An 1886 drawing of the village of al-Shaykh Saad
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Al-Shaykh Saad (Arabic: الشيخ سعد ash-Shaykh Saʿad; also Romanized Sheikh Saad; also called Karnaim or Dair Ayyub which means "The Monastery of Job") is a town in southern Syria, administratively part of the Daraa Governorate, located northwest of Daraa on the Syrian-Jordanian borders. Nearby localities include Nawa, Jasim and al-Harrah to the north, Izra and al-Shaykh Maskin to the east, Tafas and Da'el to the southeast, and Adwan and Tasil to the west and Jalin to the southwest. According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, al-Shaykh Saad had a population of 3,373 in the 2004 census.
During Biblical times the city was known as Karnaim. After the collapse of the neighboring city of Ashteroth, Karnaim became the capital of the land of Bashan, during the Aramaean and Assyrian era. The city was mentioned as Ashteroth-Karnaim in Genesis 14:5, and Karnaim in Amos 6:13. During the Hellenistic period, the city was referred to as Karnein. It was mentioned by several Christian scholars and pilgrims, including Eusebius, Egeria and Jerome, as the city of St. Job.
During the Crusades, the town was part of the Principality of Galilee. In 1129 the town was ceded by William I of Bures, Prince of Galilee, to the Abbey of St. Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat. This transfer was noted in the records of Baldwin II in 1130, and of Pope Anastasius IV in 1154. In June 1187, before the Battle of Hattin, Saladin chose to assemble his troops in the town before starting his campaigns.
The village was visited by Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi in the early 13th-century, during Ayyubid rule. At the time, the village's name was Dair Ayyub ("the monastery of Job"). He noted that it was a village "of the Hauran, in the Damascus Province. This is where Job dwelt, and where Allah tried him. There is here a spring, where he struck with his feet the rock that was over it (and the water gushed out). Job's tomb also is here."
The town was later known by the name of a more recent and local saint, Shaykh Saad. The sheikh, according to tradition, was a native of Sudanese origins who brought many African slaves to work in the town. Shaykh Saad then established a monastery for his black slaves, and later granted them their freedom. A rivalry has since existed between the local fellahin who consider St. Job to be the patron of their town, and the descendants of the African slaves to whom Shaykh Saad was their savior. The Africans also settled in Jalin.
Under the Ottomans, the town became the capital of Sanjak of Hauran, and the residence of the local governor, or Mutasarrıf. In 1596 al-Shaykh Saad appeared in the Ottoman tax registers as Sayh Sa'd, being in the nahiya of Jawlan Sarqi in the Qada of Hauran. It had a population of 8 households and 1 bachelor, all Muslim. Taxes were paid on wheat, barley, summer crops and rice.
Gottlieb Schumacher surveyed the town in 1884, and recorded that it was "miserable looking place, containing about 60 huts built of stone and mud, many of them now fallen to ruin. It has a population of about 220 souls, all without exception negroes." In a bid to bring Hauran under further centralization, in 1892 the Ottoman government of Damascus pressed for the completion of land registration in al-Shaykh Sa'ad—still the regional capital—as well in other major towns in the area.
In 1918, towards the end of the Arab Revolt during World War I, al-Shaykh Saad was captured by the Arab Army headed by T. E. Lawrence. The town served as their launching point for the subsequent battle in Tafas where the Arabs defeated the Ottoman army.
Association with St. Job
The town was associated with St. Job since at least the 4th-century CE. Karnein was mentioned in Eusebius' Onomasticon as a town of Bashan that was said to be the location of the house of St. Job. Egeria the pilgrim relates that a church was built over the place in March or February 384 CE, and that the place was known as the "town of Job", or "civitas Job." According to Egeria's account the body of St. Job was laid in a stone coffin below the altar.
According to tradition, Hammam Ayyub is a fountain in the town where Job washed himself when he had leprosy, and is reputed to have healing powers. Another holy artifact in the town is the "Rock of Job," known in local folklore as the place where he sat when he was afflicted with the disease. The monolith basalt rock, measuring 7 by 4 feet (2.1 m × 1.2 m), is split by a horizontal crack and is housed inside a mosque dedicated to Nabi Ayyub. Later scholars however have identified the rock as an Egyptian stele commemorating the campaign of Ramesses II.
- General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Daraa Governorate. (Arabic)
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