Mosque dating back to Levant conquest unearthed in Israel

LONDON: One of the world’s oldest mosques has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists on the shores of Israel’s Sea of Galilee.

The remains of the mosque were found beneath the ruins of a building originally identified as from the Byzantine period. It might have been constructed as early as A.D. 635 by a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who was a commander of the Muslim armies that conquered the Levant in the seventh century.

The mosque is located on the outskirts of the city of Tiberias in Israel’s north, which overlooks the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The discovery was announced last week in an academic conference after 11 years of excavation by a team led by Katia Cytryn-Silverman of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The site was previously excavated in the 1950s when a colonnaded structure was found and identified as a marketplace from the late Byzantine period. However, later excavations revealed pottery shards and coins from the early Islamic period. Together with the multilevel structure of the building’s foundations, archaeologists have pointed to the site having Islamic origins.

Archaeologists had earlier identified the remains of an eighth-century mosque, but further digs revealed that the structure was in fact a century older.

Historians already know the location of older mosques, but they lie hidden beneath existing mosques where archaeologists cannot access them. The oldest known remains of a mosque were uncovered east of Baghdad in the ancient city of Wasit, and have been dated to A.D. 703.

However, the Israeli archaeologist team believes that the mosque uncovered in Tiberias was built decades earlier, and perhaps founded by Shurahbil ibn Hasana, a commander of the army that conquered the area.

“We can’t say for certain that this was Shurahbil’s,” said Dr. Cytryn-Silverman.

“But we do have historic sources that say he established a mosque in Tiberias when he conquered it in 635.”

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