We continue our series on ‘Cities of Islam’ with Gaza. Gaza is one of the regions in the Middle East where hot scenes are most frequently witnessed today. It is located in the southwest of Palestine, along the Mediterranean coast, making it one of the most preferred cities in Palestine for commercial and human settlement.
The Name and Establishment of Gaza
When we look at the root of the word Gaza, we see that it carries meanings like “strong” and “mighty fortress.” The city’s first establishment was as an ancient Egyptian fortress in the Canaan region, and it dates back to the location known as Tell as-Sakan in the southern part of the city today.
Gaza remained under the rule of King David until the 11th century BC, but it could not become a full-fledged settlement until the 15th century BC. Even Alexander the Great took five months to conquer Gaza, and after his rule, Greek culture began to spread in these lands. Of course, there were also religious activities during this period. Christianity was spreading day by day, ancient pagan beliefs were gradually losing their influence, and tensions were rising among the people. By the 2nd century AD, Christianity had completely encompassed the city, and pagan temples were gradually replaced with churches.
Gaza as a Muslim City
Gaza became part of the Muslim domain for the first time after the Battle of Ecnadeyn between Caliph Abu Bakr and the Byzantines. With the Muslims’ conquest of the city, many changes were introduced. Initially, some major churches were converted into mosques, and preaching activities began. Arabic became the official language of the state, and the non-Muslim residents of Gaza were granted the freedom to practice their own religions while being subject to the jizya tax. In terms of culture, Muslims introduced innovations, establishing educational centers, inns, public baths, markets, and bazaars.
Muslims also made agreements with other Arab tribes and advanced international trade relations. One of the main reasons this city is significant for Muslims is that it is the place where Hashim ibn Abd Manaf, the great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad, lived and died. There are also traditions that suggest that the Prophet visited Gaza before his prophethood.
Gaza as an Ottoman City
During Yavuz Sultan Selim’s campaign to Egypt in 1516, Gaza was incorporated into the Ottoman territories. The Gazans easily embraced the Ottomans as they shared the Sunni beliefs. After the Ottomans conquered Gaza, the city was attached to the Damascus Province. The Rizvan family, known as the Rıdvanlar, successfully governed Gaza in prosperity until the 17th century. In 1660, due to its multicultural nature, Gaza was declared the capital of Palestine. The golden era of the Ottomans in Gaza came to an end with the appointment of someone other than the Rizvan family to the central administration of the Ottomans in Gaza.
Gaza’s Remarkable Monument: Great Mosque
Gaza’s Great Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque of Omar, is one of the oldest and largest Islamic structures in Gaza. Initially designed as a pagan temple when first constructed, it was converted into a Greek Orthodox Church during the Byzantine period and later into a mosque during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. By 1260, it was destroyed by the Mongols along with other structures. During the Ottoman rule, it was rebuilt as a mosque. Most recently, during World War I, it was destroyed by the British and rebuilt by the Grand Muslim Committee in 1925 and dedicated to the people of Gaza.
Symbol of Tolerance: Vilayet Mosque (Vilayet Kâtibi Mosque)
The Vilayet Mosque, also known as the Vilayet Kâtibi Mosque, was built in Gaza in 1432 during the Mamluk period. After suffering considerable damage due to wars, this small mosque came back to life after Gaza was taken over by the Ottomans. The mosque was named after the scribe (kâtib) of the Ottoman administration, Ahmet Bey, who ordered its renovation. The most remarkable feature of the mosque is that its minaret is adjacent to the St. Porphyrius Church. For approximately seven centuries, this mosque and the neighboring church have been a symbol of coexistence among people of different faiths in Gaza.
The Only Inhabited Area under Muslim Control: Gaza Strip
The Gaza Strip is a coastal strip along the Mediterranean in the western part of Palestine. It derives its name from Gaza since it is within Gaza’s boundaries. With a length of 41 km and a width of 12 km, this coastal strip is bordered by Egypt to the southwest and Israel to the north and east. While Israel controlled the area until the 18th century, according to the decision of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel continued to control the region.
However, the Gaza Strip is primarily under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Recognizing the potential of the coastal strip’s water resources and coastal transportation, nearly one million Muslims settled in the Gaza Strip, managing to develop the fishing trade.
Today, the Palestinians living in this region continue their struggle despite the numerous hardships they face, and they consider it their duty to protect the coastal strip.
Gaza from the 20th Century to the Present
After World War I, Gaza came under British protection in 1917. Over the next 30 years, it experienced rapid growth and, according to United Nations Partition Plan 181, Gaza was to be handed over to the Arab state. However, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the administration of the city was transferred to Egypt. Nevertheless, Israel, from its first day of establishment, began to gradually occupy the city due to conflicts with the surrounding Arab countries and discomfort with Gaza’s unstoppable growth, leading to continuous wars until today.
Despite being the most damaged city in wars, Gaza has managed to stand firm until today. The resistance carried out by the people of Gaza, despite all the difficulties, is considered a heroic saga worldwide. The common cause of people from all walks of life, from young to old, is to protect Gaza. For this, they have been fighting for years, knowing that death could be the price they pay, and this struggle continues to grow like a snowball.