Anyone who visits Bani Umayya al-Kabir Mosque, or the “Umayyad Mosque” in Damascus, as it is known, can also visit the tomb of St. John the Baptist inside the mosque.
The premises contains two monuments of the church, which suggest that the mosque was built on its remnants. These two monuments are the Baptism premises – once used to baptize the babies – and a Greek engraving on the wall praising the Christ.
The prominent presence of the tomb of St. John the Baptist in one of the oldest mosques in the Islamic world indicates the position he has for Muslims and Christians alike.
Christ is a prophet in Islam and a saint for Christians. It is believed that, the Messenger of Islam, as last of all the prophets, was preceded spiritually by the other prophets.
During his era, Christ established a path for the Muslims’ relationship with the sanctity of the prophets of the Jewish and Christian faiths. This was confirmed and documented by the Prophets’ lives as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and Hadeeth or the words, deeds and silent approvals of the Prophet.
Story of Christ’s birth
Surah No. 19 in the Holy Quran – named Surah Maryam – tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. This is the only Surah named after a woman, which shows Mary’s place in Islam. This incident is repeated in a number of verses in the Qur’an.
Besides praising and honoring Maryam, it becomes most evident in Verse 42 where angels address Mary and tell her about her status for Allah.
Although Islam considers Christ a prophet, while Christians consider him the Son of God, what combines Islam and Christianity about him are the three miracles – the story of Virgin Mary, the miracle of his birth, and the miracle that he spoke in the cradle.
Verses 16-40 in Surah Maryam mentions him. It begins by mentioning the worship of Mary, her ascension and her retirement to worship under the guardianship of Zakaria, until God sent her a “spirit” in the form of man, reassuring her and preparing her that she will have a “good” son. Thus, it is believed, that with God’s miracle Maryam became pregnant.
Palm trees also hold a scared meaning in Islamic teachings and it is narrated that Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus under a date palm.
On the eve of Christmas, we recall mentions of the miraculous Birth of Jesus in the Holy Quran, where the narrative of Virgin Mary’s childbirth appears on several occasions.
Virgin Mary is repeatedly mentioned in the Quran, more than she was mentioned in The New Testament. The Quran narrates that Virgin Mary was experiencing childbirth pains and then saw a palm tree nearby and held on to it.
While she was holding on to the tree, Mary heard a voice telling her: “Shake the trunk of the palm-tree toward thyself and It will drop its fresh ripe dates upon thee.”
The references gives the palm tree a sacred connotation as an “ammunition” associated with Christianity and Mary in particular in Islamic culture.
Locating the tree
Renowned medieval geographer, Abu Ishaq al-Istakhri is said to have located the palm tree in Beit Lehem under which Mary gave birth to Jesus.
While Andalusian Muslim scholar Ibn Arabi, who lived during the Golden Age of Islam, says that when he visited Jerusalem he found that there was no trace of the palm tree from which Mary ate.
He recalls that pilgrims to the holy lands would seek its location to take a part of it and to be blessed by Mary. This suggests that the palm tree, Virgin Mary and the Childbirth of Jesus, all find mention in Islamic culture.
Excavations at the site in Beit Lehem during the time of the Umayyads revealed a mosaic-made floor of a church depicting three palm trees, which are believed to be references to the story of Mary.