An 11-year excavation has potentially branded Tiberias a holy pilgrimage site for Islam. The outer layer of a mosque, dating to the seventh century, has been found. The structure on the outskirts of Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, was initially dated to the Roman-Byzantine era. Arab News, reporting on Saturday, explained that the building was initially marked as a marketplace back in the 1950s. Leading the excavations is Dr. Katia Cytryn-Silverman, a senior lecturer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She specializes in Islamic archaeology, and in an academic conference last week with the Hebrew University and the Ben-Zvi institute, presented her findings. The conference was organized in commemoration of the city of Tiberias’ 2,000th anniversary, Haaretz noted. Further excavations stacked evidence that the structure actually dated earlier than previously thought, to the early Islamic period. Cytryn-Silverman’s findings last week presented this new pin on the map of early Middle East mosques. The excavations estimate that what was unearthed underneath the structure — the outer layer of a mosque — might actually date back to 635 AD, constructed by a friend of the Prophet Muhammad — Shurahbil ibn Hasana — when the Levant was conquered by his forces in the seventh century, noted Arab News.  Cytryn-Silverman said that they cannot be sure that ibn Hasana built the structure. “But,” she added, “we do have historic sources that say he established a mosque in Tiberias when he conquered it in 635,” Arab News reported. Cytryn-Silverman explained that after the Arab conquest, Tiberias became a center of economic and political growth for the Arab world, Haaretz reported.

Arab News noted further that historians do currently know where a lot of the earliest mosques are, but cannot access them due to current mosques that have been built over them. For example, Haaretz noted, one of the oldest mosques in the world is in Fustat, Egypt. Fustat was Egypt’s first Muslim capital, established in the seventh century. The mosque, Mosque of Amr, was the first to be built in Egypt. Jewish presence in Fustat is dated to the late seventh century, as they joined the various other groups in the developing city. Maimonidies moved there in 1166, where he gained the title Ra’is al-Umma or al-Millah (Head of the Nation or of the Faith) for writing his Guide for the Perplexed, and was an acclaimed physician.

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