Chapter 33: Damascus: Love at First Sight

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The sun has started to shine since 6.30 in the morning. Zul, Azli, and Hazman are all up and smartly dressed prepared to go to the Syrian Embassy in Amman. There’s only a week left before Muslims celebrate Eidulfitri. Thus, all of the matters needed to be done as soon as possible to avoid their plans to enter Damascus from getting postponed.

As they arrived at the Syrian Embassy, they were greeted by an officer. Zul, Azli and Hazman hand over all the necessary documents and state their wish to enter Damascus. The officer asked Zul, “Have any of you three entered Israel?” Without much thought, Zul nodded his head, for they had just visited Jerusalem. The officer’s face turned red with anger and said, “Go back! Your applications are rejected,” he answered sternly. He barely spared a glance at them.

Zul was bewildered. “Did I say something wrong? What does this Arab want?” Zul whispered to himself. Azli and Hazman have started to sweat. They are currently in Amman, which is 10,000 miles away from their hometown Kuala Terengganu. Going back home to Terengganu because they are chased out from Saudi Arabia at the Syrian Embassy is surely a crazy and useless situation to be in! Hazman wiped his sweat from his forehead and asked anxiously, “What should we do? Do we have to go back to Tranung?” Zul shook his friend’s shoulders and said, “Calm down, it’s pathetic if we have to go back to Tranung,

So, we just have to write a statement saying we’ve never been to Jerusalem?” Zul braved himself to ask. The officer nodded. “But we’ve just gone there?” Azli whispered to Zul. “Just follow what this Arab told us to do. Just write it,” Zul said as he quickly grabbed a pen and wrote what was asked of them. Alhamdulillah, after that incident, the documents and letters were handed over smoothly without any issue. Not long after that, their visas were issued and it was given to Zul, Azli and Hazman. It was then, they were able to smile and let out a sigh of relief. They are now a step closer to Syria.

Questions such as why did the procedure/rules suddenly change, why was it accepted then suddenly rejected, tomorrow the documents were received then the next day they were missing should be asked. Nothing is impossible there!

After bidding farewell to their friends in Jordan, the three friends depart and headed to Syria on a flight after Asar. The memories of the 2 weeks in Jordan that they shared are still clear in their minds. Who knew, Zul was able to celebrate Eid in Sweileh? In the future, it’s uncertain whether Zul will ever be able to visit Jerash, the Dead Sea, venture the underground of Aqsa Mosque, tour the site of the battle in Yarmouk, or eat delicious Jordan Mansaf again. Urdun awwalan!

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Zul, Azli and Hazman arrives in Syria at night and were greeted by a representative from the Malaysian Syria Association. They were then guided to a temporary student house Sahabah which is located in Bab Musolla, Damascus. With the help of several students in Syria, Zul and his two friends were able to find a house for them to rent a couple of days later in Mukhayyam Yarmouk.

Syria is located in West Asia, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, in between Lebanon and Turkey. Syria itself consisted of dry highlands, although the northwestern part bordering the Mediterranean Sea is filled with greeneries. The Euphrates River, the most important river in Syria, crosses the country to the east. The country is considered as one of the fifteen countries considered as the birthplace of civilization. The major cities are the capital of Damascus in the southwest, Aleppo in the north, and Homs. Most other important cities are located along the coast. The climate in Syria is hot and relatively dry, and there are also winters and snow.

Their first week in Damascus felt like a dream, Zul felt like he was in a different world. Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world and has continued to prosper to this day. Most houses here are modest cost apartments, maybe similar to the ones in Kuala Lumpur. Historical and old buildings from the time of the Umayyah Dynasty was still standing tall and beautiful and continued to function with several improvements in their building structures, without destroying their original structure, design and sculpture. The routes that serve as the entrances to Souq al-Hamidiyah are among the several examples of the old rubbles which still remain since they were built by the Romans. The rows of columns are originally from the ruins of the Jupiter Temple which was built by the Romans. Souq al-Hamidiah starts at the al-Thawra Road and ends at the Umayyah Mosque square. These 40 feet high columns are situated at the main entrance of Souq al-Hamidiyyah. Here, various types of clothing, souvenirs, and traditional crafts, gold jewellery are sold. There are also café’s, grocery stores, food and ice cream stalls here.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA – MAY 24: A man in a traditional outfit makes hot drinks in the main souk on May 24, 2012, in Damascus, Syria. Despite all the ongoing conflicts in Syria people go on as normal about their daily life in the capital city of Syria. (Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Everyone who visited Souq al-Hamidiyyah will be greeted by a tea-seller who is completely dressed in his traditional clothing and tarbus (traditional head cap in Damascus). That was Zul’s first time drinking tea made of fragrant root poured with boiled water mixed with rose water. “Shlounak?” [1], the tea seller asked in a Syrian Arabic dialect, smiling sweetly. Syrians are polite and gracious, a bit different from the Arabs of Saudi Arabia and are similar to the Malays. Azli sat silently as he intently gazes at the Syrian Arabs who were busy entering and exiting Souq al-Hamidiyah. Children were running around, chasing and teasing each other. “Zul, look at that beautiful lady walking with her father. I can’t stop looking at her,” Hazman said tapping Zul and pointing towards a young lady who was walking together with a much older man, who was probably her father. Zul chuckles at his friend’s antics. Both men and women in Syria are good-looking with beautiful fair skin. Unlike the normal brown or black irises of Malays, Syrian Arabs have various coloured eyes such as blue and green. Hence, there are narrations by the Prophet PBUH’s companions stating that the most beautiful women in the world are Syrian women in Bab Tuma (near the city of Damascus).

It is a custom in Syria, where its people favoured cycling. Taxi and van act as their main public transportation. With a fare of 3 to 5 Lira, the fare is much cheaper compared to taxis in Malaysia. “How much we’ll get for 100 USD?” Zul asked Hazman. “Err… quite a lot. Approximately 5,000 Lira. It’s enough for about a month, insya-Allah.” Hazman replied as he counted the money that he had just exchanged at the money changer. As all three of them were busy counting their money, a donkey walked by pulling a cart full of fruits and vegetables in front of them. “I’ve always just seen this in P.Ramlee films. This is the first time I saw it in real life.

Poultry was sold at 50-70 Lira per kilogram. The price in the year 1994 at the time, it can be said it was quite cheap. Syria is the land of the prophets where the land was fertile. If Zul ever had any free time, he would go out to the market to buy grapes, apples and pomegranates. It is extraordinarily huge and cheap. If it was the grape season, the price for grapes will drop tremendously, as low as 50 cents a kilogram. “When we are in Tranung, only the wealthy will be able to eat grapes every day. Here, we can always eat grapes. Even the restaurants are under grape trees. Subhanallah…” Zul said to Azli.

So true are the statement of Allah SWT:

سُبْحانَ الَّذِي أَسْرى بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلاً مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بارَكْنا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آياتِنا إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ

“Exalted is He who took His Servant [i.e., Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ)] by night from al-Masjid al-Ḥarām to al-Masjid al-Aqṣā, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”

According to Imam al-Baghawi, the word “whose surroundings we have blessed,” means the multifarious types of rivers, trees and fruits. Al-Mujahid stated it is said to be blessed for it is the land of the prophets and the place where angels descend to convey the revelation as well as the place where people will gather on the Last Day. [2]

Insya-Allah, tomorrow we will register to study here!” Zul reminded his friends enthusiastically. Azli and Hazman will be pursuing their Bachelor’s degree while Zul, his Master’s degree.

As he filled and prepared the documents needed, Zul smiled to himself. He has fallen in love with the beauty of the city of Damascus.

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[1] How are you?

[2] Tafsir al-Baghawi, p. 725

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