|Marian Mosque of Tartarus|
(Damascus) is a mosque dedicated Mary in Syria not an anachronism? Syria has become the epitome of war and flight. The Christians in the country are being brutally persecuted. Not by the government, but of Islamist combat forces who want to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad. Syria is a majority Muslim country. Only ten percent of the population are Christians. In1920 they were still 30 percent. However, the Muslims are divided into two groups. 70 percent are Sunni, 20 percent are Alawites. From the latter comes the first mosque named after Mary in the world.
The Alawis of Syria
Alawites in the coastal strip of the Crusader states
Little is known about the Alawites in the West. Within Islam they are considered related parties to the Shiites. However, there is also the theory that it is the Alawites, if they are not then at least the offspring of Islamized Christians, at least have significant Christian influence in their religious expression. In fact, since their early years in the 10th century, they have concentrated in Syria and Turkey, two areas which in contrast to other parts of the Islamic world today, which were once heartlands of Christianity.
The Alawites live in what is now Syria, especially along the Mediterranean coast, that area west of the Orontes plane, which belonged to the Crusader states in the Middle Ages and has thus historically and culturally experienced a differing development, than the Islamic territory east of this location. The parallel to the coast mountain range is therefore called the Alawite Mountains (Jebel al-Alawia, Jabal an-Nusayriyah after the original name "Alawite" Alawite).
The Crusaders of Tartus
Fortified Crusader Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa (now a museum)
On the Syrian Mediterranean coast, the city of Tartus is the second largest port in the country. Tartus was founded by the Teutonic Knights and belonged from 1102 to the County of Tripoli, the youngest of the four Crusader states. In 1157 it was given by King Baldwin III. of Jerusalem to the Knights Templar. The Templars, the oldest of the Crusader orders of religious knights, built the port city into a mighty fortress. Saladin besieged it in 1188 in vain. 1291 Tartus was briefly headquarters of the Knights Templar after the fall of Acre. The city was the last mainland stronghold of the Knights, but fell in the same year. In 1300-1302 the Templars made a last, unsuccessful attempt to recapture Tartus.
The Knights Templar built the fortified cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa (Tartus) in the city in the Romanesque-Gothic style. It was built on an original Byzantine site, consecrated to the Virgin Mary consecrated from the early Christian era, and is said to have been consecrated, according to tradition, by the Prince of the Apostles, Peter. After the Mamelukes conquered the city, they converted the cathedral into a mosque. In 1516 the area was conquered by the Ottomans. Under Ottoman rule, the cathedral was used as a cowshed. Today it is a museum. It is considered one of the best preserved examples of crusader churches built in the east. Hafez al-Assad, President from 1970-2000 and ruler of Syria, the father of today's President Bachar al-Assad, had promised to give the the cathedral back to the Christians. His death prevented the return.
First Mosque Named After Mary in the World - Marian Devotion in the Koran
Report of the Daily Star of Beirut
In this predominantly Alawite Tartus the first mosque was built and dedicated to the Virgin Maryn the world. According to the Beirut daily newspaper Daily Star, the new mosque is called Al-Sayyida Maryam. This is one of several Arab names for the mother of Jesus, says the Minister of Religious and Cultural Goods, Mohammad Abdel-Sattar al-Sayyed at the opening ceremony last Saturday.The minister described the new mosque as a sign "of the opening of Islam that is far from aberrations and extremism ."
At the opening Antoine Dib, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, who is also a representative of the Eparchy Latakia, was present. He explained that he is "proud of the initiative" has been brought forward and expressed the hope that the mosque dedicated to Mary may be a "sign of peace" for the whole country.
The worship contained in the Koran for the Virgin Mary, the foundation of the mosque dedicated to Mary, is returned by Islamic scholars to Christian context in which the early Islam arose. Some scholars see in Islam an anti-Trinitarian heresy of Christianity.
The Franciscan Giulio Basetti-Sani (1912-20011), a student of the orientalist, Louis Massignon, had especially devoted himself to the Marian devotion in his studies on Islam, including "Mary and Jesus, Son of Mary in the Qur'an", which led him to the conclusion to recognize in Islam a "sister faith". Following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi and in the pursuit of their Mission, the Franciscans endeavored to make the figures of Jesus and Mary in the Koran visible.
Islam Knows no Personal God, nor the Son of God, but the Virgin Birth of the "Anointed"
Impressive interior of the former Cathedral of Tartusa
Islam knows no personal God. For this reason there are no references to "father" that can be found in the 99 invocations of Allah. For this reason, for Islam a "son of God", which would imply a father, is unthinkable. Nevertheless, the Virgin Mary is called "God's chosen", who was "chosen among all women of creation" (Surah 3.42).The divine sonship of Jesus is, however, denied by Islam vehemently. God has no son. Jesus is acknowledged in the Koran as the "Son of Mary", Isa ibn Maryam, as it says in Surah 19.34 to 36. There is acknowledgment of the virgin birth of Mary, who gave birth to the "anointed one", one of the names for Jesus in Islam.
For several years the feast of the Annunciation on March 25th in Syria is a national holiday. It's a sign of the relatively good relations between Christians and the ruling Alawite Islam of Syria.
Mary is now considered a "door" in interreligious dialogue between Islam and the Catholic Church.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: Daily Star (Screenshots) / Wikicommons / Espen Lutken (Screenshot)
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