In the 1850s, al-Qaryatayn was described as a "large village" where two-thirds of the inhabitants were Muslims and the remainder Christians. Most of the Christians belonged to the Jacobite (Syriac Orthodox) church, but its followers were converting to Catholicism as part of a growing trend among Syria's Christians at the time. In 1908, Czech explorer Alois Musil noted that al-Qaryatayn was divided into six quarters, four Muslim and two Christian. The four Muslim quarters together consisted of six hundred huts, and two Christian quarters, one Syriac Orthodox with two priests and the other Syriac Catholic with one priest, consisted of some two hundred houses. At the time, al-Qaryatayn's sheikh (chieftain) was Ahmad ibn Fayyad Agha, and the village paid numerous regional Bedouin tribes, including the Ruwalla, Wuld Ali, Sba'a, and Fad'an, the annual khuwwa (brotherhood) tribute as a means to either protect them from their plundering raids or to return goods stolen from the inhabitants by individual members of those tribes. This situation was a result of the weakness of al-Qaryatayn's sheikh, which was in contrast to his father, Fayyad Agha ibn Da'as (died 1903), under whom no tribe disturbed the village. That same year, British writer Gertrude Bell noted that Fayyad Agha (possibly Ahmad ibn Fayyad) was indisputably the "greatest brigand" in Syria at the time. During a visit in 1913, American traveler Lewis Gatson Leary described al-Qaryatayn as "a squalid village".