Maland, Idlib, Syria – After the first earthquake of February 6 struck the village of Maland, its frightened people made their way to the mosque, hoping that prayer would calm their hearts. When they arrived, they were shocked to find the entire mosque destroyed with its dome resting on the ground.

“I used to go to this mosque with my father, and he used to go with my grandfather; it’s the only one in the village,” Maher Zaarour, 37, told Al Jazeera, his voice wavering. He had gathered with the villagers in an open, rubble-strewn space to perform the communal Friday prayers.

“It’s very old, and it’s been refurbished a lot; everyone in the village contributed to fixing it up. Even the women would go and plaster the mosque’s walls. It’s God’s house, all of us have memories here. We studied the Quran here as children.”

Fortunately, the mosque was empty when the earthquake sent it tumbling to the ground. It happened well before dawn prayers, and nobody had arrived to open it to prepare for worshippers.

But the villagers feel the mosque’s absence deeply, and efforts have already begun to gather what small financial donations they can make to try to rebuild.

Maher Zaarour poses for a photo
‘I used to go to this mosque with my father, and he used to go with my grandfather, it’s the only one in the village,’ Maher Zaarour told Al Jazeera on February 24, 2023 [Ali Haj Sulaiman/Al Jazeera]

“We don’t want our houses back, we just want this, God’s house, to come back as it was, so the village can pray there again,” Zaarour said.

Mahmoud Aref Nadaf, 74, agreed with Zaarour. He has lived directly next door to the mosque for about 50 years and said he misses it more than his destroyed home.

“I was in the room nearest the mosque when the earthquake hit, between sleep and wakefulness. The mosque’s western wall fell on us, it’s about 15 metres high. Huge rocks fell into the room where I was sleeping,” he said, adding that it was a “miracle” that he survived.

“I have never harmed a person ever, nor held ill will in my heart towards anyone, that’s why God saved me,” Nadaf said, sitting on a heap of rubble near the mosque.

“Whenever I’m free, I’m in the mosque. It means so much to the village people: It was a shelter, a place of prayer, of learning, of gathering, of knowledge. Now it’s gone, there is nothing that can make up for it,” he added.

According to Ahmed Abazli, Maland’s council head, 34 people died here in the earthquake. He said it damaged 90 percent of the village’s homes – with 198 families losing their houses entirely and some 320 houses badly damaged and uninhabitable.

Imam Adel al-Sheikh leads the Friday prayer in a rubble-strewn open lot
Imam Adel al-Sheikh leads the Friday prayer in a rubble-strewn open lot on February 24, 2023 [Ali Haj Sulaiman/Al Jazeera]

“Ramadan is soon and we have no mosque, so we’ve launched a campaign to collect donations from the villagers and we hope to also receive assistance soon to rebuild,” he told Al Jazeera.

“When the earthquake hit, we ran to the mosque to perform the dawn prayers after the quake, but we were shocked to see that it had been destroyed,” he said. “I think people’s souls were deeply impacted by this.”

Maland’s imam, Adel al-Sheikh, who was also there in the open square to lead the prayer, said that the destruction of the mosque is a great loss for the village of 7,000 people.

“I’ve been imam here for three years, in spite of the size of the village, there is only one mosque that gathers all the village people, especially on Friday when about 1,500 worshippers are in it praying,” he said. “The mosque was a reassuring presence, as people would find peace of mind within its walls.”



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