|• Arabic||نبي موسى|
|• Also spelled||an-Nabi Musa (official)
Nebi Musa (unofficial)
|• Hebrew||נבי מוסא|
Nabi Musa, 2008
|• Type||Local Development Committee|
|• Jurisdiction||122,248 dunams (122.2 km2 or 47.2 sq mi)|
|Name meaning||"Prophet Moses"|
Nabi Musa (Arabic: نبي موسى, meaning the "Prophet Moses", also transliterated Nebi Musa) is the name of a site in the Judean desert that popular Palestinian folklore associates with Moses. It is also the name of a seven-day long religious festival that was celebrated annually by Palestinian Muslims, beginning on the Friday before Good Friday in the old Orthodox Greek calendar. Considered "the most important Muslim pilgrimage in Palestine," the festival centered around a collective pilgrimage from Jerusalem to what was understood to be the Tomb of Moses, near Jericho.
The Jerusalem-Jericho road was one of the primary routes used by Mediterranean Arabs to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The great, many-domed building which marks the Mausoleum of Moses was located at what would be have marked the end of the first day's march in that direction. Originally, it was simply a point from which pilgrims could look across the Jordan Valley and catch a glimpse of Mount Nebo where (as suggested by the Bible) the tomb of Moses was thought to be located. It appears to have become a fixed point in the local Muslim calendar from the time of Saladin. In 1269 the Mamluk sultan Baibars al-Bunduqdari built a small shrine here, as part of a general policy he adopted after conquering towns and rural areas from Lebanon down to Hebron from the Crusaders. The shrines were mostly dedicated to biblical prophets and the companions of Mohammed, and their maintenance was funded by an awqaf, an endowment from properties that formerly belonged to the Latin Church. In the case of Nabi Musa, the waqf fund was secured from ecclesiastical assets expropriated in nearby Jericho.
Baibars al-Bunduqdari's constructive piety set a precedent for others. Over the late medieval period, hostels for travellers were built on adjacent to the shrine, and the hospice in its present form was completed in the decade between 1470 and 1480. Gradually, the lookout point for Moses' distant gravesite beyond the Jordan was confused with Moses' tomb itself, laying the ground for the cultic importance Nabi Musa was to acquire in the Palestinian worship of saints (walis).
Ottoman Turks, around 1820, restored the buildings, which had, over the previous centuries, fallen into a state of dilapidated disrepair. In addition, they promoted a festive pilgrimage to the shrine that would always coincide with the Christian celebration of Easter, giving Muslims a way to celebrate during the time that their Christian neighbors were celebrating. This 'invention of tradition', as such imaginative constructs are called, made the pageantry of the Nabi Musa pilgrimage a potent symbol of both political and religious identity among Muslims from the outset of the modern period.
Over the 19th century, thousands of Muslims would assemble in Jerusalem, trek to Nabi Musa, and pass three days in feasting, prayer, games and visits to the large tomb two kilometres south, identified as that of Moses' shepherd, Hasan er-Rai, They were then entertained, as guests of the waqf, before returning on the seventh day triumphantly back to Jerusalem.
In the late 19th century, the Ottomans appointed the al-Husayni clan as official custodians of the shrine and hosts of the festival, though their connection with the cult may date back to the previous century. According to Yehoshua Ben-Aryeh, the governor of Jerusalem Rauf Pasha (1876–1888), was the first to attempt to exploit the festival to incite Muslims against Christians. Ilan Pappé offers a different view:
'It is more likely, however, that the governor and his government were rather apprehensive of such an anti-Christian uprising as it could stir instability and disorder at a time when the central government was trying to pacify the Empire. This had been indeed the impression of the engineer (seconded to the Palestine Exploration Fund) Claude Conder. The Hebrew paper, Ha-havazelet, at the time blessed the Ottoman government for imposing law and order in the Nabi Musa affair. The travelogues of Francis Newton testify as well to a peaceful execution of the ceremonies. Indeed, the Turkish government must have acted here against popular feelings, shared by the Husaynis as the masters of the ceremony that Nabi Musa was celebrated in the most unfavourable conditions for the Muslims. It was the iron fist imposed by the Turks that prevented the situation from deteriorating into an all out riot.'
The procession moved off from Jerusalem under a distinctive Nabi Musa banner which the Husaynis conserved for the annual occasion in their Dar al-Kabira. On arriving at the shrine, the al-Husaynis and another rising Jerusalem family of notables (A'ayan), the Yunis clan, were required to provide two meals a day over the week for all worshippers. Once their vows were taken, or vows previously taken were renewed, they were offered to the festival. The priestly family conducting events would provide about twelve lambs, together with rice, bread, and Arab butter, for a communal meal every day.
Writing in the early 20th century, Samuel Curtiss recorded that an estimated 15,000 people from all over the country attended the Nabi Musa festival every year. For some years from 1919, pilgrims made their trek back from Jericho to Jerusalem to the sound of English military music. The festival was suppressed when Jordan assumed administration over the West Bank in the aftermath of 1948 Arab-Israeli war, because of its symbolic value as a vehicle for potential expressions of political protest. Since 1995, control over the tomb of Nabi Musa has been allocated to the Palestinian National Authority.
The journalist Philip Perceval Graves, the brother of the poet and mythographer Robert Graves, gave a vivid description of the colorful re-entry of worshipers back from the countryside into Jerusalem as they passed through the Jaffa gates:
As they entered the old city, the enthusiasm of the crowds reached its highest intensity. Men with the set blank stare of extreme excitement danced round and round, bareheaded, their long locks flying wildly as they revolved. . . Last came the green banner of Hebron surrounded by a guard of ten wiry swordsmen. Proudly they walked with their flag, until they came to where the narrow Street of David plunges down into the labyrinth of the old city. For the last time they whirled their bright blades above their heads and disappeared into the shadows of the streets.
A photo of one stage of the procession may be seen in George Aaron Barton's A Year's Wandering in Bible Lands, Ferris & Leach, 1904 p. 200
In Letters from Jerusalem: During the Palestine Mandate, Eunice Holliday describes the procession to the Tomb of Moses in a letter to her mother as follows:
"The procession was the queerest thing I have ever seen, a more disorganised affair you could not imagine, but then that is typical of the country. The people came along in batches, just a crowd with banner of silk, of all colours, then a crowd dancing - Arabic dancing is a joke - then a crowd singing and waving swords or sticks and, interspersed, groups of mounted police and soldiers to see there was no fighting. Quite the nicest part of the day was to see all the fellaheen (peasants from the villages) in their new clothes. The colours were wonderful, bright pink, purple or blue velvet coats, yellow dresses with embroideries in red and green et cetera, and all wore a white veil. It was a gorgeous sight [...]"
Negev Bedouin tribes produced oil from the bituminous shale rocks found in the area around the shrine to Moses which they called "Moses rocks" (Arabic: احجار موسى, ihjar Mousa). The Bedouin not only shared in the belief surrounding the sanctity of the site, but further believed that God had blessed this place where Moses was buried with 'fire rocks' and water wells. Tawfiq Canaan, in his work Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries (1927), noted that the black rocks around the shrine would burn when placed in fire and were also used as amulets after being cut into square and triangular forms and inscribed with protective talismans.
Muslims believe that the grave of Moses is located at Maqam El-Nabi Musa which lies 11 km (6.8 mi) south of Jericho and 20 km (12 mi) east of Jerusalem in the Judean wilderness. A side road to the right of the main Jerusalem-Jericho road, about 2 km (1.2 mi) beyond the sign indicating sea level, leads to the site. The Fatimid, Taiyabi and Dawoodi Bohra sects also believe in the same. In contrast, the biblical book of Deuteronomy records that Moses was buried "in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor" (east of the Jordan River) and that "no one knows the place of his burial to this day".
A detailed account of the Nabi Musa festival is to be found, in Arabic, in Kamil al-‘Asali's Mawsim al-Nabi Musa fi Filastin: Tarikh al-mawsim wal-maqam (The Nabi Musa Festival in Palestine: The history of the festival and the shrine) Amman, Dar al-Karmil, 1990.
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