One of the earliest known mosques in the world discovered in Negev

July 18, 2019 by Aryeh Savir - TPS
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A 7th-century small rural mosque, one of the earliest known in the world, has been discovered in the Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev, southern Israel.

Photo by Emil Aladjem,/IAA

As in numerous previous cases of significant archeological findings in Israel, the remains of the rare building were chanced upon by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) during the preparations for building a new neighbourhood in the town.

Dr Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur, directors of the IAA excavations said that the mosque, dated 7th to the to 8th centuries CE, “is a rare finding anywhere in the world, especially in the area north of Be’er Sheva, where no similar building has previously been discovered.”

The house of prayer apparently served the farmers who lived in the area. The remains included an open-air mosque, a rectangular building with a Mihrab, a prayer niche facing south towards Mecca.

“These features are evidence for the purpose for which this building was used, many hundred years ago,” the researches explained.

The excavations also found the remains of a farm from the end of the Byzantine period, the 6th – 7th Century CE, and a small settlement from the beginning of the Islamic period about a century later, which contains remains of buildings that were divided into living rooms, open courtyards, storage space and places which were used for preparing food and include tabunes, open-air fire-places used for baking.

The directors of the excavations believe “these sites were part of the agricultural structure in the Northern Negev in ancient times. The soil was suitable for growing grains, and the groundwater in the perennial streams attracted settlers who wanted to cultivate the land.”

Prof. Gideon Avni, an IAA expert on this period, explained that “this is one of the earliest mosques known from the beginning of the arrival of Islam in Israel, after the Arab conquest of 636 CE. The discovery of a mosque near an agricultural settlement between Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon also indicates the processes of cultural and religious change which the country underwent during the transition from the Byzantine to the early Islamic period.”

He underscored that “the discovery of the village and the mosque in its vicinity are a significant contribution to the study of the history of the country during this turbulent period.”

According to historical Islamic sources, the new Islamic regime distributed plots of land to its senior officials, including Amr ibn al-‘As, an Arab military commander who conquered Israel and Syria.

“The continuation of excavations on the site will perhaps provide answers to the questions regarding the foundation of the settlement and the nearby mosque, and its connection to the Arab conquerors of Israel,” he added.

Bedouin residents of the area, as well as youth from the local villages and towns, participated in the excavation, including Jewish youth from Meitar, Gvaot Bar and Beit Kama.

The dig was part of the IAA’s Legacy Project which opens the doors for youth groups to help with the excavations during the summer vacation. The diggers earn a fair wage while getting into touch with the past and connecting to their heritage.


One Response to “One of the earliest known mosques in the world discovered in Negev”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    Really interesting article. I like anything to do with history and archaeology.

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