Maqam Sayida Khawla
in Baalbeck - As-Sayida Khawla
Prayer...! What does this word mean? Who prays, why
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
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
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.
Translation from the French : Kenneth Mortimer
Maqam Sayida Khawla in Baalbeck: >> View
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