So here I am back in Syria. When Ibn Battuta traveled he consolidated several journeys into one trip - I am not so much consolidating, as engaging in obligatory backtracking. When I left Israel and Palestine I flew to Jordan then drove to Syria. I am now on the last day of my search of the obscure and obsurer.
“Qasiyun is a mountain on the north side of Damascus - al-Salihiya lies at its foot - celebrated for its blessedness, being the place of ascent of the Prophets (on them be peace.) Among its holy sanctuaries is the cave in which was born Ibrahim al-Khalil (On him be peace.) It is a long and narrow cave over which has been built a mosque with a tall minaret. It was from that cave that he saw the star, the moon and the sun as is related in the Exalted Book.”
The indefatigable Khaled and I set off. We climbed Mt. Qassioun twice. Or to be more accurate, we drove half way. I still have no idea how this was in fact accomplished. The narrow streets of Mt. Qassioun make those of the perched villages in the south of France seem like wide boulevards, they wind around improbable angles and cling to the curve of the hill on faith alone. Miraculously traffic moves in both directions, jaw-dropping disbelief has obliterated from my mind how. When we reached as far as we could go, I got out to visit one of the caves on the list. I had no idea which one it was as the names have changed and not even Iranians pilgrims visit here. I went inside, the key being held by a woman living nearby who had spotted me toiling up the hill. She came with me, but when I asked her if this was one of the caves mentioned by Ibn Battuta, she told me it had something to do with Fatima, but I could not quite figure out what. Even when Khaled joined us, panting and gasping from the steep walk, he could not determine from what she said which cave this represented in Ibn Battuta’s pantheon of caves. It was not particularly interesting to me and the only thing that interested her was that I give the baksheesh to her only and not to another woman who had silently appeared behind me. This she conveyed by a series of nods, silent mouthing, raised eyebrows and much eyeball darting to the left - it was quite comedic.
A view of Damascus from Mt. Qassioun.