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Panoramic Views > Bekaa > Maqam Sayida Khawla in Baalbeck

Maqam Sayida Khawla in Baalbeck - As-Sayida Khawla

Prayer...! What does this word mean? Who prays, why and when?

Prayer means communing with what stands beyond our world, with the Almighty who loves us, who sometimes humbles us but in any case overwhelms us, fascinates us, draws us to him, fills us with deep emotion, sometimes to the point of tears or of ecstasy.

Our whole soul, all our emotion, our sensation, our thought, all these comes into play, a sacred play, mysterious and religious. Mankind has passed from magic to prayer, from adoration of such natural forces as the Sun and the Moon, through statues, until finally facing the true Creator, God himself. Starting with Enoch (Genesis 5:22) this evolution has taken thousands of years.

Faith, belief, and worship have developed so as to become individual and personal matters. The monk prays in his monastery, the anchorite in his hermitage, the priest with the faithful in his church, the Imam or sheikh in his mosque, the pagan (so-called) in his temple, and the rabbi in his synagogue. The poet communes in the midst of Nature, for “Nature is a temple,” said Baudelaire, while the researcher communes in his laboratory and the shepherd in his pastureland. Prayer knows no place and no boundary.

Every religion has its place of pilgrimage where believes of every community go to fulfill their vows. At the Vatican or at Mecca or at Lourdes or at Qom, or at Saint Sharbel, or at Harissa or at any shrine one may mention, crowds come driven by the same need, the same desire, and the same passion.

Allow me to invite you to Heliopolis-Baalbek in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley, to the mosque As-Sayida Khawla, Our Lady Khawla. Here too people come to fulfill a vow or simply on religious pilgrimage. The Lady in question at this shrine is a child, the little girl Khawla, who died when only three years old. Here is her story.

After the defeat and martyrdom of the Third Imam, Husseyn son of Ali, at Karbala at the hands of the Ummayads, his family, women, children, daughters and sisters, were taken as booty and directed towards Aleppo in Syria. Having to pass through regions with plentiful springs and streams to ensure enough water for the travelers and the accompanying flocks, the caravans found the Beqaa valley ideal. But the conditions of travel in those days were very harsh in this region of semi-desert and the little girl Khawla could not support the weariness of travel, thirst, hunger, and suffering. She succumbed and died near a convent known as the Convent of the Virgins.

Little Khawla, grand-daughter of the Imam Ali father of Husseyn, was buried in this place, and her remains were considered locally as a blessing, a gift of Heaven. She was venerated and her tomb has since been a place of pilgrimage and prayer for the people round about, particularly for the Shiites.

It is said that a couple of hundred years ago, an inhabitant of Baalbek, owner of the land where Khawla had been interred, saw in a dream a little infant girl who told him that she was the little three-year-old Khawla, daughter of Husseyn, buried in his field. She showed him the precise spot, telling him to divert the stream of Ras el-Ain which flowed close by her grave as water was harmful to her. At first the man took no notice. But when she appeared a second, a third, and a fourth time, he began to get anxious and aware of the gravity of this vision. So he hurried off to the respected elder of Heliopolis, one of the Mortada family, and told him of the appearances.

The elder and all the townspeople rushed off to the place indicated and set about digging until the grave appeared and in it the body of a child still tender and intact, a body that was clearly blessed. It was reburied some little distance away and over the new tomb a dome was built.

The news spread around and thousands of believers came to visit the spot and to pray, particularly at the times of the major celebrations; Ashoura, the Forty Days, and Fridays, when people came from far and wide and from many countries.

Since then the site had been developed and enlarged by the construction of a mosque. This has two wings, one for men and the other for women, so that there will be no distraction during prayer. They are separated by curtains and ornaments. The tomb of little Khawla is decorated and protected by an iron railing bearing inscriptions of verses of the Qoran and arabesques, the whole crowned by a dome.

Inside the mosque there is a thousand-year-old cypress tree living miraculously without roots and always green and leafy.

Also inside are wooden panels on which the faithful write down their thoughts. The tomb of Es-Sayida has become a beacon of holiness and of purity, a place where one is close to the Creator after so many years of veneration on the spot by believers. Close by the mosque grow various kinds of trees, mainly pines and cypresses.

This little infant martyr Khawla who underwent so much suffering and afflictions has become Lady Khawla, blessed and venerated protector, lying in a shrine, a mausoleum, to bring the faithful close to the Almighty.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French : Kenneth Mortimer

- Maqam Sayida Khawla in Baalbeck: >> View Movie << (2013-10-15)



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