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Grandmother Eve — buried in Saudi Arabia?

Sam stands at the old entrance to Ummuna Hawwa (Eve's Cemetery).

Sam stands at the old entrance to Maqbara Ummuna Hawwa (Mother Eve’s Cemetery) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Eve’s tomb in Jeddah

It is believed by some Muslims that Eve, the Mother of Humanity, was buried in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While there is no absolute archaeological evidence old enough to authenticate the story of Eve’s burial here, the legend persists.

Some say that the city’s name, when pronounced as “Jaddah” — an Arabic word that means grandmother — is a reference to Eve. No one really knows how the story originated, and some in this Red Sea port city dismiss it as merely a myth. However, there is empirical evidence (references) dating back at least 1,200 years.

“It’s a legend, but it is one mentioned by many scholars,” says Sami Nawar, Jeddah’s general director for the city’s Culture and Tourism Department. Nawar, an expert on the history of Old Jeddah, likes to lace a bit of the legend into his presentations on the city to visiting foreign dignitaries and journalists.

The creation story

All Abrahamic holy books (the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an) say that Adam and Eve were the first members of the human race–created by God to dwell on earth.

In the first book of the Bible one reads, “And God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:25-28).

Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that Adam and Eve lived in Paradise (the Garden of Eden or heaven) before their fall from grace. After Eve ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree and gave some of the fruit to Adam, who also ate it, then the story goes that “their eyes were opened” so they immediately understood the difference between good and evil. God then banished them from Paradise.

In the Qur’an we read, “And We said, ‘O Adam, dwell you and your wife in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.’ But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said ‘Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time’” (Al-Baqarah 35 and 36).

Early origins of the legend

Eve's tomb as drawn by 1984.

Tomb of Eve, drawing found in Pélerinage á la Mecque et á Medine by Saleh Soubhi, Cairo, 1894.

It appears that the earliest documented mention of Eve’s tomb being in Jeddah is by the Arab historian and astronomer Abū Muḥammad Al Hamdani (c. 893-945) who states it had been related that Adam was in Mina Valley, to the east of Jeddah, when he felt a yearning to visit Eve–that Eve had come from Jeddah, and that he found her to the East of Mina Valley on Mt. Arafat.

The renowned British explorer, geographer and ethnologist Sir Richard Francis Burton  (1821 – 1890) makes mention of Eve’s Jeddah burial site in his English translation of the classic work One Thousand and One Nights (in English most commonly known as The Arabian Nights).  

Conservative Islamic influence

Many non-Muslims, especially Jews and Christians, fail to appreciate just how diverse and varied Islam can be. Just as with Christianity or Judaism, there are things you can say that apply to all or most adherents of Islam, but there are many more things which only apply to a particular group of Muslims. This is especially true when it comes to Muslim fundamentalism; because Wahhabi Islam, the primary religious movement behind fundamentalist Islam, includes beliefs and doctrines not found elsewhere.

It would be a mistake and unethical to be critical of all Muslims on the basis of doctrines particular to Wahhabi Muslims. Modern Islamic fundamentalism and movements cannot be explained or understood without looking at the history and influence of Wahhabi Islamic teaching. This means that it’s important from an academic perspective to understand what Wahhabi Islam teaches and why those teachings differ from other branches of Islam.

Eve's tomb c. 1908.

A photograph of Eve’s tomb c. 1908. The tomb attracted historians and tourists from around the world.

The First Saudi State was founded in 1744. This period was marked by conquest of neighboring areas and by religious zeal. At its height, the First Saudi State included most of the territory of modern-day Saudi Arabia, and raids by Al Saud’s allies and followers reached into Yemen, Oman, Syria, and Iraq. Islamic Scholars, particularly Muhammad ibn Abdul Al Wahhab (1703 to 1792) and his descendants, are believed to have played a significant role in Saudi rule during this period. The Saudis and their allies referred to themselves during this period as the Muwahhidun (“the unitarians”) or Ahl al-Tawhid (“the monotheists”).

The fundamentalist teachings taught by Al Wahhab positioned him in history as the first modern Islamic fundamentalist. I’m told that Al Wahhab made the central point of his reformation movement the principle that just about every idea added to Islam after the third century of the Muslim era (about 950 AD) was false and should be eliminated. Al Wahhab and his followers taught that Muslims must adhere solely and strictly to the original beliefs set forth by the Prophet Muhammad.

The reason for this extremist stance and the focus of Al Wahhab’s reform efforts, was a number of popular practices which he believed represented a regression to pre-Islamic idol worship. These included praying to saints, making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, venerating trees, certain caves and stone monuments and establishing certain forms of ritual worship.

Eve tomb today

Still named Mother Eve’s Cemetery, nothing remains of Eve’s tomb. Today only unmarked graves exist.

The destruction of Eve’s tomb

The February 27, 1928, issue of Time magazine, describes how Eve’s tomb was destroyed: “To His Majesty Ibn Saud, warlike Sultan of Nejd and King of the Hejaz, came tidings last week of his flourishing son the Amir Faisal, 19-year-old Viceroy of the Hejaz. The tidings were conveyed 500 miles by motor caravan from the Red Sea town of Jidda in the Hejaz, to the Sultan’s inland capital, Riyadh, in Nejd.”

It was announced in the 19-year-old’s “tidings,” “There was it made known that the enlightened son & Viceroy had finally caused to be obliterated that notorious imposture, ‘The Tomb of Mother Eve,’ at Jidda (Jeddah).”

By 1975 even the ground of Eve’s legendary burial site was sealed in concrete to prevent pilgrims from paying homage or praying there.

Today, the cemetery is a row of unmarked tombs, and there’s nothing to indicate Eve’s tomb has been there. Wahhabi beliefs forbid the marking of tombs and graves.

William Dever, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at the University of Arizona and a prominent U.S. archaeologist, was asked about  Eve’s tomb by the Associated Press a few years ago. He said there just is not any archaeological evidence going back far enough to back up the legend of Eve’s burial site.

“There are lots of traditional tombs of saints of various kinds in the Middle East,” he added. “But they are never excavated or investigated scientifically.”

Asked if he had heard of any other final resting place for Eve in the Middle East, Dever said, “No. There are tombs of Abraham all over the place, but I don’t honestly know in Israel or the West Bank or Jordan of any Eve tomb in these places.”

A few pilgrims still come

Thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims still come to see what's left of Mother Eve's Cemetery.

Thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims still come to see what’s left of Mother Eve’s Cemetery.

Pilgrims from around the world continue to visit the graveyard named Ammuna Hawwa (Arabic for “Our Mother Eve”).

As I was standing at the entrance of the cemetery yesterday, two tourist buses pulled up. Tour guides made brief speeches about Eve’s burial place, and the buses pulled away.

Dr. Sami Angawi, an architect and historian in Saudi Arabia who has been a long-standing critic of the lack of preservation of historic artifacts and monuments, says, “Tombs are not preserved in Saudi Arabia, and visiting graves is not encouraged as Wahhabists believe that they could lead to Bedaa – a frowned upon invention that undermines the orthodoxy of Islam.” Dr. Angawi says, during the past 80 years historic artifacts and sites have been dug up and thrown out, not only in Jeddah, but also in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

“Eve’s tomb,” he says, “is now just a flat hole among a graveyard of unmarked tombs.”

“All we have left is the legend,” he says with disappointment.  “But that legend will live on and be passed on to future generations.”

In the following short CNN video, Dr. Angawi says all eyes remain on the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina that are constantly under assault:

Sources:  The Bible, The Qur’an, Arab News, Time Magazine,, Sir Richard Burton’s English translation of One Thousand One Nights, the Associated Press, The National (UAE), USA Today, CNN International News

March 13, 2013 - Posted by | Jeddah History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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