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RELIGION & FAITH

Biblical Past

Although the town of Irbid itself does not hold much evidence of Biblical history, the same cannot be said for surrounding areas to the north and west; in particular, both Umm Qays and Pella have a past that has been mentioned in Biblical texts and the ruins of many Byzantine churches can be found there.

Umm Qays
The New Testament mentions that Jesus Christ had visited Gadara (Umm Qays) and cured two mad men near it by transferring their evil souls into a herd of pigs, which sank into Lake Tiberias. The miracle startled the people of Gadara, so that they met Jesus Christ with an antagonistic attitude and asked him to return back to Galilee.

Christianity hadn't spread quickly among the Gadarenes because of their strong paganism. When Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the Byzantine Empire, Gadara participated in the ecclesiastical council held in Nicaea in 325 AD, and a five aisled church was built during the same century on top of the Roman underground mausoleum, as evidence to the victory of Christianity over Roman paganism. It may also have been built to commemorate two Christian Gadarenes who were tortured and martyred in 303 AD during the term of the Roman Emperor Diocletianos.

A cave known to the inhabitants of Umm Qays as the cave of Issa (Jesus or Issos) lies to about four kilometres west of Umm Qays. The citizens there believe - as their forefathers told before - that Jesus had stayed in this cave while traveling to Umm Qays, in order to release its ancient people from paganism.

Pella
Religion was a vital part of daily life at Pella and the remains of three churches could be visited today. The first church is the West Church. Three columns in its atrium colonnade were put back in their original places. The East Church sits on a small terrace overlooking Pella.

The largest and most important Byzantine church at Pella is the Civic Complex Church. It seems that it was used for Christian worship well into the early Islamic period, but was abandoned after the earthquake. In the Mameluk period, a mosque was built and today its remains can be seen in Pella.



Tracing Islam

In August 635 AD, in the face of the Muslim expansion, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius gathered a large army, lead by his brother Theodorus, and fought the Muslim army at the Battle of Yarmouk. This site lies on the banks of the Yarmouk River on the Northern tip of Jordan. The Muslim army was greatly outnumbered but their commander Khalid bin Al-Walid led them to victory. This battle gave the Muslims control of Greater Syria.

Mazar Al-Shamali, near Irbid, has a shrine to Prophet David. As a child, he slew Goliath with a sling and later became the second King of Israel after Sha'ul (Saul). Moreover, David was one of the apostles to whom heavenly scriptures were revealed. David spent time in Jordan whilst at odds with Saul, as well as later while on a campaign.

The tomb of the venerable companion Abul-Darda is located in a modern building in the village of Soam Al-Shunnaq, near Irbid. One of the most devoted and pious of the companions, he was always by the Prophet’s side. Abul-Darda was best known for surpassing everyone else in memorizing, narrating and transmitting Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) sayings. He took part in the military campaigns and was later appointed governor of the Bahrain province.


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Gadara was one of the most important cities of the Decapolis;it had minted its own coins, and adhered to the Pompeian calendar.

During the early years of Roman rule, the Nabataeans controlled the trade routes as far north as Damascus. Unhappy with the competition, Mark Anthony dispatched King Herod the Great to weaken the Nabataeans. In appreciation for his efforts, Rome rewarded Herod with Gadara.

Islam entered Gadara after the victory of Islamic troops over Byzantine armies at the Battles of Fahl (Pella) and Yarmouk in 635 AD and 636 AD.

The first literary reference to the city of Pella is from the 19th century BC when it is mentioned in Egyptian texts as Pihilum, or Pehel. It was a flourishing trade centre, with links with Syria and Cyprus as well as Egypt.

Like many of Jordan's ancient cities and monuments, the cities of Umm Qays and Pella were destroyed during the terrible earthquake of 747 AD.