“In the vicinity of the turba of Lot is the Mosque of al-Yaqin which is situated on a high hill…… In this mosque close by the door there is a spot sunk in solid rock in which there has been formed the figure of a mihrab only large enough to accommodate a single worshipper. It is said that Abraham prostrated himself in this spot in gratitude to God Most High on the destruction of the men of Lot, and the place where he prostrated himself moved and sank down a little way into the ground.”
– Ibn Battuta, Muslim traveler, 1325
It would be easy to miss the simple mosque at the Nabi Yaqin site, but this modest building has been witness to centuries of history. The site is named for Yaqin, the man who built it around 963 AD. The mosque is a simple stone building with a whitewashed interior and an impressive echo. Its most celebrated feature is a roped-off area of the floor where there are three indentations that look like footprints and an imprint of a forehead, as if left by someone in the act of prayer. According to local legend, they are the imprints of Abraham, bowed down in prayer in his final attempt to beg God not to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The site looks almost the same as it did when the mosque was built 1,000 years ago. The mosque was built on the very top of one of the highest hills in Palestine, and the surrounding area is peaceful and pastoral, surrounded by cypress and olive trees. At the edge of the hilltop is a panoramic view of the Hebron desert surrounded by rolling hills, which stretch to the thin blue line of the Dead Sea in the distance.
The walk from the Old City of Bani Na’im up to the hill where the Nabi Yaqin Mosque is located can make for a beautiful day trip. The residents of this city take pride in their largely untouched open space and regularly take advantage of the surrounding hills to go walking or have open-air barbecues. Although most of the city’s 20,000 residents have moved into newer housing in the outskirts of Bani Na’im, the ruins of the Old City, dating back to the 1600s, still remain. The preserved houses are built in the traditional Palestinian style, made of local limestone with arched roofs. The nearby quarries where much of this stone comes from are a major source of income for the residents of the city and were also once used to supply the sand for Hebron’s famous glass factories. The style of house that is found in the Old City is common throughout Palestine. In addition to having a simple beauty, the stone walls and high ceilings of these houses were well adapted to keep residents cool during the long, harsh summers.
In fact, Bani Na’im’s history goes back to long before the Old City was built. It is an ancient village called Brekke dating back to the Roman era and was called Kafr al-Barik after the Muslim conquest. The city was renamed after the Bani Na’im tribe settled there in the 17thcentury. It is home to the traditional tomb of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, who tried to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah from their eventual destruction. Lot is an important figure in Judaism and Christianity, and is regarded as a prophet in Islam. A Byzantine church was first built at the site, and now an ancient mosque houses the tomb. The tomb itself is on the second floor of the mosque covered by a whitewashed dome.
This area is generally a quiet place, and residents can count the number of times they’ve seen foreign visitors on one hand. But even though it’s out of the way, Nabi Yaqin and the surrounding city of Bani Na’im make for a rewarding journey. Visitors will get a glimpse not only of rural Palestinian life, but also of the ancient past still well preserved in the sites dedicated to Abraham and his family.