ibn Taymiyya then also a grave worshiper, in the neo-puritan view of the Wahhabi “manhaj” ?

Those who are concerned with the preservation of the historical monuments and relics of Islamic civilization, should be wary of the threat that this mosque, and the likes of it present in all parts of the Muslim world, faces under the hands of Wahhabism, as happened with their pogroms in the Hijaz, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere, whenever they manage to raise their heads.

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