The shrine of Sayyida Khawla, the daughter of Imam Hussein and great granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad, is a religious tourist attraction which greets you at the southern entrance of the city of the sun, Baalbek, which was built during the period of the Roman rule. Baalbek was one of the largest sanctuaries in the Roman Empire and contains some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Lebanon.
Tourists from inside and outside Lebanon are tremendously encouraged to visit Sayyida Khawla's shrine which is adjacent to Baalbek's glorious walls and ever illuminated with a great flow of divine light. During the day, the inside of the city is blanketed in sunlight that shines on its golden domes and ancient ruins, as well as on the lush orchards that surround the shrine and the city's relics -- one might mistake himself to be in paradise.
A Brief History
Historical stories about the discovery of this place say that after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, on the tenth day of Muharram in Karbala-Iraq, the women and children of Imam Hussien were held captives and loaded onto camels with neither saddle nor shade and were moved towards Kufa. During the journey from Karbala to Kufa, and from Kufa to Damascus, Hussein's sister Zaynab bint Ali told the Muslim world about the various atrocities committed in Karbala.
The prisoners were later held in Damascus for a year and some of them died in grief. They were later dragged and tortured through different cities in Lebanon, reaching Baalbek-Ras Al-Ein, the place where Imam Hussien's mosque was built and later reconstructed in 680 AD and 61 Hegira.
The long and arduous journey from Karbala to Kufa and from Kufa to Damascus, from Aleppo to Hama and on to Homs, through different Lebanese areas, left behind the shrine of Our Lady of Baalbek, Khawla.
Stories vary about the truth that had led to her death. One story says that her martyrdom resulted from the long and painstaking travel, and another like that of the renowned historian, judge Muhajir, says that Khawla was among the captives in the convoy of the painful journey. His version of the story says that Khwla was three years old when she fell off the camel's back and ever since, suffered sickness till death. She was laid to rest in an orchard at the southern entrance of the city near the ancient citadel.
The story goes on that people residing in the vicinity of her burial place and its surroundings saw divine lights landing on this noble spot, between the orchards. Later, Khawla appeared in the dream of the man that owned the orchards and asked him to divert water away from her grave. When he ignored her request, she appeared in his dream a second, third and fourth time. The man later discussed the matter with the village council that decided to rebury Khawla in a different spot, which gradually expanded into the shrine it is today.
The tomb is located in the center of the shrine. It is a new golden cage with another wooden cage within, which contains the corps of Khawla. The gold and silver cage is four meters long and three meters wide. The door is made of vintage oak with silver, and the top of the shrine is decorated with silver and golden crowns with encryptions of the names of the infallible imams. Also, there are Quranic verses on the door of the shrine, with a huge crystal chandelier topping the cage.
Several meters above the shrine, a giant Cypress tree penetrates the roof of the building. It is said that Imam Zainal Abidin had planted a small branch to mark the grave. Over the years, the branch turned into a gigantic 1,400 year-old tree.
In addition to the charm and beauty of the cage, one will be startled with the walls that are covered with beautiful Iranian decorations, all inscribed with Quranic verses and hadiths that are beautifully mixed with blue, white and navy colors.
Approximately, 100,000 worshipers assemble near the shrine each year, marking the 40th day commemoration of Al-Hussein's death, to start Ashura march. The shrine also receives thousands of devotees each day who commemorate this occasion. They also come to visit and be blessed, or even attend lectures and seminars.
The shrine has become a pilgrimage site and a tourist landmark that plays a religious role in the entire region -- Syria, Iran, Gulf States and other Islamic countries. Also, a lot of people from the Christian community go there to fulfill their vows.