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Remains of early mosque found in Tiberias

The Old City is seen from the Mount of Olives on January 13, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]
The Old City is seen from the Mount of Olives on January 13, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

The remains of one of the world's oldest mosques have been found by a team of Israeli archaeologists during an excavation in the northern city of Tiberias. The mosque was found under the ruins of a building originally identified as being from the Byzantine period, and could have been founded as early as 635 of the Common Era (CE) by a companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Shurahbil Ibn Hasana, who was a commander of the Muslim armies that conquered the Levant in the 7th century.

A senior lecturer at the Hebrew University who led the 11-year-long excavation presented the team's findings last week at an academic conference organised by the university and the Ben-Zvi Institute to commemorate 2000 years since the founding of the city.

"We can't say for certain that this was Shurahbil," explained Katia Cytryn-Silverman. "But we do have historic sources that say he established a mosque in Tiberias when he conquered it in 635."

The previous oldest mosque to be excavated was in Wasit, Iraq, built around 703 CE. The Tiberias mosque is decades older, making it one of the oldest such buildings available for excavation in the world, the Hebrew University pointed out.

Tiberias was a provincial capital in the early Islamic empire, reported the Guardian. "Early caliphs built palaces on its outskirts along the lakeshore. However, very little was known about the city's early Muslim past until recently."

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The site had been excavated in the 1950s when a colonnaded structure was found and identified as a marketplace from the late Byzantine period. More recent digs by the Hebrew University team, however, went deeper and discovered coins and ceramics from the early Islamic period, dated from about 660-to 680 CE.

"You see that the beginning of the Islamic rule here respected very much the main population of the city: Christians, Jews, Samaritans," said Cytryn-Silverman. "They were not in a hurry to make their presence expressed into buildings. They were not destroying others' houses of prayer, but they were actually fitting themselves into the societies that they now were the leaders of. Tiberias will take off and stride towards a bright future when it takes in all of its past, with all the religions and cultures that dwelled there since the time of its founding."

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