Photos and Inscriptions of Shīʿī Shrines in Palestine

al-Nabī Yūshaʿ, Sitt Sukayna, and Raʾs al-Ḥusayn

In: The Shīʿīs in Palestine
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1 al-Nabī Yūshaʿ1

Figure 9
Figure 9The al-Nabī Yūshaʿ shrine

The left/east dome and right/west dome are situated above the two main chambers

Diagram of the two domed chambers:

The Arabic inscriptions that survived in the two main chambers under the two domes have not been studied yet. Unfortunately, they were seriously damaged and we cannot reconstruct their exact historical background.

a. The left/east chamber

The left/east chamber of the two domed chambers includes three inscriptions on the qibla (direction of prayer, southeast) wall above the miḥrāb and the two windows as follows (from right to left):

1.

2.

3.

‫1. كل من عليها فانٍ 2. يا باقي ارحم عبدك الفاني 3. قد جدد تصل[يح] هذا

الم[قام ]ال[مبارك] [الم]رحوم

‫[كامل?][…]صر

1364 (/1944)

  1. “All which is on it [earth] is temporary” Qurʾān 26:27.
  2. Oh Eternal, have mercy on your mortal worshiper!
  3. Renovated this [blessed] shrine the late … [Kāmil?] […]ṣr 1364 [/1944].

Inscription no. 3 is easier to reconstruct from older photos that appear online.2 Unfortunately, the name of the contributor who repaired the building in 1944 cannot be identified.

b. The right/west chamber

In this chamber, under the right dome, the tomb of the walī (the saint) is covered with blue cotton sheets. The identity of the walī (believed to be al-Nabī Yūshaʿ) is not recorded anywhere at the site or the tomb itself. The following photos show the room from the outside, the entrance, and the inside.

The entrance of the right/western chamber has new graffiti mentioning ʿAlī (above the left window) and the shahada and Allāhu akbar (‘God is the greatest’) in several places. There are signs (from the remains of provision and clothes) that pilgrims may still visit the site and even sleep there to enjoy its blessing.

The right/western chamber contains a space by the tomb where people can sleep. The two inscriptions in this chamber that appeared on its right upper wall, have been destroyed, but can be reconstructed thanks to older photos found online.3 The two inscriptions are a citation from the Qurʾān and a typical Shīʿī slogan, as follows (1 in the right, 2 in the left):

‫1. وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللّٰهِ جَمِيعًا 2. لا فتى إلا علي ولا سيف إلا ذو الفقار

  1. “Hold firmly to the rope of God.” (Qurʾān 3:103)
  2. “There is no young warrior like ʿAlī, and no sword like dhū l-fiqār.”

The presence of this slogan at this site may be significant, since the young warrior (fatā) referred to in the Qurʾān verse is Joshua (Yūshaʿ),4 who is considered by Shīʿīs to be the successor (waṣī) of Moses, like ʿAlī is the successor of Muḥammad.

In the left/east chamber there is a miḥrāb in the southeast wall in front of the entry.

3. On the southern corner of the dome in the left/eastern chamber the remnants of an inscription are visible; the name of Allāh is next to that of ʿAlī اللّه علي. This may have been, originally, علي ولي اللّه “ʿAlī is close (walī) to Allāh,” which is the third part of the Shīʿī shahāda. The yā (the third letter of ولي) is visible at the bottom, under the name ʿAlī.

In a cemetery next to the building toward the south, two gravestones survived, indicating that these were graves of people from the village Mays al-Jabal in the Marj ʿAyūn district in southern Lebanon, and that they died in 1355/1936 and 1355/1937. These graves demonstrate that Lebanese Matāwlīs wanted to be buried close to the saint (walī), in order for their souls to receive his blessing.

Sitt Sukayna

a. Two marble tablets include scriptures from the Mamlūk period;5 these have been studied.6 Until the 1990s, these were situated in the Sitt Sukayna shrine, they were then transmitted to the Gordon Museum in the Kibbutz Deganya Alef.

1. A five-line dedication to the sultan includes a typical Shīʿī citation of the Qurʾānic verse of purification (āyat al-taṭhīr):

Arabic text (based on the order on the tablet):

  • ‫1. بسم اللّٰه الرحمن الرحيم انما يريد اللّٰه ليذهب عنكم الرجس اهل البيت ويطهركم تطهيرًا
  • ‫2. أمر بعمارة هذا المشهد المبارك وهو مشهد الست سكينة ابنة الحسين بن علي بن ابي طالب
  • ‫3. وعبيد اللّٰه بن العباس بن علي بن ابي طالب عليهم السلام العبد الفقير الى اللّٰه تعالى
  • ‫4. فارس الدين البكي الساقي العادلي المنصوري نائب السلطنة بالممالك
  • ‫5. الصفدية والشقيفية والساحلية وذلك في غرّة رجب سنة اربع وتسعين وستما ئة

Translation

  1. In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, “God intends only to remove from you the impurity, oh people of the [Prophet’s] household and to purify you.” [Qurʾān 33:33].
  2. The order to build this blessed mausoleum, which is the tomb of the Sitt Sukayna daughter of Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib
  3. and that of ʿUbaydallāh b. ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, [may the] blessing [of God] be upon them, was given by the worshiper yearning for God the exalted
  4. Fāris al-Dīn al-Bakkī the cupbearer the ʿĀdilī Manṣūrī representative of the sultanate in the kingdoms of
  5. Safed, the Shaqīf [Beaufort castle] and the coast and this is in the beginning of the month of Rajab in the year 694 [/1294].

The verse of purification (āyat al-taṭhīr) that appears in the first line is as follows:

‫إنّما يُريدُ اللهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أهْلَ البَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا‬

God intends only to remove from you the impurification, oh people of the [Prophet’s] household and to purify you.

Qurʾān 33:33

6. Eight lines declare the shrine a waqf (endowment):

  • ‫1. بسم اللّٰه الرحمن الرحيم هذه الاماكن الموقوفة على مصالح مشهد الست سكينة بمقتضى ثبوت ذلك مجلس الحكم
  • ‫2. العزيز وهي مجرّد7 فدانين من أرض طبرية من جملة ثلاثين فداناً وقطعتا أرض تعرفان بالحرثيتين وأرض
  • ‫3. المعروفة بالمنبر وأرض تعرف ببستان القسيس وحاكورة تعرف بالقصيل وحاكورتان مجاورتان لهذا المشهد
  • ‫4. المبارك وحاكورة كرم دار مسرور وقطعتا أرض احداهما تعرف بالبئر والأخرى بالرجم الكبير
  • ‫5. وحاكورة تعرف بأمّ رجم وأرض تعرف البستان والذي وقف العبد الفقير الى الله تعالى
  • ‫6. الأميرفارس الدين البكي الساقي المنصوري العادلي منشئ هذه العمارة وهو
  • ‫7. جميع بستان الحنّانة المجاور لمدينة طبرية وبحيرتها وحدود ذلك مبيّنة بكتابي الوقف
  • ‫8. فمن بدله بعد ما سمعه فإنما إثمه على الذين يبدلونه إن اللّٰه سميع عليم

Translation

  1. In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, these are the places endowed (as waqf) for the benefit of the mausoleum of Sitt Sukayna, based on [the legalization of] the assembly of judgment
  2. the honorable, which is merely two faddan8 of the land of Tiberias from the entire thirteen faddan and the two pieces of land known as the ‘two Ḥarthiyya,’ and the land
  3. known as ‘al-Minbar’ and the land known as ‘Bustān al-qissīs’ (the priest) and garden known as ‘al-qaṣīl’ and two gardens neighboring this mausoleum
  4. which is blessed, known as the ‘garden of Karm (vineyard) Dār Masrūr and two pieces of land, one called ‘al-Biʾr’ (the well) and the other ‘al-Rujm al-Kabīr’
  5. and a garden called ‘Umm Rujm’ and a land called ‘al-Bustān’;9 and the [land] is endowed to the worshiper yearning for God the exalted
  6. the amīr (commander) Fāris al-Dīn al-Bakkī, the cupbearer of ʿĀdilī Manṣūrī, founder of this construction which is
  7. the entire garden of ‘al-Ḥannāna’ which is beside the town of Tiberias and its lake; and the borders of this [endowment] are defined in the two waqf deeds.
  8. “And whoever alters it after he has heard it, the sin is only upon those who have altered it. Indeed, God is Hearing and Knowing.” (Qurʾān 2:181)

b. The remains of the shrine of Sitt Sukayna were turned into a Jewish synagogue after reconstructions.10 For the last five centuries, rabbis and Jewish travelers have claimed that this is the shrine of Rachel, wife of Rabī ʿAkīva.

The shrine of Sitt Sukayna is located on a mountain west of the Sea of Galilee (the Kineret) north of the town of Tiberias. The tombs nearby reflect the beliefs of local Palestinians, who sought the blessings of the saint by being buried close to her. One of the nearby gravestones is dated 1359/1940; this indicates that the site was venerated until the war of 1948.

The site has changed identities, from a Shīʿī to a Sunnī shrine, then it was venerated by both Muslims and Jews, and recently it became a Jewish shrine only. A menorah, a seven-branch candle, is situated on its roof.

In 1995, during the renovation of the site, the two Mamlūk marble tablets with the inscriptions were transmitted to the Gordon Museum. A new white sign is now situated on the external wall of the site; this states (in Hebrew):

A holy place
Notification of the shrine of Rachel
Wife of the Tanna (‘repeater,’ a name of Mishna sages in the two first centuries CE) Rabī ʿAkīva
Below, the English reads: Tomb of Rachel

In 1995, the Tiberias Religious Council officially declared the site a synagogue. It is maintained nowadays by the Breslav Hasidic Jews.11

3 Raʾs al-Ḥusayn12

The original shrine no longer exists. The current site was built at the end of the 1990s by the Dāwūdī Bohrā community.13 It is an open space with a water faucet (on the right) for making ablutions before prayer. The entrance to the site, with three steps, is from the northwest.

In 2008, the municipality of Ashkelon added a blue sign with the following explanation in Hebrew:

Translation

In the year 656 CE, ʿAlī, the son-in-law of Muḥammad, gained the throne of the caliphate. His young son Ḥusayn was killed at Karbalāʾ in Iraq (in the year 680 CE). The head of Ḥusayn was transmitted to Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad dynasty, and buried in the great mosque. In the ninth century, the head of Ḥusayn was transmitted to a remote place in the kingdom. That is how it arrived in Ashkelon.

In the year 1098 the Fāṭimids conquered Ashkelon and the head of Ḥusayn was transmitted to a respectable memorial (mashhad) that was built on this site. In the year 1153 Ashkelon was conquered by the crusaders and the head of Ḥusayn was transmitted to Cairo. Nevertheless, the sanctity of this site did not disappear, which is characterized by large old sycamore trees that were preserved here, thanks to its sanctity.

The actual mashhad (mashhad al-Ḥusayn) was built in the nineteens of the twentieth century by the Muslim-Fāṭimīs originating from India and its region [the Dawudi Bohrās]. Many of them come to this site every year for the ziyāra (pilgrimage) which begins in Damascus, continues to this site, and ends in Cairo.

The open marble site contains a miḥrāb (in the right), to show the direction of the prayer to the southeast. The surrounding marble fence contains geometrical forms surrounding stars of David. Next to the site is the maternity room of Barzilai Hospital (the cars parked nearby can be seen in this photo).

1

The photos of al-Nabī Yūshaʿ shrine were taken by the author, 2 September 2017. After the al-Aqṣā Institute attempted to renovate the building, in May 2009, volunteers from the region of Acre and Shāghūr (al-Biʿna, Deir al-Asad, and Majd al-Kurūm), from the Benevolent Hands Organization tried to renovate the shrine. The Israeli police stopped them, explaining that works at the site are prohibited because it belongs to the Israel Land Authority. See in Kull al-ʿArab, Nazareth 23 May 2009 online (in Arabic): http://www.alarab.com/Article/140245. The recent research does not contribute much to the study of the history of al-Nabī Yūshaʿ. Petersen’s most recent study ignores its Shīʿī background connected to Nāṣīf al-Naṣṣār, the special meaning of Joshua in Shīʿī religion, and the inscriptions on its left/east chamber. Moreover, the examples given in his description of this shrine in earlier centuries seem speculative and may not relate to the same site. See Petersen, Bones of Contention, 110–112. In June 2014, excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authorities took place in the surrounding area. Nevertheless, the findings do not contribute to the Shīʿī history of the building. See Uri Berger, “En-Nabi Yusha’ 09/12/2015 final report,” Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel, vol. 127 (2015), in http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=24854&mag_id=122.

2

In an online photo from 2005, some letters that survived can be observed on the left (3): [الم[قام and كا[مل]. See http://www.palestineremembered.com/Safad/al-Nabi-Yusha’/Picture7931.html. See also https://www.flickr.com/photos/31383164@N06/4933486755/in/album-72157624822888866.

3

For older photos from the following site, see the undated photos online, at https://www.palestineremembered.com/Safad/al-Nabi-Yusha’/Picture7959.html.

4

In this verse the term fatā is commonly translated as “servant”, although “young worrior” would also fit the personality of Joshua. Qurʾān 18:60, “When Moses told his young servant” وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِفَتَاهُ.

5

The photos of the two Sitt Sukayna marble tablets were taken by the author, 3 December 2017 with the permission of the Gordon Museum, Deganya Alef Kibutz.

6

The following translations were made by the author. See other translations of the two inscriptions, in English: Humphrey Milford, Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine (London: Oxford University Press, 1932), 1:38–41. In French: L.A. Mayer, “Tibériade—Mausolée de Sukaina,” in E. Combe, J. Sauvaget, and G. Wiet (eds.), Répertoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe (Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1944), 13:126–128.

7

The Arabic word مجر proposed by Mayer (instead of مجرّد = merely) does not make sense in this context, where the word seems to lack the last letter, which was obscured over time.

8

It seems that the Mamluk faddan or feddan unit was similar to today’s Egyptian and Syrian area unit, equivalent to 4,200 square meters.

9

Most of these places could still be found in Tiberias in the 1930s, see Milford, Quarterly, 41.

10

The photos of the Sitt Sukayna shrine were taken by the author, 2 September 2017.

11

In 1997, Rabbi Rafael Cohen began a tradition of hillula, a Jewish tradition similar to the Muslim mawsim. This custom is widespread in Jewish folklore related to tombs of Jewish saints in the region of Tiberias. The process of the conversion is explained in Rivka Gonen, “How is a New Saint’s Tomb Created?,” 75–85. In December 2013, a delegation from al-Aqṣā Institute visited the synagogue and met Rabbi Cohen. The Muslim delegation disagreed with the Rabbi’s claim that this site was originally a Jewish tomb. See (in Arabic) “A Praying Site and a maqām of Sitt Sukayna and the Jewish Rachel,” in Yaeni online (26 December 2013): http://yaeni.com//news/news/61865//#.WjDvidIjSM8.

12

The photos of Raʾs al-Ḥusayn shrine were taken by the author, 11 October 2016.

13

In 1998, the Dāwūdī Bohrā community claimed that they located the cornerstone of the last shrine of the head of Ḥusayn at this site. See (in Hebrew): https://news.walla.co.il/item/1280081. According to Meron Rapoport, the mosque was bombed by Moshe Dayan in July 1950, see Rapoport, “History Erased” online, at http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/history-erased-1.224899.

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