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A tree grows in Biqawiyya

A tree grows in Biqawiyya

A pistachio tree that is believed to have provided shade for the Prophet Mohammad when he travelled to Damascus with his uncle, Abu Talib (Photo by Taylor Luck)
A pistachio tree that is believed to have provided shade for the Prophet Mohammad when he travelled to Damascus with his uncle, Abu Talib (Photo by Taylor Luck)

By Taylor Luck

SAFAWI - Off the heavily treaded trucking route between Azraq and Rweished is a road left behind by long-gone empires that leads to a site of prayer, reflection and refuge.

During the Prophet Mohammad’s journey to Damascus with his uncle, Abu Talib, the caravan faced a dangerous trek through the vast stretches of desert between Mecca and Damascus, and is believed to have stopped over near what is now Safawi. It is here in a site called Biqawiyya that Mohammad - as young boy - rested under the shade of a pistachio tree, which still stands today, according to residents.

A signpost on the Azraq-Safawi road marks a turnoff for Biqawiyya: A five-metre-wide cobblestone road believed to have been built by the British in the 1920s to connect pumping stations to aid the flow of oil from nearby Iraq. Some say the road actually dates to the Ottoman period and was built specifically for access to Biqawiyya.

But no matter who built the path, it is not an easy one to follow.

Stretches of the century-old road disappear, engulfed in the desert sands, leaving travellers with tyre marks and far-off stretches of road as their guides.

Further along the “British road”, strange shapes appear on the horizon, which later reveal themselves as mounds of basalt rocks. As one gets closer to the site there are no trees or signs of vegetation in sight, but after 15 kilometres along the hilly, rock-strewn path, often a half-hour trek, the glitter of water appears on the horizon and Biqawiyya beckons.

As if by some miracle, the tree has a small water source at its base, standing defiant against the barren desert and blazing sun, with scores of cloth ribbons tied to its branches by worshippers coming to pray.

Now walled off as part of a complex built and operated by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, the tree stands with outstretched branches, seemingly welcoming all who make the journey.

Busloads of pilgrims brave the trip on Fridays to pray and picnic at the site, which lies a few kilometres from the Kingdom’s border with Saudi Arabia. During the week, residents of nearby Azraq and Rweished, and even some from Saudi Arabia, venture to the site for reflection and meditation, or to simply listen to the water ripple from the calm desert winds.

Caretakers of the site want a new, modern road to be built to Biqawiyya to increase the flow of pilgrims and visitors to the site, and so that they themselves can have easier access to markets in Safawi and Azraq.

But many worshippers said they appreciate the site’s remoteness, secluded among the rocky sand dunes.

Some believe the tree to be the place where the Prophet Mohammad met with the Christian monk Bahira, an encounter documented by Islamic historians.

Upon seeing Mohammad under the tree, he declared him a prophet and told Abu Talib to take care of him and protect him, according to Islamic historians.

However, many people believe the encounter took place at Kastram Mafaa, in present-day Umm Rassas, or at Bosra in Syria, and that the Biqawiyya tree was merely a resting stop for young Mohammad on his way to Damascus.

Some dispute the age of the tree itself, claiming that the pistachio tree is not over 1,500 years old as local residents claim.

No matter what story is attached to it, Biqawiyya is truly a sight to behold, a miracle in any sense.

5 March 2010

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ALMafrag/إرشيد محمد إرشيد شحادة حميدان مفلح الراشد الهويّن الجرايدة عبدالحق محمد صالح سليمان حمد الأمير جراد/Jordan