Religious Tourism in Syria

Religious Tourism is one of the most important aspects of contemporary tourism . In addition to being an act of pilgrimage to religious sites where saints priests, men of religion, started their missionary trips, it‘s a kinds of historical and cultural activity intended to increase knowledge about civilizations and cultures of other nations.

Religious tourism enhances

friendly relations among peoples , reactivates world cooperation and political understanding , and , at the same time , offers many economic benefits . Although religious tourism in Syria is still at its beginning, yet Syria has a very important religious positions for both Moslems and Christians .

Hundreds of thousands of people visit the many Islamic and Christian sites in Syria , but we still hope to raise the number of tourists in the coming years .

Islamic Religious sites in Syria :

Many of the kins ( Al elBeit ) and companions “ Sahaba “of the prophet Mohammad were buried in Damascus. To mention some of them we start with:

- Hadrat Sayeda Zainab , daughter of Imam Ali and granddaughter of the prophet Mohammad ( pbuh ) . Her tomb is 10 km south of Damascus. Over one million people visit the sacred tomb which is a wonder of architecture and beautiful designs and decorations .

- Hadrat Sayeda Ruqaya , daughter of Imam Ali , and granddaughter of the prophet Mohammad ( phuh ) . Her tomb is at the Faradees Gate of Damascus, in Al- A‘amara quarter. The whole tomb is built of marble decorated with golden frescoes and ornamentations.

- Hadrat Sayeda Sukaina, daughter of Al Husein , son of Imam Ali. She was known as “ princess of the poets “ . Her tomb is in Bab -al Saghir cemetery.

- Um Salama, daughter of Abi Umayya and wife of the prophet Mhmd.( pbuh.). Her tomb is in Bab al- Saghir cemetery.

- Asma‘a bint Umayr , Zainab al- Sughra, daughter of Imam Ali and Fatima al- Sughra daughter of Imam Hussein , peace be upon them are buried in the same cemetery .

- Many of the Umayyad caliphs were buried in Damascus and its outskirts :

Caliph Ma‘auya bin Abi-Sufian , founder of the Umayyad empire ,caliph Marwan bin al-Hakam, caliph Abdulmalik bin Marwan and Al- walid bin Abdulmalik were buried in Bab alSaghir cemetery . Tens of the prophet‘s companions; “ Sahaba “ were also buried in Damascus like Ibn Yazid ,Abuldarda’a , Suhaib el Romi , Zayd bin Thabet, Bilal al Habashi and Abdullah son of Jaafar al-Tayyar. Syria has a lot of famous mosques known all over the Islamic and Arab worlds . The most frequented and well known among them are:

-In Damascus:The Grand Umayyad Mosque which is considered top of Islamic and Christian Syrian architecture , Mosque of Sheikh Muhieddin bin Arabi , Mosque of al- Madrasa al-Nourieh, Mosque of al Sinanieh,Mosque of Darwishia(dervishes),Mosque of Sibahia, mosque of al-Tawba, mosque of al-Hanabilah and many other mosques .

-In Dara‘a : the Grand Mosque of Omar (al-Omari Mosque),Mabrak al-Naqa mosque(the camel‘s seat)in Busra.

In Homs:The Grand Mosque of al- Nouri and Mosque of Khaled bin el- Walid .

-In Hama : Mosques of Noureddin , Abi el-Fida‘a , the Grand Mosque and Mausoleum of Imam Ali Zein el -Abidin .

-In Aleppo : The Grand Umayyad Mosque , Mosque of al Touta and Mosque of al Hayyat and others .

-In Lattakia : The Grand Mosque , Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim bin al- Adham , Mosque of Abildardaa , Mosque of al- Moghrabi and the New Mosque .

There are many other important Mosques in other Syrian provinces Syria that are rich with religious sites and mausoleums that attract tourists from many parts of the Islamic world: The mausoleum of Able and Cain at the top of a mountain looking at wadi Barada on the road to Zabadani , “Mausoleum of the Forty“ holy men at the top of Mt .Qassyoun looking at Damascus , and mausoleum of Imam Ismail in Salamia 30 km east of Hama .

Christian religious sites :

Before Christianity, people of most Syrian cities and villages were pagans . The holy bible says that Jesus Christ “ became well known in Syria “ during the three years of his evangelism .

Apostle Paul, “later St. Paul “ ,started his missionary in Damascus from where his Syrian Christian followers carried the new faith to many parts all over the world . When Islam spread in Syria , the two monotheist faiths lived together side by side pace and followers of both religions freed Syria from foreign occupations . The formula of religious coexistence survived on this land to give the world the best civilized example . Best proof to this is that many Christian sites adjoin Moslem ones all over Syria .

Due to the dominance of religious freedom in the thinking of the Syrian people throughout this long period of time, Syrian society changed into a multi religious and a multi ethnic society. Each faction competes with the other in the love of the country and in the race to offer the best it can do to make it better.

The most important Christian sites in Syria are :

-In Damascus :The church of Hanania, St. Paul Church , John the Baptist Church , Kissan Gate ( at the wall of Damascus ) which is the place from where St. Paul started his Christian missionary , the church of Revelation in Tal Kawkab ( the place where Jesus Christ addressed Saoul the Tarsian “ later St. Paul “ .

-In Damascus outskirts : convents and churches of Saydnaya , convents and churches of Ma‘aloula , convent of Mar Elias the Abyssinian in Qalamoun , convent of Mar Jacob and the church of Qara .

-In Homs and outskirts : Church of Um Ezzananir , church of Mar Elias , church of Mar Georges el Humira‘a , church of the Crac des Chevaliers , church of Safita Tower and others .

-In Hama and outskirts : churches of Hama , Mahardeh , Apame , Convent of the Cross “ Deir el Salib “ , Hawarta , palace of Bin Wardan and others .

In Aleppo and outskirts : Church of the Forty Martyrs , church of the Lady , church of the Sayedat Elneyah, church of Mar Elias, Church of the Virgin and others .

-Churches of Mt. Simeon: St. Simeon , Sheikh Suleiman , al-Mushabbak , Basoufan , Haidar Tower , Kharab Shams .

-Churches of the dead cities in Jabal al Zawiya : el Bara,Serjilah, Jaradeh , Rweiha , Southern Dora .

-Churches of the eastern provinces : al Rasafa ( serjeopolis , Dora Europos , Halabia and Zalabia and others .

-Churches of the Syrian coast :in Lattakia and Tartous : church of Lattakia , Saladin castle , Almarkab castle , Amrit , Tartous and Arwad .

-Churches of Dara‘a and Sweida : Busra , church of the Monk Bahira , Azra‘a , Soueida , Kanawat , Shahba and others . Reviewing what had been mentioned, we realize that Syria had always had close relations with the Islamic and Christian worlds . The Islamic world has an idiomatic description of Syria :

“ Sham Sharif “, that is the Sacred Sham . More than seven hundred million Moslems in the Middle and Far East yearn to visit Syria . Many of them give their children , mosques , streets and schools Arab Islamic names . Peoples of Iran , Pakistan , Indonesia , Malaysia, Turkey and the five Moslem republics from the former Soviet Union. In the past, before the invention of aircraft, Damascus was a “ must “ station for all pilgrims going to Mecca for the holy pilgrimage . So “ if earth is removed off the tourist Islamic treasures in Syria“ as Malaysians last prime minister Mahatir Mohammad said “ one third of the ten million Moslems who go to Mecca yearly will have a stop in Damascus “ .

The Christian world still realizes the fact that Syria is the cradle of human civilizations and the starting point of the Christian faith. Pope Paul the Sixth confirmed this statement in his visit to Syria in the year 2002. He followed the same route of Apostle Paul in his journey of teaching . Clergies of both Islam and Christianity, as well as the Syrian people, received the pontiff with great pride and respect. The visit of his holiness had a great influence on the promotion of Christian religious tourism to Syria , an opportunity still available to be seized successfully .

Haifaa Mafalani