At the end of the 5th century AH / 11th century AD, Aleppo was part of the Seljuk Empire with its centre in Baghdad. In 479 AH / 1086 AD, the city was formally ruled by Amir Aqsunqur al-Hajib, progenitor of the Zangid dynasty, on behalf of the Seljuk Sultan Malikshah I. However, the Seljuk amirs had to share the city government with local notable families, primarily the Banu l-Khashshab, who also served as the city’s judges (qadis) and who exercised control over the population.
Abu l-Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Khashshab took the initiative to construct a new minaret for Aleppo’s most important mosque, the Great Mosque or Umayyad Mosque; an inscription records his and the amir’s name. This minaret, which collapsed in 2013, was an integral part of the Umayyad Mosque and upgraded the central sacred space of Aleppo, where there had once been temples, churches, and finally a mosque, at least since the 2nd millennium BC.
The mosque’s endowment (waqf) was by far the largest in Aleppo and comprised a number of covered bazaar streets (suqs) in the central market district, land to the west of the old city, and objects all over the city, as well as outside of it. Over the centuries, benefactors continued to enlarge the mosque’s endowment. Arguably the most important of these was Nur al-Din Zangi (d. 569 AH / 1174 AD), who launched a huge reconstruction program for Syrian cities after centuries of decline.
The 6th century AH / 12th century AD saw the reconstruction and expansion of the Umayyad Mosque and its surroundings, specifically the adjacent site of today’s Madrasa al-Halawiyya. This Islamic college was formed on the site of the Byzantine cathedral, which the same Abu l-Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Khashshab had seized from the Christian community during the crusaders’ siege of Aleppo (winter 1124–25 AD) and transformed into a mosque. Remains of a church can still be seen there. Later on, Nur al-Din Zangi established the madrasa that attracted a number of important Hanafite scholars.
Throughout the centuries, the Umayyad Mosque remained the most important mosque of Aleppo and – together with the Madrasa al-Halawiyya as one of its oldest and most prestigious schools – its indisputable religious centre. The minaret set the rhythm for ritual prayers throughout the city. 18th century waqf documents inform us that the muezzins of Aleppo’s mosques had to wait for the muezzin of the Umayyad Mosque before they were allowed to call for prayer.
The late 19th century saw profound restorations of the Umayyad Mosque and the Madrasa al-Halawiyya. Modern urban developments – the neighbourhoods of al-Tilal, Bustan Kullab, and parts of al-ʿAziziyya were constructed on waqf land belonging to those two institutions – proved very profitable. The Aleppine historian and jurist Kamil al-Ghazzi (1853–1933) claims that in the case of the Madrasa al-Halawiyya, this additional income increased the waqf’s revenues substantially.