• Mountaintop Shrines (Maqamat)

    On hilltops throughout the Middle East, small stone structures bear the memory of holy men who lived, prayed, or died there

Hikers in many parts of the Middle East will quickly become familiar with the sight of a maqam (Arabic plural: maqamat). These small buildings, perched on hilltops, are physical or symbolic tombs of Islamic holy men. Sometimes standing intact, sometimes lying in ruins, these structures have been sites of prayer and local pilgrimage throughout history. From biblical until modern times, remote, elevated sites of worship have drawn the devotion of the local faithful and the ire of centralized religious authorities – some maqams were even destroyed by Muslim authorities uncomfortable with the practice of praying at a shrine dedicated to a person.

During the Ottoman period, many scholars noted that Christian as well as Muslim townspeople would make the trips up to the shrines to pray or ask for blessings in the holy places. Their association with power and healing was such that one doctor in the early 20th century, Tawfiq Canaan, would tell his patients to take their medicine at the shrines in an effort to increase medication compliance among people who had little faith in modern medicine.

Two ruined shrines on the Abraham Path between Sanur and Sebastia illustrate this history – those on Mt. Bayzeed and Mt. Hureish. Both (especially the latter) are high and remote and provide long views and windy isolation as a reward to anyone who makes the trek. While few pilgrims still come to pray on these mountaintops, the walkers and shepherds who do visit can still find their ancient appeal.

Mt. Bayzeed is named for Bayazid Bastami, a 9th-century Persian Sufi mystic whose teachings gained numerous followers in the area of Sebastia and Zawata. As he never visited the area and is buried closer to his homeland, his shrine above Sebastia is a symbolic tomb; but his legacy also lives on in the large al-Bustami family from nearby Zawata.

Both Mt. Hureish and Mt. Bayzeed are best reached by walking, though a rough 4×4 track does run to the summit of Hureish. Still, there is no substitute for enjoying the views from the mountaintop on a clear day after a hard trek from one of the villages below.

Sites in the Jenin Region:

Sebastia

Amble through the quiet streets of Sebastia’s picturesque old city after a day spent uncovering layers of the village’s history at its nearby archaeological site.

Burqin Church

In the rural village of Burqin, linger in a tranquil courtyard garden before wandering into the world’s third-oldest church, the traditional site of one of Jesus’s healing miracles.

Arraba

Wander the winding alleyways of Arraba’s old city, enjoying the atmospheric charm of its cobblestone maze. 

Tel Dothan

While walking through the agriculturally and historically rich fields of the Dothan Valley, take a short detour to explore the archaeological findings of the nearby Tel Dothan excavations. As you go, peer into the depths of a few gaping stone wells that hark back to the story of Joseph – a narrative that unfolded in the very fields in which you are standing.

Tel Ta’anek

Climb the grassy hill outside the village of Ta’anek and poke around in the layers of archaeological history on top. Among the tall grasses and the shady olive groves, discover the remnants of ancient caves, burial sites, stone courtyards, and thick city walls – all against a background of sweeping views of the surrounding Jezreel Valley.