This exquisite blue-tiled Damascus mosque houses the remains of Sayyidah Zaynab in a shrine adorned with crystal. It is a vitally important pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims who come to pay mournful respect to her remains.
The Shrine of Lady Zaynab was built to honor the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and is believed by some to contain her remains. In 680 BCE, Lady Zaynab was captured and taken prisoner following the massacre at Karbala, one of the defining tragedies of the Shia religious tradition. While captive, she saved the life of her nephew, Ali, by throwing herself over his body and declaring they would have to kill her as well. Her bravery preserved the line of succession, ensuring the future of Shiism. As such, her shrine is one of the most important and emotional pilgrimage sites for Shia Muslims.
The shrine itself is hidden in a maze of shops, hotels, and restaurants in southeast Damascus. Finding the mosque is a challenge that requires following crowds of black-robed Iranian pilgrims and the occasional glimpse of the towering blue minaret. The entrance gate opens onto a polished outer courtyard that is dominated by the shrine at its center and the entire edifice is adorned with intricate blue-tiled mosaics of symbolic flowers, geometric shapes, and Arabic script. The dome atop the shrine is made of pure gold, as are the ceremonial doors. The courtyard is filled with grief-ridden men and women marching in circles, chanting prayers in Farsi and Arabic.
The shrine itself is a small, but exquisite display of mirrors, crystal, and gold ornamentation. However, it is not the beautiful decoration that immediately captures a visitor’s attention. The atmosphere inside is one of open emotion rather than silent reverence. It is filled with the wailing cries and profuse tears of pilgrims who have come to pay respect to Lady Zaynab’s remains. Women tear at their clothes, beat their chests, and collapse to the ground. It is a display of passionate mourning, and the pilgrims mourn her death as they would a beloved daughter. A visit to the Shrine of Lady Zaynab will leave visitors of any faith overwhelmed, both by the beautiful architecture and the moving power of belief.