BEIRUT: The minaret of Aleppo’s ancient Umayyad mosque was destroyed on Wednesday, Syrian state media and a watchdog reported, with the regime and the opposition blaming each other.
An archaeological treasure in Aleppo’s Unesco-listed Old City, the mosque has been the centre of fighting for months and had already suffered extensive damage.
With insurgents and the regime caught in a stalemate in the key northern city, the ancient mosque has fallen in and out of rebel hands several times.
The Umayyad mosque was originally built in the 8th century but was apparently destroyed and then rebuilt in the 13th century.
It has recently fallen back into rebel hands, but has been left pockmarked by bullets and stained with soot.
Antique furnishings and intricately sculpted colonnades have been charred, valuable Islamic relics ransacked and ancient artefacts, including a box purported to contain a strand of the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) hair, looted.
Rebels say they have managed to salvage ancient handwritten Quranic manuscripts and have hidden them.
On Wednesday, as reports broke of the minaret’s destruction, activists uploaded video shot at the scene, but there was no video immediately available showing the moment of the blast that caused the collapse.
As with multiple other attacks in Syria’s spiralling conflict, which the UN says has left more than 70,000 people dead, the regime and the opposition blamed each other for the damage.
State media said jihadist Al-Nusra Front fighters blew up the minaret, and accused the group classed by the United States as a “terrorist” organisation of seeking to blame loyalist forces.
But rebels, the opposition and activists all said the army was responsible.
“Tanks began firing in the direction of the minaret until it was destroyed,” one rebel said in a video posted on YouTube, insisting rebel snipers were not stationed inside the minaret.
“We were afraid that it would be targeted,” he said.
“The Assad regime has done everything it can to destroy Syria’s social fabric. Today, by killing people and destroying culture, it is sowing a bitterness in people’s hearts that will be difficult to erase for a very long time,” the video added.
Meanwhile, an activist who identified himself as Zain al-Rifai said he saw an army tank “fire several shells directly at the Umayyad mosque, including at the minaret”.
He also claimed the force of the explosion was magnified because of landmines planted by the army in the mosque complex before the rebel takeover.
“When the army was in control of the mosque, it planted mines across the complex. When the rebels took over, they demined the area, but couldn’t come near the minaret for fear of snipers.
“When the tank shell hit the minaret, it must have caused the mine to explode,” said Rifai, who works with the Aleppo Media Centre, a network of citizen journalists on the ground.
Responding to regime claims that the jihadi-Al-Nusra Front had blown up the minaret, Rifai asked: “Why would an Islamic group blow up a minaret?”
The main opposition National Coalition, recognised by dozens of states and organisations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, mourned the ancient minaret’s destruction.
“The deliberate destruction of this minaret, under whose shadow Saladin… and (10th century Iraqi poet) Al-Mutanabbi rested, is a crime against human civilisation,” said the Coalition.
He is risen!
In today’s Lectionary readings, Saint John explains the coming of the light (Jesus Christ) into the world. On this day, when we celebrate that he is risen from the dead, it is a most fitting and wonderful verse to read. Below is the tomb of John-the-Baptist (Yahyah,) in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of my favorite cities on earth. On this wonderful day of new beginnings, I pray for the peace and prosperity of Syria and all mankind, that we might set aside all the pettiness and grubbing for small things, and look to the larger and harder issues of how to love one another.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,* who is close to the Father’s heart,* who has made him known.
I found this article in the Weather Underground News this morning:
DOHA, Qatar — An amount of freshwater almost the size of the Dead Sea has been lost in parts of the Middle East due to poor management, increased demands for groundwater and the effects of a 2007 drought, according to a NASA study.
The study, to be published Friday in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, examined data over seven years from 2003 from a pair of gravity-measuring satellites which is part of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment or GRACE. Researchers found freshwater reserves in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins had lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of its total stored freshwater, the second fastest loss of groundwater storage loss after India.
About 60 percent of the loss resulted from pumping underground reservoirs for ground water, including 1,000 wells in Iraq, and another fifth was due to impacts of the drought including declining snow packs and soil drying up. Loss of surface water from lakes and reservoirs accounted for about another fifth of the decline, the study found.
“This rate of water loss is among the largest liquid freshwater losses on the continents,” the authors wrote in the study, noting the declines were most obvious after a drought.
The study is the latest evidence of a worsening water crisis in the Middle East, where demands from growing populations, war and the worsening effects of climate change are raising the prospect that some countries could face sever water shortages in the decades to come. Some like impoverished Yemen blame their water woes on the semi-arid conditions and the grinding poverty while the oil-rich Gulf faces water shortages mostly due to the economic boom that has created glistening cities out of the desert.
In a report released during the U.N. climate talks in Qatar, the World Bank concluded among the most critical problems in the Middle East and North Africa will be worsening water shortages. The region already has the lowest amount of freshwater in the world. With climate change, droughts in the region are expected to turn more extreme, water runoff is expected to decline 10 percent by 2050 while demand for water is expected to increase 60 percent by 2045.
One of the biggest challenges to improving water conservation is often competing demands which has worsened the problem in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins.
Turkey controls the Tigris and Euphrates headwaters, as well as the reservoirs and infrastructure of Turkey’s Greater Anatolia Project, which dictates how much water flows downstream into Syria and Iraq, the researchers said. With no coordinated water management between the three countries, tensions have intensified since the 2007 drought because Turkey continues to divert water to irrigate farmland.
“That decline in stream flow put a lot of pressure on northern Iraq,” Kate Voss, lead author of the study and a water policy fellow with the University of California’s Center for Hydrological Modeling in Irvine, said. “Both the UN and anecdotal reports from area residents note that once stream flow declined, this northern region of Iraq had to switch to groundwater. In an already fragile social, economic and political environment, this did not help the situation.”
Jay Famiglietti, principle investigator of the new study and a hydrologist and UC Irvine professor of Earth System Science, plans to visit the region later this month, along with Voss and two other UC Irvine colleagues, to discuss their findings and raise awareness of the problem and the need for a regional approach to solve the problem.
“They just do not have that much water to begin with, and they’re in a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change,” Famiglietti said. “Those dry areas are getting dryer. They and everyone else in the world’s arid regions need to manage their available water resources as best they can.”
Older than the pyramids . . . desert find in Syria
A mystery city lies in Syria’s deserts, one older than the pyramids — but the war-torn area is preventing archaeologists from decoding its riddles.
Fragments of stone tools, stone circles and lines on the ground, and even evidence of tombs appear to lie in the desert near the ancient monastery of Deir Mar Musa, 50 miles north of Damascus, archaeologist Robert Mason of the Royal Ontario Museum said. He likened the formations to “Syria’s Stonehenge.”
“What it looked like was a landscape for the dead and not for the living,” Mason said Wednesday during a presentation at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, according to the University publication the Harvard Gazette.
He made the find during a 2009 trip and is eager to return and further explore the site. But he says regional conflicts make such a return trip nearly impossible.
“It’s something that needs more work and I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.”
‘What it looked like was a landscape for the dead and not for the living.’
- Archaeologist Robert Mason
The monastery itself, also called the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, was built in the late 4th or early 5th century, he said, and contains several frescoes from the 11th and 12th century depicting Christian saints and Judgment Day. He told the audience at Harvard that he believes it was originally a Roman watchtower, partially destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt.
But the desert puzzle is much older.
Bits of tools Mason found nearby suggest the mystery he discovered in the desert is much older than the monastery. It may date to the Neolithic Period or early Bronze Age, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Gazette said.
Egypt’s oldest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Giza, was built about 4,500 years ago.
Mason also saw corral-like stone formations called “desert kites,” which would have been used to trap gazelles and other animals. The desert around the monastery is hardly a verdant pasture — “very scenic, if you like rocks,” Mason reportedly said — but was probably greener a few millennia ago, the archaeologist explained.
Like Indiana Jones exploring Italy’s museums in “The Last Crusade,” Mason hopes to return to the monastery to excavate under the church’s main altar — he believes he’ll find an entrance to underground tombs there.
He also hopes to return to strange stone formations he found in the desert, which he dubbed “Syria’s Stonehenge.”
My heart is heavy as the Syrian peoples in Homs and Hama are bombarded, and babies, children, mothers, non-combatants – all are killed, whether they are fighting or not. I remember the shivers as we would pass the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, or secret police, which we called ‘the fingernail factory’ and I am shamed at our shallowness and callowness, as the reality of people tortured and damaged just for the example of it. While I know that the troubles are political, they are following religious lines. Homs and Hama have always resisted the rule of the Alawites, and have suffered horribly, 30 years ago, at the hands of Bassam Al-Assad’s father, who almost leveled Hama. I know, because I visited there shortly afterwards. It was a silent ghostland, a beautiful city, deserted and haunted.
Who is next, Assad? After the cities of Homs and Hama – oh, and don’t forget Deraa – will you start hitting the Christian villages, even though the Syrian Christians are at the very least, neutral, and many support you? The monster of tyranny is not easily sated, and to survive, there must be constant sacrifices to keep the people in fear, or else they won’t be obedient.
This is all heavy on my heart. I lave loved Syria, all of it, not just Damascus. When will we learn to live in peace with one another?
John 17:20-26. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.
This verse is taken from the so-called high priestly prayer of Jesus for the unity of the church. What is our understanding of unity in the church? From the outset there was a great diversity of Christian groups. Diversity arose from differing practices and religious customs as well as from the difficulty of interpreting authentically the mystery of the person of Jesus.
What is meant by the unity of all Christians? An imposed uniformity in which everyone must bow their heads and obey without freedom of expression and cultural variations? That would be more harmful than beneficial. That idea persisted for a long time and led to the imposition of strict uniformity in religious practice worldwide. It was pernicious.
Today we realize that there can be unity in diversity. It is important to highlight the diversity of cultures while maintaining unity. The unity that Jesus wanted was based on love, compassion, and mercy—not uniformity.
PRAY for the Diocese of Bukuru – (Jos, Nigeria)
Ps 30, 32 * 42, 43; Ezekiel 39:21-29; Philippians 4:10-20
We have spent many happy hours and days in Syria. We grieve for our Syrian friends, for those living in Homs and Hama, and all those seeking freedom from tyranny.
As I was on my way home from picking up milk and vegetables, I passed another local mosque undergoing renovation. Or at least, that is my best guess; it has been gutted and partially destroyed. I am guessing it is about to be reconstructed, but I don’t know for sure. I am only guessing because I have seen it happen to other mosques since we arrived.
And it got me thinking, and I am going to ask a question, but I will tell you before I ask it, that if you asked me the same question about Christian spaces, I would have to ask an expert; it is not a question I can answer about my own culture.
Do Moslems have sacred spaces? How are they made sacred? Is there a ceremony? If you are going to destroy parts of a building on a sacred space, does it have to be de-consecrated (made no-longer-sacred) while it is undergoing renovation? If a mosque is destroyed/no longer used is there a ceremony that makes it no longer a holy spot?
I know that in my religion, churches are consecrated, made officially holy, and that there is a ceremony. I know that in some places, churches that are no longer needed are deconsecrated, not made UNholy, but made not a sacred place of worship any more, and they become restaurants, housing, etc.
In my specific branch of Christianity, which is Episcopalian, there is a service for blessing a new house, which I love, and it is called a House Blessing. The priest comes, usually at dusk, you can have friends there, you carry candles and he blesses every room in the house. When we buy and move into a new house, we always have it blessed. The priest tells me that it is really a mis-nomer, it is not the house being blessed, but those who live within in. To me, that is a distinction that hardly matters, all I know is that I feel more secure in a house that has been blessed.
And no, there is no un-blessing ceremony when we leave a house. The blessing does not create a holy space, a place of worship, a sacred place, but only blesses a humble dwelling.
No, I don’t understand exactly how this all works.
I remember travelling in Syria with an archaeology group one time, and we went to see the site of St. Simeon the Stylite. In my cynical heart, I was not wild about the visit – a saint who sat atop a huge rock for several years to show his devotion to God? When I got there, however, my heart changed – it felt like a holy place. It felt like Saint Simeon had done a holy act, demonstrating his faith so . . . faithfully. If you know Syria, you know how bitterly cold it can be in winter, and how bone-breakingly hot it can be in summer. The pure grit and devotion it took to stay atop the pillar of stone was an amazingly faithful act. It felt like a sacred place, a holy place, to me.
So my question is not just for the Moslem readers, but also for Christian readers – what makes a space holy? Does it need a ceremony to be holy? Does it need a ceremony if it will no longer be used for sacred purposes?
Fresh in the mailbox from the Embassy comes this warning:
Embassy of the United States of America
Kuwait City, Kuwait
May 4, 2008
To: All American Wardens
From: Consular Section
Subject: Warden Notice 2008 – 9
Please circulate the following message without additions or omissions
immediately to all American citizens within your area of responsibility.
The Minister of Interior, Sheikh Jaber Khaled Al-Sabah, has issued a Ministerial
decree that prohibits drivers in Kuwait from using a cellular phone while
driving a vehicle. This decree (number 76/81) is intended to keep drivers in
Kuwait focused on driving and not talking on a cellular phone. This decree is
consistent with what is going on in our own country in many states that are
enacting laws prohibiting cellular phone use while driving.
This decree goes into effect on May 1, 2008. As a practical matter, drivers
should not be talking on cellular phones while driving at any time. They should
find a safe place to pull over and stop their vehicles before talking on the
cellular phone. Keep in mind this new decree is an amendment to a previous law
already in effect that includes eating or drinking while driving a vehicle an
offense in Kuwait.
You should expect some increased vigilance on the roads by police in the coming
weeks to enforce this decree. Our information from MOI is the fine for use of a
cellular phone while driving will be 15KD.
Comments: There is already a law in effect that bans eating and drinking while driving??? Who knew?
Waaaaaayyyyy back in February, a chart started circulating, said to be a fraud, that pretty accurately defined the new laws in effect 1 May. Looking at it now, I am betting it is a list of new laws that went into effect in JORDAN, and Kuwait used it as a template for changes in Kuwait. I know new traffic laws – very similar – went into effect in Syria on May 1st.
I can’t help wondering how all this came about, but most of all, for your protection and mine, I am thankful for these new laws and the commitment on the part of the government to enforce these laws equally, across the board. The statement we keep hearing is “no one is above the law.” Wooo Hooo, Kuwait!
The only funny thing is – the chart I have seen most often in Kuwait says the fine is KD 50 for driving while on a cell phone. This message says KD 15. The announcement in the paper said KD 5. If anyone out there has been charged for taking on a cell phone while driving, will you let us know what the real fine is?
Is the ban being enforced equally against all drivers? The Kuwait Times says 200 people were charged on the first day of enforcement.
Do you see that black stone dish on the table, the one that has a dish in it called Hummos wa Burghul (Chickpeas and Cracked Wheat?)
I am trying to find a recipe to make it. Please, if you are Syrian or Jordanian, and you know how to make this, or maybe you have a mom or an aunt who knows how to make this, would you please share your recipe with me?
I found one recipe, for a Burghul Pilaf, from a 1959 Lebanese cookbook. It calls for 1 1/4 lbs of butter. (!!! AACK !!!) I remember it really did taste buttery, it was really yummy, but that sure seems like a lot of butter!
It was delicious. I’d really like to try to make it, if someone out there can help me out.