Islamic history, Syrian history

The History of Syria: Has the sun has Stopped Shining on Damascus? Ashsham not just a radical Islamic group that has invaded Syria

Ashsham: its origins

Just for the record Ashsham is not a radical Islamic group: at least not in this blog

I fell in love with ashsham, which is the name commonly used for Syria, as soon as I entered the country, from Jordan in 2005. ashsham is purported also, to be the name of the whole of the Levant, a region, which includes Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

The origin of the name is interesting as it derives from Bilad ash-sham (to the left of the sun), where Syria is situated, when facing the sun in the holy lands of Saudi Arabia. Though the name refers to Syria as a whole, it is used particularly in relation to Damascus, by the inhabitants of Syria and the surrounding countries.

Pigeon feeding at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. As pigeons hold a special significance in the Quran and for its readers they get fed at special times.  In this case it was during the Ramadam fast. There were many wistful faces as people waited for prayers to begin.

Pigeon feeding at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
As pigeons hold a special significance in the Quran and for its readers they get fed at special times. In this case it was during the Ramadan fast. There were many wistful faces as people waited for prayers to begin.

Along with the better known name Damascus or dimashq, ashsham dates back to at least the 15th century BC. Both the spelling and the meaning of ashsham/dimashq have been influenced by the many languages spoken in region.

At the time of the Rashidun Caliphate ashsham/dimashq was an important capital city. The Rashidun or first caliphate, controlled a huge empire, in fact the majority of the Islamic world as we know it today. It began in the time of the Prophet Mohammed and was an attempt to unify the region, under Islamic doctrine.

The photograph features a mosque built during the second, Umyyad caliphate. The Umyyad mosque was (and hopefully is) a prominent feature of the old city, a place, where people met and sold their wares.

Wanton Pillage

Now I believe the Umayyad Mosque in Alepo has been damaged in the fighting;  a great shame as a bit more of our history is obliterated.  I was trying, in vain, to find my photo of people feeding pigeons in the courtyard of the  Damascus Great Umayyad Mosque which was taken in October 2006, during the Ramadan fast.  I thought I would look up some photographs on the internet and could not help but notice some of the entries, one stated that it was in dispute as to who had damaged the Mosque in Alepo.

To this I have to say that Syrian people, regardless of their politics, are the most patriotic I have ever met and to suggest that President Assad suddenly had a head fit and decided to blow up his own heritage angers me. The whole process is reminiscent of Iraq after the invasion; when much of its history was eradicated.

The other entry that concerned me was  written by a man having lunch in the old city of Damascus with a ”prominent”  Syrian friend.  He mentioned that it was now up to the street sellers to fill the gap in the ”market”.

Well I can only say his friend did not get out much as most of the ordinary people bought from street stalls and the main food shopping was outside the gates where there were lots on sale including the music that would be blaring out. To add to the experience you could get sightings of the river Barada which flowed beneath, a delight to the many who stared down at it from the pavement.

If the middle classes have left Syria it is because they have enough money and do not want to fight, a trait that is general according to the historian Hourani.  Perhaps they could learn a lesson from Iraq, as the word on the street in Lebanon is that some such people are bitterly regretting not protecting Saddam Hussein. More about that in the future.

The Umayyads continued

The heritage of the Umayyads is complex and the legitimacy of Umayya’s leadership is controversial as he was an adopted son who was later dispossessed by his family. This, perhaps was the beginning of the dissent that has problematised Islam ever since. Umayya did though, adhere to the word of the prophet and allowed everyone freedom of worship.

I do not want to focus on religious differences but will look at this period further down the line. If anyone can provide information about the first three Caliphates please get in touch as my resources are limited and mostly come from Wikipedia.

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