Suleiman Mountain has been venerated as a sacred place since ancient times. Named in honor of the Qu’ranic Prophet Suleiman, who may or may not be the same person as King Solomon of the Hebrew Bible, the mountain has been visited by religious pilgrims since well before the advent of Islam. The mountain itself is an absolutely amazing rock formation which looms over the city of Osh and the surrounding area. A number of related sites are located on or near its peak, including the Shrine of Suleiman, a 16th century mosque and a museum. Suleiman Mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Suleiman Mountain has an ancient history, and was one of Central Asia’s most sacred places long before the first Muslims arrived in the region. The mountain was named for Suleiman, a prophet mentioned in the Qu’ran. It is unclear if this reference is to Solomon, the son of David and second king of Israel, who is honored as a prophet among Muslims. Moreover, it is even more unclear why Solomon would be so honored more than two thousand miles from Israel before Islam even arrived in the area. One possibility is that among Kyrgyzstan’s early inhabitants were Israelites of the lost tribes who brought the historical tradition of Solomon with them.
Whatever the true story behind this legend is, the mountain was certainly adopted as a sacred place by the Muslims when they arrived in the early Middle Ages. It was certainly visited by many pilgrims passing throught the region on the fabled Silk Road to China. It was also likely a favorite religious destination for adventurers traveling from Samarkhand and Tashkent who otherwise could not make the long, arduous journey to Arabia.
According to local tradition, Suleiman Mountain played a small part in the story of the founding of the Mughal Empire which eventually sprawled from Central Asia to India. At the beginning of the 16th century, Babur, a local ruler and descendant of Timur, set about the conquest of a new Muslim empire in the east. As legend has it, as a youth Babur would climb Suleiman Mountain and think about his life plans and personal aspirations. It was during one of these reflective sessions that he looked down from the mountain into the nearby Fergana Valley and decided that he was destined to rule something much bigger, which indeed he was.
In later years, when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Russian and Soviet empires, Suleiman Mountain became a symbol of Islamic defiance in the face of the encroaching Russian Orthodox Church. When Islam was surpressed in Central Asia, Suleiman Mountain remained one of the region’s most enduring Muslim pilgrimage sites. The Soviets tried to demystify the sacred mountain by carving a museum into its face, but this did little to discourage determined visitors to the region. Since Kyrgyzstan;s independence, Suleiman Mountain has resumed its place as the country’s most visited, and most beloved, Muslim site.
Suleiman Mountain is a stark, rocky formation that more or less marks the eastern end of the Fergana Valley on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan frontier. Although not particularly tall, the jagged hill absolutely dominates the surrounding plain. Almost more of a long ridge even then a hill, Suleiman Mountain boasts four rugged peaks rising up from a low sloped, scrub covered formation. It is the best-known landmark in Osh and is essentially visible from all over the city. Those who scale to the mountain’s top enjoy spectacular views of western Kyrgyzstan as well as eastern Uzbekistan and northern Tajikistan.
Towards the top of the mountain is the shrine of Suleyman which supposedly marks the site of the grave of this ancient prophet. Local women visit the shrine in hopes of giving birth to strong babies. Lower down on the mountain is a mosque erected by Babur in the 16th century, theoretically on the location where he made the decision to found his empire. The museum built by the Soviets houses archaeological exhibits.
Suleiman Mountain is located on the outskirts of Osh, approximately 170 miles east of Tashkent in Uzbekistan and 165 miles south of the capital city of Bishkek. The mountain including the shrine of Suleiman is effectively an open site and can be freely visited by Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no cost of admission. Web: No official website.
The city of Osh was under Russian and Soviet domination for over a century, and little remains of its earlier Islamic heritage. The most prominent surviving site is the Masjid Rabat Abdul Khan, the city’s oldest and largest mosque.
Leave a Reply