The Umayyad Congregational Mosque of Jarash in Jordan and Its Relationship to Early Mosques

By Walmsley, Alan; Damgaard, Kristoffer | Antiquity, June 2005 | Go to article overview

The Umayyad Congregational Mosque of Jarash in Jordan and Its Relationship to Early Mosques


Walmsley, Alan, Damgaard, Kristoffer, Antiquity


Introduction

Mosques constitute one of the principal defining features of urban life in Islam (Grabar 1973: Chapter 5; Frishman & Khan 1994; Hillenbrand 1999b: Chapter II; Insoll 1999; see also Johns 1999 for a critical assessment of the origin of the mosque). From the earliest years of the Muslim community the mosque provided an essential focal point for the faithful, regardless of how unsophisticated the first structures were, such as is seen, for instance, with the foundation mosques of Basra (AD 635) and Kufa (AD 637/670) and the first Mosque of 'Amr in al-Fustat (AD 641-642). In the eighth century AD, the social role of the mosque was enhanced significantly. The developing politico-religious primacy of the mosque was expressed in a tangible way, as seen with the huge physical expansion of the Mosque of the Prophet in Madina and by the construction of the Great Mosque of Damascus, both commissioned by the active caliph al-Walid b. 'Abd al-Malik (r. AD 705-715). Urban development in the Umayyad period was not restricted to mosques, however, for new and existing towns were also provided with a range of complementary urban necessities, especially circuit walls, gates, streets, palaces, administrative buildings, markets and industrial installations (see recently Foote 2000; Walmsley 2000).

The clear recognition by a rapidly expanding Islamic state of the vital social, religious and commercial role of towns in empire building was an inheritance from Late Antiquity, especially in Syria-Palestine (Bilad al-Sham) and Egypt (Misr). In these regions the urban elites, primarily those of the church, had by necessity assumed temporal control in addition to providing spiritual leadership in the later sixth century, and the role of running a town was, for the most part, retained by the church hierarchy until superseded by a new and progressively Muslim administration following the reforms of 'Abd al-Malik (r. AD 685-705). It is surely no coincidence that the tax requisition and legal papyri recovered in the churches of Nessana and Petra cease about this date, provincial centres were increasingly provided with mosques symbolising Muslim hegemony while providing for Muslim residents, and the number of functioning churches decreased as the social role of the ecclesiastical authorities was curtailed, especially in administration and tax collection. This loss of civil authority seemingly prompted greater resistance to Muslim rule by elements within the church hierarchy. For instance the self-martyrdom of St Peter of Capitolias (Bayt Ras) is probably better seen as a revolt against the loss of secular authority, especially in state financial matters, by elements in the church and not a conflict of religious beliefs as interpreted by later Christian sources (Peeters 1939).

The period from 'Abd al-Malik until the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in AD 750 is characterised by a veritable frenzy of innovative building activity, especially in Bilad al-Sham (Creswell & Allan 1989: Chapters 1-9). The emphasis lay equally on religious and secular edifices, both within an urban context and in the countryside. Congregational mosques feature prominently, at least among the surviving monuments. In addition to the renowned imperial mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem, congregational mosques were also constructed in the main and secondary towns of the five provinces (ajnad, sing. jund) of Bilad al-Sham (Levant), for instance in Halab (Aleppo), al-Ramlah, Rusafah, Anjar and Amman. Likewise mosques were rebuilt on a larger scale in the main centres of neighbouring Iraq, the Hijaz and Egypt, as well as further afield. Right at the end of the Umayyad period a large congregational mosque of a combined Iraqi/Syrian style was built in the Jazirah at Harran, where the last caliph Marwan b. Muhammad (r. AD 744-750) had taken up residence.

Belonging to this period of unfettered construction is the recently discovered congregational mosque of Jarash in Jordan. …

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