Al-Salt and the Islamic Shrines

After the Ottoman conquest of 1516, the small town of As-Salt became the main administrative center of the Balqa district within the province of Damascus. Its good water sources meant that it already had a long history, having been settled at least since the Iron Age.

Its name, from the Greek Saltos, meaning ‘forest’, gave us the word ‘sultana. From 1220, an Ayyubid castle, built on earlier foundations, stood on the citadel hill; destroyed 40 years later by the Mongols, it was rebuilt by the Mamluks and reinforced by the Ottomans in the 16th century. And in 1840, near the end of the Egyptian occupation, it was destroyed by Ibrahim Pasha. The Ottomans rebuilt it as a barracks, that too is long gone, replaced by a large mosque.

When not subjected to wars, Al-Salt prospered, with flourishing agriculture and trade, according to Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who came in 1812, ‘vast quantities of grapes, which are dried and sold at Jerusalem. He also wrote that the population consisted of 400 Muslims and 80 Christian families, who lived in perfect amity and equality together.

Already by Burckhardt’s time, Al-Salt had become home to increasing numbers of wealthy merchants from Palestine. They built houses of at least two stores, and with architectural refinements such as arched windows and columns. The Christians among them also built new churches. With this influx, as-Salt became the largest and most prosperous town in Jordan, with a population in 1922 of c. 10,000, compared to Amman’s c. 2,500.

After World War I and the establishment of Transjordan, Al-Salt may have seemed the obvious place for Amir Abdullah to choose as his capital, but disagreements with some of the people there helped convince Abdullah of the merits of Amman. Though small, Amman had the Hijaz Railway, and thus better communications with both. Damascus and southern Transjordan. It also had more room to expand. as-Salt has since remained a small country town, and to this day it has some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in Jordan, and is unburdened by the requirements of a capital city.


Shrine of Prophet Shu’ayb (Jethro)

Shuʿayb, or Shoaib, meaning who shows the right path, believed that he was sent as a prophet to two communities, namely the Midianites and the People of the Wood, He is mentioned in the Qur’an a total of 11 times. He is believed to have lived after Abraham, Shoaib proclaimed the faith of Islam and warned the people to end their fraudulent ways. When they did not repent, God destroyed both the communities, Shoaib is understood to have been one of the few Arabian prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an, the others being Saleh, HUD, Ishmael and Mohammad . It is said that he was known by early Muslims as “the eloquent preacher amongest the prophets”, because he was granted talent and eloquence in his language, his tomb lies in Salt.


Shrine of Prophet Yusha (Joshua)

He was the second prophet of the Bani-Isra’il, within a mosque to the west of Salt, on a hill carrying his name lies the shrine of Prophet Yusha ‘Joshua’. He was the apprentice of Prophet Moses and later his successor. Prophet Joshua led the army of the tribes of Israel in conquest over the land of Palestine. South-west of Salt in an area known as Khirbet Ayyoub foundations of an ancient building mark the final resting place of Prophet Ayyoub ‘Job’ who is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an 4 times. His legendary patience and faith gave him strength to endure tremendous hardships. Ultimately Prophet Job was rewarded with blessings, as stated in the Holy Qur’an (Sura 21, verses 83-84): “And (remember) Ayyoub, when He cried to his Lord, ‘Truly distress has seized me, but Thou art the Most Merciful of those that are merciful’. So we listened to him: We removed the distress that was on him, and we restored his people to him, and doubled their number, as a Grace from Ourselves, and a thing for commemoration, for all who serve us”.

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