Sultan Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi was the first ruler to establish Khanqas and Sufi gatherings in the city of Jerusalem, as well as throughout Palestine, as he declared in 583 AH -1187 AC, the establishment of the Al-Khanqa al-Salahiyya, which is still fully functioning to this day in the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, it has become a residential house, part of which is a mosque, and a school belonging to the Islamic Waqf.
Dr. Najih Bkirat, Director of Religious Education in Jerusalem, said, speaking of the history and origin of the Khanqa: “It is well known that the Khanqa is one of the most important Sufi places. The Khanqa was established as a religious school and its name changed from a Sufi corner to a school during the Mamluk period. Therefore, when we speak about it, we speak of a complex with a mosque, rooms, a command center and a large ground floor for spiritual meditation.”
House of the Patriarch
The Khanqa was called the House of the Patriarch, as it was gifted to Salah al-Din by a Patriarch who developed and built it further until it became like this, adding to it the Salah al-Din spiritual meditation section.
Bkirat stressed to the PIC reporter the importance of the site of the Khanqah since it is located in the center of the Old City of Jerusalem in the Christian Quarter in the north-west of the Church of the Holy Sculpture, overlooking its roofs.
He pointed out that the Khanqah was used during the time of Salah al-Din as the command headquarters, as well as to teach religious sciences, especially the Holy Quran, where one of its corners was devoted to the fighters and needy people, who used to go there to learn. He explained that the Sufi Khanqa played an educational and religious role. An oven, a shop and a pool, known as the Sultan's or Patriarch's Pool, were attached to it, thus the Khanqa became financially self-dependent.
Several towns and villages have been endowed to the Khanqa, Bkirat added, such as Safad city, and the lands extending from the Hebron Gate to Sur Bahir and al-Mukaber in Jerusalem, in addition to ten other villages there, including Beit Safafa, Sur Bahir and Ein Karem.
Dr. Bkirat said that the Khanqa played a religious and educational role and maintained its existence with some modern buildings being added to it. It is now used as a school of the Islamic Endowment, called Al-Khanqa Elementary School, which teaches from the first to the sixth grade, with 120 students studying religious academic curriculum, run by the Ministry of Awqaf in Jordan, with more than 13 employees. All the reforms and expenses were possible by donations from the Awqaf in Jordan.
There are six families living in Al-Khanqa at present, Bkirat said, adding, “It is definitely an important Arab and Islamic landmark in the city of Jerusalem”.
Components of the Khanaqah
According to Dr. Yousef Al-Natsheh, a researcher in the history of Jerusalem, the Khanqa is architecturally composed of a large entrance with a triangular structure, built using the Alablak style (different colors of stones) and leading to several architectural units and an open space that passes through an ascending staircase, which is made of a group of rooms and a big mediation spot.
It is said that Salah al-Din used to spend time there during the holy month of Ramadan. The Sufi activity in this Khanqa has stopped since an indefinite period of time.