Shrine of Yahya (Umayyad Mosque)

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The Shrine of Yahya, or the Maqam Nabi Yahya (مقام نبي يحيى), is a small Islamic funerary shrine located inside the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus. The small domed shrine which is located inside the main prayer hall of the Islamic mosque may still contain the head of John the Baptist, honored as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims alike. Though it is one of at least six locations claiming to contain the head of John the Baptist (Nabi Yahya).


John is honored as a prophet in Islam as Yahya ibn Zakariya (يحيى بن زكريا). He is believed by Muslims to have been a witness to the word of God, and a prophet who would herald the coming of Jesus. Islamic tradition maintains that John was one of the prophets whom Muhammad met on the night of the Mi'raj, his ascension through the Seven Heavens.

The son of Zechariah is a figure of prime importance in the history of Christianity, for he was the precursor who prepared the way for Christ. John’s life, wholly dedicated to God, was crowned by martyrdom.

Religious Traditions

circa 780

Muslim Tradition
According to al-Suyuti, Ibrahim stated that since the creation of the world the Heavens and the Earth wept only for two people: John the Baptist and Husayn ibn Ali. In Islam, the Prophet Yahya is an exemplar of righteousness, kindness and piety. Sufi commentaries emphasize his divinely-given wisdom (19:12)—which he received as a child. In the Qur’an, the Prophet Yahya is “a prophet from among the righteous” (6:85 & 3:39).

Christian Tradition
According to Christian tradition, (legend had it that) Saint John's head was buried there. Ibn al-Faqih relays the story that during the construction of the mosque, workers found a cave-chapel which had a box containing the head of St. John the Baptist, or Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā in Islam. Upon learning of that and examining it, al-Walid I ordered the head buried under a specific pillar in the mosque that was later inlaid with marble.


circa 780

Shrine Interior
Inside the shrine, a cenotaph

Pope John Paul II's Visit

circa 780

In 2001 Pope John Paul II visited the mosque, primarily to visit the relics of John the Baptist. It was the first time a pope paid a visit to a mosque. Similar to the account of John the Baptist in the Bible, the birth of the Prophet Yahya in the Qur’an is miraculous, since Zechariah and his wife were unable to conceive together—before Zechariah’s desperate prayers for a child were answered.

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