Dome of the Rock

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Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock — in the middle of the Temple Mount, the most sacred area of Jerusalem — is world’s oldest and, in the minds of many, most beautiful mosque. Known to Muslims as the Mosque of Omar, it is an eight-sided structure with a golden dome that was built by the Umayyad Muslim Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik between A.D. 688 and 692.

The Dome of the Rock was the first real mosque and it set the tone for all mosques that were to follow. Simple and austere, it contains no human figures and instead was decorated with Qur’anic verses written with Arabic calligraphy. The great dome suggests balance and space. There are no minarets. Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker, “Here the Arab love of mystical geometry and intricate ornament has been given its greatest expression. The structure...may be imagined as three rectangles, encompassing a circle. Hushed, sombre, but almost always overwhelmingly sensual, the chamber imbues one with a sense of religious awe that few holy places in the world can match.”

The Dome of the Rock consists of two octagonal ambulatories around a circular center built somewhat north of the center of Herod’s immense artificial esplanade. A golden dome sits over the rock and a wooden balustrade surrounds it. Pillars of marble and porphyry support the inner dome. Surrounding it are marble floors, large red and green oriental carpets and a neck-high wall that children need a boost to see over but tall people can reach over and touch the rock. There isn't a whole lot of standing room between the wall and the circle of blue and white alabaster columns and striped arches that support the wooden inner surface of the dome. Illuminating the rock and the golden swirling tiles above the arches are rays of lights colored by stained glass windows in the dome.

Websites and Resources: Islamic Architecture and Art: Islamic Arts & Architecture / ; Architecture of Islam ; Images of mosques all over the world, from the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT ; British Museum Islamic Art Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Islamic Art Louvre Louvre ; Museum without Frontiers ; Victoria & Albert Museum ; Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar ; CalligraphyIslamic, lots of Islamic calligraphy

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque (100 meters from the Dome of the Rock) is the largest mosque in Israel. Constructed by the Umayyad Muslims in A.D. 715, rebuilt several times and extensively renovated in the 1930s, it is built on the site a simple wooden mosque raised by Caliph Omar in the 640s. It lies right next to the Western Wall and is where, Muslims believe, Muhammad tethered his horse before he rose to heaven.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is said to rest on the place where the scales of justice will be set up on Judgement Day. It is vast and airy and filled with marble columns and pigeons. It is used as a place of worship by local Muslims. Open to the public when prayers are not in session, it boasts a silver dome made with lead and long stable-style blocks with hidden sanctuaries. It doesn’t have any minarets.

Andrew Lawler wrote in National Geographic: “Almost two billion people are connected to this place,” says Sheikh Omar Kiswani, director of the 36-acre religious complex, as we stand on the sunlit stone platform that supports the dome like the setting of a jewel. “When the Prophet Muhammad descended from heaven, by God’s wish, all the prophets gathered here to pray,” says the bearded cleric, sweeping his arms to take in the paths, gardens, courtyards, and buildings that are considered a single vast mosque. “That’s why praying here is equal to 500 prayers elsewhere.” [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, August 15, 2023]

Rock in the Dome of the Rock

The rock inside the temple under the dome is a rough, pitted, room-size slab of weathered limestone sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Many say it is where God stood when he created the world, where Adam was made and where Cain killed Abel.

The rock is believed to have been used as a sacrificial altar by the Canaanites. Jews, Christians and Muslim believe it is where Abraham made his covenant with God and was ordered by God to take his son (Ishmael to Muslims and Isaac to Christians and Jews) and "offer him up as a burnt offering," to test of Abraham's faith. Just as Abraham had raised his knife to sacrifice his most beloved son God sent an angel to tell Abraham he only fooling.

Jews regard it as the "Foundation Stone" where Solomon and Herod built temples. Muslims call it the "Noble Rock" and believe the Prophet Muhammad was miraculously transported from Mecca to here after his death, and rose through the seven levels of heaven, on a winged horse, for a direct meeting with God (see Muhammad’s death, Islam). An oblong imprint on the rock is said to be the footprint made by Muhammad as he leapt onto his winged steed. The rock and is why Jerusalem is the third most important Muslim city after Mecca and Medina. Before Mecca was selected Jerusalem was the focal point of Muslim prayers.

Andrew Lawler wrote in National Geographic: One of the world’s largest collections of Islamic mosaics covers some 13,000 square feet of the shrine’s interior. The sacred slab is the color of moon rock, its coarse and pitted surface contrasting sharply with the splendor surrounding it. Two concentric rings of marble and porphyry columns and piers encircle it, supporting a dome laced with fantastically intricate shapes. The walls carry flowing Arabic inscriptions, as well as one of the world’s largest collections of medieval mosaics. From below, these tiny glass-cubed pixels resolve into lush palms, ripe grapes, and a fortune in diadems and necklaces. An occasional pigeon flies through one of the four open doors, whirring in circles within the round expanse. [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, August 15, 2023]

What is certain is that the building pays homage to the piece of bedrock at its heart. Along with the story of Muhammad’s mystical ascension, there are claims it marks the spot where Adam was created, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, and where the dead will be judged at the end of time. Some say it is the site of the holiest part of the vanished Jewish sanctuaries. The Qur’an mentions Solomon, and the Umayyad rulers may have chosen to honor a stone many associated with that famously wise king. When Crusaders from Europe conquered Jerusalem after a ferocious fight in 1099, they mistook the dome for Solomon’s temple and made it a church.

Well of Souls

The Well of the Souls lies under the Dome of the Rock It is a partly natural, partly man-made cave located inside the Foundation Stone. During the Crusader period, it was known to Christians as the "Holy of Holies", referring to the inner sanctum of the former Jewish Temple, which, according to modern scholarship, was probably located on top of the Foundation Stone. The name "Well of Souls" is derived from a medieval Islamic legend that at this place the spirits of the dead can be heard awaiting Judgment Day, although this is not a mainstream view in Sunni Islam. The name has also been applied to a depression in the floor of this cave and a hypothetical chamber that may exist beneath it. [Source: Wikipedia]

Andrew Lawler wrote in National Geographic: A narrow set of worn marble steps leads beneath the rock to a rough-hewn grotto called the Well of Souls. A Muslim tradition asserts the waters of paradise flow under the cave, while some Christians and Jews have long imagined that the space conceals a secret passage filled with valuable artifacts. [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, August 15, 2023]

In 1911 European treasure hunters bribed their way inside and hacked away at the cave floor in vain hope of finding the famed Ark of the Covenant. Their desecration sparked weeks of angry rioting. Seventy years later, senior Israeli rabbis bored a hole at the base of the Western Wall and tunneled their way east to try to locate the sacred object. The illicit search yielded nothing but a brief scuffle between rabbinical students and Muslim guards and fears of a regional conflict.

Activities and Prayers at the Dome of the Rock

Entrance to the Well of Souls

Visitors to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque rest amid the building ornate architecture and decorations. Sometimes Palestinians take part in protests on steps leading up to the dome, which is a powerful symbol of the Palestinian cause for independence. Couples can get married in a ceremony inside the Dome of the Rock. Sheikh Omar Kiswani, the director of the Al Aqsa complex, told National Geographic “Any church or synagogue in the Holy Land is a place of peace,” he says. “Only here is it a war zone.”

Facing south toward Mecca, the Dome of the Rock attracts many Muslim worshippers for Friday when the faithful do prayers outside the Dome of the Rock. Andrew Lawler wrote in National Geographic: One chilly winter morning, the shrine slowly fills with women in long coats and hijabs. They sit on the plush red-and-gold carpet, alone in contemplation or in small groups to study the Qur’an. While men flock to the much larger Al Aqsa Mosque a hundred yards to the south, this tranquil space is mostly the domain of Muslim women and children. [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, August 15, 2023]

Sireen Karim, a middle-age kindergarten teacher dressed in black, gestures at the mass of stone that dominates the center of the building. “This is where Muhammad, peace be upon him, ascended to heaven to meet all the prophets, and where he came back with the message to pray five times a day,” she says. “It also healed his sadness. And this is where we come to cure our grief and ease a troubled state of mind.”

Visiting the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Compound

Only Muslims may worship in the dome and the surrounding 36-acre Al Aqsa compound — a rule dating back centuries meant to maintain Jerusalem’s fragile peace. But a growing number of Jews demand the right to pray on the plaza, threatening to upend the tradition. [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, August 15, 2023]

One has to remove one’s shoes to enter the dome. If you can’t go inside the Dome of the Rock the next best thing is viewing it on the Mount of Olives, a ridge opposite Jerusalem’s Old City, which offers a sweeping view of the gleaming golden dome as well as the Old City of Jerusalem. . Seven gates provide access from Jerusalem’s Old City into the Al Aqsa compound. The Cotton Merchants’ Gate, dates to the 14th century. A the Bab al Matarah, or Ablution Gate, Muslims purify themselves before praying in the Dome of the Rock. Israeli security tightly controls every entry point, leading at times to protests and violent confrontations.

Inside the Dome of the Rock, Andrew Lawler wrote in National Geographic: Fatah Kayem and his two sons, Ibrahim and Muhammad, as they stroll through the peaceful space. “It is sacred because this is where the Prophet came,” the 51-year-old accountant tells me. “And we also say it is at the heart of the capital of the Palestinian state. We come here to pray that God removes all injustices.” As he speaks, two pigeons flutter furiously in the cavernous space, looking for a way out. Below, the rock stands as mute witness to a tumultuous past as well as an uncertain future.

Temple Mount

The Dome of the Rock is located on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is perhaps the most sacred piece of real estate in the world. Known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and known to Jews as the Temple Mount, it is a huge stone platform built by Herod the Great (73-4 B.C.) on top of Mt. Moriah, the highest point in the Old City. Sitting on top of it are the Dome of the Rock, Islam's third holiest shrine, and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The retaining wall that supports one the Temple Mount’s sides is the Western Wall, Jews holiest place.

On the top of the Temple Mount is a large courtyard and a spacious park with Arab style gardens. Covering 35 acres, it occupies about 20 percent of the Old City and is one of the largest open spaces in Jerusalem. Within the large stone courtyard, are steps and arches and baths where Muslim faithful wash their feet and hands before they enter the dome. In this area, Arab families gather for picnics, children play soccer and groups of young people gather to chat. Around the courtyard are with tree-lined walkways and Mamluk-era buildings and shrines dedicated to David, Solomon and Jesus.

Both Jews and Muslim claim The Temple Mount. To the Jews it is where the First and Second temples built by Solomon and Herod stood and the Third Temple of the true Messiah will rise. Beneath it are tunnels, cisterns, remains of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the 1st century and likely some remnants of the First Temple and perhaps a secret chamber that houses the Ark of the Covenant. Some Jews regarded the Temple Mount as so holy they refuse to walk on it out of fear that they may accidentally set foot on sacred or forbidden ground. Archeological excavations have not taken places out of worries by various groups that what might be found might undermine their claim on sacred ground.

Dominance over the sacred sights is regarded as expression of power. The Jews feel they have the right to it because they were here before the the Muslims. The Muslims claim dates back to 7th century when Jerusalem was captured not long after Muhammad’s death and the original versions of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque were built. To appease Muslims, the Israeli government passed laws that forbid Jews from praying anywhere on the Temple Mount aside from the Western Wall. Periodically Jewish extremist groups challenge these laws and attempt to pray near the Muslim sites and are dragged away by police. Orthodox rabbis have also forbidden Jews from praying on the Temple Mount because it is not known exactly where the Holiest parts of the temple was and there are concerns that Jews, who have not been properly purified, would accidentally tread over it and desecrate it, an incursion punishable by death. The Jews believe the Temple Mount belongs to them but they do not want to take steps to claim and rebuild the Temple because they believe that only the True Messiah can do that when he arrives.

Temple Mount, Western Wall and Dome of the Rock

What the Dome of the Rock Building Says About Its Purpose

Oleg Grabar wrote in “The Formation of Islamic Art”: “Since the incomplete external textual evidence thus cannot provide us with a satisfactory explanation of the purpose for which Abd al Malik built the Dome of the Rock, it is necessary to turn to the internal evidence of the building itself: its location, its architecture and decoration, and the 240-meter-long inscription inside the building, which is the only strictly contemporary piece of written evidence we possess. While none of these can alone explain the Dome of the Rock, an analysis of all three can lead to a much more comprehensive and precise explanation than hitherto offered of the reasons which led to the erection of the first major monument of the new Islamic civilization. [Source: Oleg Grabar, “The Formation of Islamic Art”, Yale University Press, 1973, beginning with pp. 43- 71]

“Since it can be shown that at the time of construction the Rock was not considered as the place from whence Muhammad ascended into heaven, why was it chosen as the obvious center of the structure? To answer this question we must ask ourselves what significance the Rock had at the time of the Muslim conquest and whether there is any evidence for a Muslim interpretation of the Rock or its surroundings either then or between the conquest and the building of the Dome. |

“The exact function of the Rock in earliest times is still a matter of conjecture. While the Haram was without doubt the site of the Solomonic Temple, no definite Biblical reference to the Rock exists. Whether it was "the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite" (1 Chron. 3.1, 2 Sam. 14.18), whether it was an ancient Canaanite holy place fitted by Solomon into the Jewish Temple, perhaps as a podium on which the altar stood, or whether it was the "middle of the court" which was hallowed by Solomon at the consecration of the Temple (1 Kings 8.63-64) cannot be ascertained. At the time of the Herodian reconstruction of the Temple it would appear from a more or less contemporary text that the Rock was only a few inches above the level of the terrace and that it was used as a cornerstone. But the text is not very clear and nowhere have I been able to find definite evidence of an important liturgical function of the Rock in the Jewish tradition.In early medieval times, however, Mount Moriah in general and the Rock in particular were endowed in Jewish legend with a complex mythology. Mount Moriah, through its association with the Temple, became the omphalos of the earth where the tomb of Adam was to be found and where the first man was created. Yet another tradition, that of the sacrifice of Abraham, was attached to the Rock through a confusion between the land of Moriah (Gen. 22.2) and Mount Moriah. In other words, in Jewish tradition the Rock and the surrounding area acquired mystical significance as the site of the Holy of Holies and became associated with a series of legends involving major figures of the Biblical tradition, especially Abraham and Isaac. This importance is indicated in early medieval times by the statement of the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux who mentions a lapis pertusus, a perforated stone, "to which the Jews come every year and which they anoint," probably a reference to the Rock itself which appears here to be thought of as a tangible remnant of the Temple and as a forerunner of the Wailing Wall. |

plan and parts of the Dome of the Rock

“During the Roman and Byzantine period the whole Haram area was left unoccupied, but under Christian rule the Holy City itself witnessed a new and remarkable development in the "New Jerusalem," the western part of the city. No Christian sanctuary appears to have been built on the area of the Haram, since the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple had to be fulfilled. Although there is some evidence in patristic literature that the Jewish associations were accepted by some Christians, with the building of the Holy Sepulchre the omphalos of the earth was transferred to another hill of Jerusalem, Golgotha, and with it were also transferred the associations between Jerusalem and Adam and Jerusalem and Abraham. Such then appears to have been the situation at the time of the Muslim conquest: the Jewish tradition considered the Haram area as the site of the Temple and the place of Abraham's sacrifice and Adam's creation and death, while the Christian tradition had moved the latter two to a new site.” |

Mosaics in the Dome of the Rock

Oleg Grabar wrote in “The Formation of Islamic Art”: “Most of the decorative themes of the mosaics consist of vegetal motives interspersed with vases, cornucopias, and what have been called "jewels". All these elements, except the "jewels," are common enough and their significance in late-seventh century art is primarily stylistic; but the "jewels" present peculiarities that may help to explain the meaning of the structure. [Source: Oleg Grabar, “The Formation of Islamic Art”, Yale University Press, 1973, beginning with pp. 43- 71]

“The jewel decoration does not appear uniformly throughout the building but almost exclusively on the inner face of the octagonal colonnade and of the drum. Although it has been suggested that this is so the decoration will appear more brilliant when seen against the light coming from the windows, it can be shown that the difference between this part of the mosaic decoration and the rest of it lies not in a jewellike effect but in the type of jewels used. Had the intended effect been purely formal, gems and mother-of-pearl, as used elsewhere in the building, would have served equally well here. It may rather be suggested that these actual crowns, bracelets, and other jeweled ornaments were meant to surround the central holy place toward which they face, and it is in this sense that they contrast with the purely decorative gemlike fragments throughout the building. |

mosaics on the Dome of the Rock facade

“Although in most cases the jewels have been adapted to the vegetal basis of the decorative scheme, they are identifiable. There are crowns, either diadems with hangings and encrusted precious stones and in many cases topped with triangular, oval, or arched forms, or diadems surmounted by wings and a crescent. There is also a variety of breast-plates, necklaces, pins, and earrings, almost all of which are set with precious stones as incrustations or as hangings. These ornaments can all be identified either as royal and imperial ornaments of the Byzantine and Persian princes, with the former largely predominant, or as the ornaments worn by Christ, the Virgin, and saints in the religious art of Byzantium. They were all, in different degrees and ways, symbols of holiness, wealth, power, and sovereignty in the official art of the Byzantine and Persian empires. In other words, the decoration of the Dome of the Rock witnesses a conscious use of symbols belonging to the subdued or to the still active opponents of the Muslim state. |

“What can be the significance of such a theme in the decoration of an early Muslim monument? Through texts and images one can reconstruct with some accuracy the ways in which crowns and jewels were utilized in early Christian and Byzantine art and practice; scarcity of information makes it more difficult to decide if the same habits existed in Iran, but there are a few appropriate mostly textual, parallels. In all instances crowns and jewels served to emphasize the holiness or wealth of a sanctuary or personage by surrounding it with royal insignia. This same explanation might be offered for the use of the decorative theme in the Dome of the Rock. Perhaps under the impact of the Christian sanctuaries of Jerusalem, in particular the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock was decorated with votive crowns simply to emphasize its holiness. This explanation, which has in fact been proposed for a number of other early Islamic themes as well, would suggest that the general ornamental, beautifying aspect of the crowns and jewels took precedence over their specific, concrete meaning as royal insignia. |

“Yet such an explanation, if limited to a mere imitation of Christian models and to a generalized significance of the motifs, leads to difficulties. It does not account for the inclusion of a Persian crown within the decorative scheme. Moreover, while agreeing with the purely formal aspect of the decoration, it agrees perhaps less well with the historical and cultural milieu of the Umayyads and of Islam. We must ask ourselves whether there is any evidence in the early Islamic period for the use of crowns and other royal objects in religious building and, if so, for what purposes. |

“Returning now to the mosaics of the Dome of the Rock, one can argue, first, that the crowns and jewels reflect an artistic theme of Byzantine origin which in an Islamic context also used royal symbols in a religious sanctuary to emphasize the sanctuary's holiness. But one can suggest too that the choice of Byzantine and Sassanian royal symbols was dictated by the desire to demonstrate that the "unbelievers" had been defeated and brought into the fold of the true faith. Thus, in the case of the mosaic decoration, just as in the problem of the building's location, explanations of the Dome of the Rock occur on a series of parallel levels. There is an internal, Islamic explanation; there is an explanation that relates the building to non-Muslim monuments and functions; and there is what may be called an accidental level, at which the mosaic decoration is simply meant to be beautiful just as the Herodian platform of the Haram may have been chosen simply because it was a large empty space. The third document in our possession, the inscription, will provide us with a possible solution. |

Inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock

mosaics on the side of the Dome of the Rock

Oleg Grabar wrote in “The Formation of Islamic Art”: “The Dome of the Rock is unusually rich in inscriptions, of which three are Umayyad. The major one, 240 meters in length, is found above the arches of the inner octagonal arcade, on both sides. With the exception of one place where the later caliph al-Ma'mun substituted his name for that of Abd al-Malik, this inscription is throughout contemporary with the building. The other two inscriptions are on copper plaques on the eastern and northern gates. They, too, have been tampered with by the Abbasid prince, but it has been shown that they should be considered as Umayyad. The content of the inscriptions is almost exclusively religious, with the exceptions of the builder's name and of the date, and to a large extent it consists of Qur’anic quotations. The importance of this earliest Qur’anic inscription we have lies in the choice of passages and in the accompanying prayers and praises. [Source: Oleg Grabar, “The Formation of Islamic Art”, Yale University Press, 1973, beginning with pp. 43- 71]

“The inscription in the interior can be divided into six unequal parts, each of which begins with the basmalah or invocation to the Merciful God. Each part, except for the one that has the date, contains a Qur’anic passage. The first part has surah 112: "Say: He is God, the One; God the Eternal; He has not begotten nor was He begotten; and there is none comparable to Him." The second part contains 33.54: "Verily God and His angels bless the Prophet; O ye who believe, bless him and salute him with a worthy salutation." The third passage is from 17.3, the surah of the Night-Journey, but the quotation is not connected with the isra' of the Prophet - a further argument against the belief that at the time of Abd al-Malik the Rock of Jerusalem was already identified with the place whence Muhammad ascended into heaven. Verse 3 goes as follows: "And say: praise be to God, Who has not taken unto Himself a son, and Who has no partner in Sovereignty, nor has He any protector on account of weakness." The fourth quotation, 64.1 and 57.2, is a simple statement of the absolute power of God: "All in heaven and on the earth glorify God; to Him is the Kingdom; to Him is praise; He has power over all things." The last part is the longest and contains several Qur’anic passages. First 64.1, 67.2, and 33.54 are repeated. They are followed by 4.169-71:

“"O ye People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion; and of God speak only truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and His Word which he conveyed into Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him. Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not 'Three.' It will be better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. His is whatever is in the heavens, and whatever is on the earth. And God is a sufficient Guardian. The Messiah does not disdain being a servant of God, nor do the Angels who are near Him. And all who disdain His service and are filled with pride, God will gather them all to Himself."

Dome of the Rock inscriptions

“This quotation is followed by a most remarkable invitation to prayer: "Pray for your Prophet and your servant, Jesus, son of Mary," which is followed by 19.34-37: "And the peace of God was on me [Mary] the day I was born, and will be the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised to life. This is Jesus, the son of Mary; this is a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It beseems not God to beget a son. Glory be to Him. When he decrees a thing, He only says to it 'Be,' and it is. And verily God is my Lord and your Lord; adore Him then. This is the right way." And the inscription ends with the exhortation and threat of 3.16-17: "God witnesses that there is no God but He: and the angels, and men endued with knowledge, established in righteousness, proclaim there is no God but He, the Mighty, the Wise. The true religion with God is Islam; and they to whom the Scriptures had been given differed not until after the knowledge had come to them, and through mutual jealousy. But, as for him who shall not believe in the signs of God, God will be prompt to reckon with him."

“The two inscriptions on the gates are not so explicit. That on the east gate bears a number of common Qur’anic statements dealing with the faith (2.256, 2.111, 24.35, 112, 3.25, 6.12, 7.155) and a long prayer for the Prophet and his people. The inscription on the north gate is more important since it contains two significant passages. First, 9.33 (or 61.9): "He it is who has sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, so that he may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may hate it." This is the so-called prophetic mission which has become the standard inscription on all Muslim coins. But, while it is true that it has become perfectly commonplace, its monumental usage is rarer and this is the first known occurrence of it. Second, the inscription contains an abridged form of 2.130 (or part of 3.78), which comes after an enumeration of the prophets: "We believe in God, in that which was passed down to Muhammad [not a Qur’anic quotation] and in that which the prophets received from their Lord. And we make no distinction between any of them and unto Him we have surrendered" . |

“We can emphasize three basic characterictics of these quotations. The fundamental principles of Islam are forcefully asserted, as they will be in many later inscriptions; all three inscriptions point out the special position of the prophet Muhammad and the importance and universality of his mission; and the Qur’anic quotations define the position of Jesus and other prophets in the theology of the new faith, with by far the greatest emphasis on Jesus and Mary (no Old Testament prophet is mentioned by name). The main inscription ends with an exhortation, mingled with the threat of divine punishment, pointing to Islam as the final revelation and directed to the Christians and the Jews ("O ye people of the Book"). These quotations do not, for the most part, belong to the usual cycle of Qur’anic inscriptions on monuments. Just as the Dome of the Rock is a monument without immediate parallel in Islamic architecture, so is its inscription unique. Moreoever, it must be realized that even those quotations which later became commonplace were used here, if not for the first time, at a time when they had not yet become standard. Through them the inscription has a double implication. On the one hand, it has a missionary character; it is an invitation, a rather impatient one, to "submit" to the new and final faith, which accepts Christ and the Hebrew prophets among its forerunners. At the same time it is an assertion of the superiority and strength of the new faith and of the state based on it. |

little closer look at the Dome of the Rock inscriptions

“The inscription also had a meaning from the point of view of the Muslims alone, for it can be used to clarify the often quoted statement of Muqaddasi on the reason for the building of the Dome of the Rock. One day Muqaddasi asked his uncle why al-Walid spent so much money on the building of the mowque of Damascus. The uncle answered:

“"O my little son, thou has not understanding. Verily al-Walid was right, and he was prompted to a worthy work. For he beheld Syria to be a country that had long been occupied by the Christians, and he noted there the beautiful churches still belonging to them, so enchantingly fair, and so renowned for their splendor, as are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Churches of Lydda and Edessa. So he sought to build for the Muslims a mosque that thouls be unique and a wonder to the world. And in like manner is it not evident that Abd al-Malik, seeing the greatness of the martyrium [qubbah] of the Holy Sepulchre and its magnificence was moved lest it should dazzle the minds of the Muslims and nence erected above the Rock the Dome which is now seen there."

“It is indeed very likely that the sophisticated Christian milieu of Jerusalem had tried to win to its faith the rather uncouth invaders. And it is a well-known fact that eastern Christianity had always liked to use the emotional impact of music and the visual arts to convert "barbarians." that such attempts may have been effective with the Arabs is shown in the very interesting, although little studied, group of accounts dealing with the more or less legendary trips of Arabs to the Byzantine court in early Islamic times, or sometimes even before Islam. In most cases the "highlight" of the "guided tours" to which they submitted was a visit either to a church where a definite impact was made by the religious representations or to a court reception with similar results. In the pious accounts of later times the Muslim always leaves impressed but unpersuaded by the pageantry displayed.

One may wonder, however, whether such was always the case and whether the later stories should be considered, at least in part, as moral stories intended to ward off defection. That the danger of defections existed is clearly implied in Muqaddasi's story. From a Muslim point of view, therefore, the Dome of the Rock was an answer to the attraction of Christianity, and its inscription provided the faithful with arguments to be used against Christian positions. It is of considerable importance to recall, finally, that at the very same time the neighboring basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem was being redecorated by Christians. The new decoration consisted of symbols of the Church's councils, both ecumenical and regional, and including those councils which condemned the monophysite heresy and asserted the trinitarian dogma of Christianity. The coincidence is certainly not fortuitous. |

“A priori two major themes had to be present in the construction of the Dome of the Rock. First, the building of a sanctuary on Mount Moriah must have been understandable - and understood - in terms of the body of beliefs which had been associated with that ancient holy spot, since Islam was not meant as a totally new faith but as the continuation and final statement of the faith of the People of the Book. In other words, the Dome of the Rock must have had a significance in relation to Jewish and Christian beliefs. Second, the first major Muslim piece of architecture had to be meaningful to the follower of the new faith. As we have seen, these themes recur in the analysis of the three types of evidence provided by the building itself. Its location can be explained as an attempt to emphasize an event of the life of Abraham either in order to point to the Muslim character of a personage equally holy to Christians and Jews or in order to strengthen the sacredness of Palestine against Mekkan claims. The royal symbols in the mosaics could be understood as simply votive or an expression of the defeat of the Byzantine and Persian empires by the Muslims. Finally, the inscriptions are at the same time a statement of Muslim unitarianism and a proclamation to Christians and Jews, especially the former, of the final truth of Islam. |

ornamentation and writing in the Dome of the Rock dome

“But in the inscriptions the latter theme is preponderant and it is in the inscriptions, with their magical and symbolic significance, that we find the main idea involved in the erection of the Dome of the Rock. The inscription forcefully asserts the power and strength of the new faith and of the state based on it. It exemplifies the Umayyad leadership's realization of its own position with respect to the traditional heir of the Roman empire. In what was in the seventh century the Christian city par excellence Abd al-Malik wanted to affirm the superiority and the victory of Islam. This affirmation, to which was joined a missionary invitation to accept the new faith, was expressed in the inscriptions, in the Byzantine and Persian crowns and jewels hanging around the sacred Rock, and most immediately in the appropriation of the ancient site of Mount Moriah. Thereby the Christian prophecy was voided and the Jewish mount rehabilitated. But it was no longer a Jewish sanctuary; it was a sanctuary dedicated to the victorious faith. Thus the building of the Dome of the Rock implies what might be called a prise de possession, on the part of Abd al-Malik, of a hallowed area. The Dome of the Rock should be related not so much to the monuments whose form it took over, but to the more general practice of setting up a symbol of the conquering power or faith within the conquered land. In Umayyad Islam this affirmation of victory was totally bound with missionary zeal. |

“The formal terms used to express this symbolic appropriation were not new but consisted almost exclusively of the forms of Byzantine and, to a far smaller degree, Sassanian art. The one purely Islamic feature, the inscriptions, were for the most part in places where they were hardly visible. For, regardless of the Muslim associations that appear in the creation of the Dome of the Rock, the building's primary purpose was to be a monument for non-Muslims. With all the Islam-wide ramifications of its symbolism, it was an immanent building that served precise contemporary needs, the most crucial of which was to demonstrate to a Christian population (especially the orthodox church), which often still thought Muslim rule was a temporary misfortune, that Islam was here to stay. As Abd al-Malik succeeded in checking the dangers of Byzantine intervention and internal dissensions, this timely significance of the Dome of the Rock receded in importance. Purely Islamic religions and pietistic associations began to appear and to transform fairly rapidly the Dome of the Rock and the whole Haram area into the purely Muslim sanctuary it has remained ever since. This, however, is another story. The main point of our demonstration is that, whereas in the Qusayr Amrah fresco we have what seems to be an original form illustrating the Muslim prince's participation in the family of the earth's rulers, in Jerusalem almost exclusively traditional non-Islamic forms served to show to the Jewish and especially Christian worlds that the new faith was their successor in the possession of the one revealed religion and that its empire had taken over their holiest city.” |

Restoration of the Dome of the Rock

According to National Geographic: Although its core elements have been preserved throughout the ages, the structure has been renovated and restored over 13 centuries. Many parts of the ancient shrine have been replaced in modern times. The exterior tiles date to the 1960s; the gilded dome, to the ’90s. The gold plating was at first so blinding in Jerusalem’s intense sun it had to be dulled. Conservators struggle to maintain the aging building, where fixing a leaking roof or laying new carpet can quickly escalate into a political drama.

Andrew Lawler wrote: In 2016, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Hussein’s son and successor, launched a multimillion-dollar project to address major problems plaguing the Dome of the Rock’s interior, including buckling mosaics, flaking plaster, and rotting wood. Much of the damage came from the leaky 1960s roof or seeped into the walls when the 48 original waterspouts clogged with pigeon dung. [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, August 15, 2023]

Progress has been slow. Jordanian and Al Aqsa officials blame Israeli police, who control anyone and anything entering the gates. “They interfere with everything we do!” exclaims Bassam al Hallaq, head of the site’s restoration department, as we stand beside the low wooden rail surrounding the rock. “Every day I have a problem.” He jabs his finger at an area where the brown paint has worn off. “I want to paint this exactly the same color, but I can’t get permission.”

aerial view of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount

When Al Hallaq attempted to replace a fallen tile in 2019, he was handcuffed and held at a police station for more than six hours. Israeli police declined to comment on his allegations, but given hardening relations between Jerusalem’s Jews and Muslims, the difficulties of repairing and maintaining the ancient structure are likely to worsen.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Conversation, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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