It is not always easy searching for 14th century graves in a city like Damascus which has mushroomed in recent years, but one Friday morning Khaled and I set out to pay our respects to those whom Ibn Battuta deemed worthy of mention, almost 700 years ago. We began in the east part of the city,
“In the village called al-Maniha to the east and at a distance of four miles from Damascus, is the grave of Sa’ad ibn Obada. Over the grave there is a small and nicely built mosque and at its head is a stone with this inscription: ‘This is the grave of Sa’ad ibn Obada, chief of the Khazraj and Companion of the Apostle of God, bless and give him peace.’
His story is a curious one; he was indeed elected chief of the Khazraj tribe after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, but the decision was voided by the election of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. Ibn Obada refused allegiance to Abu Bakr and was exiled to Syria where he died in 636. Legend however says he was killed by the jinn......
A new, large (and rather unattractive) mosque is now built over his tomb.
“In a village to the south of town and a league distant from it is the tomb of Umm Kulthum, daughter of Ali ibn Abu Talib by Fatima. It is said that her name is Zainab......the people of Damascus call it the grave of the Sitt Umm Kulthum.”
Not anymore, it is now known as Sayyida Zainab and you cannot miss it. The Iranians have built an enormous shrine in her honor in their style; gold dome, blue tile, calligraphy, and inside, lots of mirrored glass. I was once chased out of this shrine by a furious official and I am still not sure why.