The Ancient City of Aleppo


Compiled by Umm Ibrahim

Aleppo, also known as Halab, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is said to have been inhabited as early as the 2nd millennium BC. Its location at the end of the Silk Road ensured it to be a strategic trading point, midway between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia. Hence, this Syrian city became known for its commercial and military proficiency.

Aleppo was ruled by a variety of rulers, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mameluks and Ottomans. All the rulers left their own marks on the city. Aleppo became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516, when it had a population of around 50,000 inhabitants. Aleppo went on to become the Ottoman Empire’s third largest city after Constantinople and Cairo.

When the economy flourished as a result of trading activities, many European states rushed to open their consulates in the city during the 16th and the 17th centuries. This included the consulate of the Republic of Venice (1548), the consulate of France (1562), the consulate of England (1583) and the consulate of the Netherlands (1613).

However, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the declining silk production in Iran directly affected the trading activities in Aleppo. By mid-century, caravans were no longer bringing silk from Iran to Aleppo, and local Syrian production was insufficient for European demand. Hence, the European merchants left Aleppo, and the city went into an economic decline that was reversed in the mid-19th century, when locally produced cotton and tobacco became the chief commodities of interest to the Europeans.

The economy of Aleppo was also hit by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Coupled with political instability, this contributed to Aleppo’s decline and the rise of Damascus as a serious economic and political competitor with Aleppo.

In spite of this, Aleppo can boast some unique architectural features. According to UNESCO’s website: “Aleppo has exceptional universal value because it represents medieval Arab architectural styles that are rare and authentic in traditional human habitats. It constitutes typical testimony of the city’s cultural, social and technological development, representing continuous and prosperous commercial activity from the Mameluke period. It contains vestiges of Arab resistance against the Crusaders, but there is also the imprint of Byzantine, Roman and Greek occupation in the streets and in the plan of the city.”

The largest covered Souq (open air) market in the world is in Aleppo, with an approximate length of 13 km. Souq Al-Madina is an active trade centre for imported luxury goods, such as raw silk from Iran, spices and dyes from India and coffee from Damascus. Souq Al-Madina is also home to such local products as wool, agricultural produce and soap.

Aleppo hosted 177 Hammams (public baths) during the medieval period, until the Mongol invasion, when many vital structures in the city were destroyed. Nowadays, roughly 18 Hammams are operating in the old city. Apart from these, there are many Masajid, Madrassahs and other religious historical buildings, like the National Library of Aleppo, functioning since 1945, and the Citadel, a large fortress atop a huge, partially artificial mound rising 50 m above the city. It dates back to the first millennium BC.

Aleppo is currently the largest city in Syria. It won the “Islamic Capital of Culture 2006” award, and in recent times, has also witnessed a wave of successful restorations of its historic landmarks. The ancient city of Aleppo also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

People of Substance – Who are They?

people of substance

By Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan – CEO and founder of “Bayyinah”, an Islamic educational institute in the USA

When we think of Islam, we immediately think about the five pillars of our Deen, and feel that it is sufficient to follow them. We appear very religious on the outside but have no character on the inside.

Think back to when the Prophet (saw) invited people to Islam in Makkah. The Sahabah, who allied with him, made incredible efforts along with him. Hence, they were bestowed with the title of Assabiqoon Assabiqoon (first and the foremost believers). They are held in high esteem and honour in the sight of Allah (swt) for all times to come.

The fundamental question that arises here is: what were their personalities, what did they look like, and how did they dress up? Interestingly, the Shariah had not yet been revealed to them, so naturally there were no laws for abstinence from alcohol, no dress code and no inheritance laws to abide by. Yet, something set them apart from the others. What was it? The brief answer is their commitment to ethics and justice. This was a permanent part of the Sahabah’s life. The following principles also apply to these ‘people of substance’:

The people of substance know how to respond to criticism

It is human nature that we do not appreciate it, when we are corrected. Well, we will seriously have to rethink this attitude and learn to take criticism in our stride. A common woman stood up and corrected Umar (rta), the Ameer ul-Mumineen, in public. How did he react? Did he tell her off? No. He not only listened to her but he admitted his error on the spot.

We should be open to criticism and not jump to self-explanation and justifications for our behaviour. No one is perfect. Even if people hold incorrect notions about us and we feel wronged, there could be 1% truth somewhere. We can work on our shortcomings, only if we actually admit our faults first.

The people of substance turn in repentance to Allah (swt)

Prophet Adam (as) forgot his promise and disobeyed Allah (swt). But he pro-actively turned back to Him and repented sincerely. A genuine and emotional talk with Allah (swt) where we cry out before Him weighs heavier on our scale than hundreds of monotonous words of Istaghfar on a Tasbeeh.

The people of substance foster healthy relationships

Relationships need to be healthy on two levels: relationship with the spouse, and relationship with our parents.

We need to ask ourselves: is our spouse emotionally healthy? It is imperative for the husbands to value and respect their better halves in this world. Being the head of the family, they are the shepherds, who are responsible for their wives and their kids.

Similarly, we need to be the best to our parents. A common question is: who has more rights – wife or parents? This is not a boxing match. Our sense of justice needs to prevail at all times. Parents have their own circle of rights and the wife has her own. No one’s rights should be overstepped. Men have to maintain that balance to ensure cordial homes.

Muslim marriages are one of the biggest issues that the Ummah is facing these days. Unsettled marriages and insufficient Tarbiyah lead to restless individuals, who vent their anger on the society.

The people of substance call others to Islam, using creative ways

We need to think of original ideas of entrepreneurship based on the Islamic system of merit and justice. This will offer successful projects and business opportunities to Muslims. In turn, it will not only elevate their standard of living but also polish their character and help reform the society.

Once, a CEO from Mumbai, who headed a firm of 500 employees, shared his initiative. After the work hours were over at his firm, he had permitted his employees to use the premises and other office resources for their personal study of Islam by taking up on-line classes with various scholars, etc. As their character refined, they became better serving employees, too.

We should not try to hasten change. In time, it will come. Remember Nuh (as). Even after 900 plus years, he persisted with his Dawah. Guidance is in Allah’s (swt) hands. But it is our responsibility to consistently pursue the different means of contributing our share and becoming one of the people of substance. Small deeds can lead to great Barakah. The youth, especially, should become an inspiration and show the beauty of Islam to the rest of the world.

The people of substance collaborate for the greater good

We need to connect with each other: Daees, Alims and Mufakkirs. Islamic scholars need to show the economists of the highest level how an Islamic economic system works. The Ulemas will have to understand the lifestyle and pulse of the society today. Considering the trends, they will have to seek Islamic solutions to close the gap between the learned people of Deen and the masses, and help them implement Halal solutions to their problems.

This is hardly the time to be involved in worrying about the 1% differences among different schools of thought in Islam. We need to come together on the 99% common grounds to solve greater problems plaguing the Ummah, such as killings, unemployment, injustices, etc.

We need to establish new job ethics in the market, fulfill our promises and contracts, build the highest level of educational institutes, create an environment conducive to healthy debates and freedom of speech without anger, engage all intellectuals to form a think tank to operate within the Shariah, help evolve a force of young religious minded people to tackle the present day and age challenges.

To transform ourselves and become one of the people of substance, we need to do the following:

  1. Educate ourselves seriously. Acquire fundamental education in the understanding of the Quran to become intelligent Muslims.
  2. Read the Seerah of our Prophet (sa) by multiple authors. We can pick one each year, comprehend different perspectives, and connect to the Quran.
  3. Learn the language of the Quran and the Prophet (sa) to gain direct access to the plethora of works in Arabic. This will ensure that we grow in the right direction in Islam.
  4. Besides our own field of education, try to take up courses in social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, humanities, etc. This gives an in-depth comprehension of human behavior and facilitates the understanding of Islamic doctrines, too.
  5. As we mature in our studies, we can pose questions to the Ulema for better understanding and meaningful implementation in the real world.

We need to understand that the revival of Islam is directly linked to the quality of education in which we invest. It is appalling to learn that the East Coast of the USA, mainly New York, has more universities in comparison to all the universities put together in the entire Muslim world. The Muslim Ummah will have to raise the bar and set very high standards for itself in order to accomplish great things.

Based on a lecture-shop organized by “LiveDeen”. Transcribed for Hiba by Rana Rais Khan.