The Shiites’ holiest place in Syria is Al-Sayeedeh (The lady) Zainab’s Shrine, 30 minutes drive outside the city of Damascus.
This place is visited every year by tens (or more) of thousands of Iranians, Kuwaitis, Qataris, Bahrinis, Lebanese, Saudis and many other nationalities as part of their holy pilgrimage.
I haven’t been to this area for more than 15 years, when we used to go to shop from a smuggled merchandise market that was held on the banks of the un-covered sewage tunnels! (We often did that when Madaya, the regular place where people of Damascus can get smuggled stuff from back then, was to be under siege). So, I went today after I'd heard about a lot of changes in that area! Well, I think other than covering the sewage, or maybe moving it somewhere else, nothing has changed! Pretty much the same! It reminded me of Mekka during Ramadan, so much crowded, dirty, chaotic, and unorganized!
I entered the yard of the Mosque where the shrine is held, I found so many people on the ground, some praying, some reading Quran and some just staring back at me!
When I wanted to take some photos from the inside; I found this sign that bans the use of Black cameras inside the mosque! Luckily, my camera was metal-grey, thus, the sign was not for me ;)
So, I carried my camera and stepped in, again, incense filling the air just like in the Medina and Mekka holy mosques in Saudi Arabia.
A huge shrine surrounded by people was in the middle, thousands of mirrors on the walls, pretty fancy inside decoration, people were touching the shrine for blessing, some were kissing it and some, again, were staring back at me!...I think it was the T-Shirt that attracted them!
I had enough photos, I read Al-Fateha (The first verse in the Quran) once and then decided to leave through another exit…On the way out, I found a piece of clay that, I was told, Shiites use to rest their foreheads on while kneeling during prayers, which pretty much explains the permanent “brown” spot that can be seen on their foreheads.
I left the yard through the Southern gate. It was really shocking, the difference between the inside and the outside...While one could catch the smell of the millions spent inside the mosque; I could smell the garbage scattered outside the mosque! Aspects of poverty are so obvious! I felt like moving from the Sultan’s Palace to the peasant’s cottage! At one glance up, we see a dome and a gate made out of gold, another glance down, we see this homeless lady just few meters away!
Eventually, my visit, which was mainly to get a Hezbollah flag for my boss who’s leaving Syria for good and she wants to have it as a souvenir from the region, was over and I bought a couple of yellow flags!...so I guess...Mission accomplished!