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Islam Chronology

Abd al-Malik Builds the Dome of the Rock

691

 

The Dome of the Rock is located on Temple Mount on the eastern side of Old Jerusalem, and is the third most holy place in Islam. Built by Abd al-Malik in 72/691 AD, the Dome of the Rock stands atop the site where, according to Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after his Night Journey. When the sanctuary was under construction, Mecca was being occupied by a challenger to the Caliphate, Abd Allah Ibn az-Zubayr. Abd al-Malik decreed that the Dome of the Rock, rather than the Ka’bah, be the goal of the Muslim hajj (pilgrimage); this decree was annulled with the reconquest of Mecca.

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The Dome of the Rock is an oblong building; although it was built by Syrian craftsmen trained in the Byzantine tradition, it is often cited as the first major example of Islamic architecture. The dome is now covered with aluminum and topped with a gold crescent. It contains splendid designs noted for their Byzantine/Syrian motifs. Calligraphic decorations (as used in much Islamic art) dominate the interior and the exterior (240 meters total). These inscriptions are all Koranic verses about Jesus and his relationship to Jerusalem. Both the exterior and the interior of the Dome have undergone continual restoration and renovation over the years.

Below the sanctuary is a prayer chamber accessible by a stairway (there is also a larger prayer area on the main floor). From the prayer chamber one can see a crack in the rock that, according to Muslim tradition, split when the prophet ascended and the rock wished to follow. There is also supposedly a handprint visible on the rock, from the angel Gabriel holding the rock back. The cave is called Bi’r al arwah, the "well of the spirits." According to legend, the cave is the site where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden during the destruction of Jerusalem, and it may stand there still. There are many traditions associated with the cave. According to the Talmud, the cave is the center of the world, under which lies an abyss where the waters of the flood still rage.

The shape of the Dome of the Rock is very important in its significance in Islam. It is a symbol of ascent to heaven by the Prophet and by man. The octagonal structure is a step in the mathematical series going from a square (symbolizing the fixity of earthly manifestation) to a circle (symbolizing the perfection of heaven). Traditional baptismal fonts are also this shape; in saint’s tombs, the lower part is square, and there is an octagon drum inserted as a transition between the cube and the dome, to symbolize the saint as the link between man and God. The octagonal structure of the Dome of the Rock became the model for domed sanctuaries and saint’s tombs from Morocco to China.

The Dome of the Rock is a holy place in Judaism and Christianity as well as in Islam. It stands on Temple Mount, which is also the site of the Jewish Wailing Wall, the most holy Jewish shrine. Temple Mount is also called Mount Mariah; the site where most of the kings of Judah were crowned. The site on which it was built is thought to be the site where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, and also where Melchizedek the priest sacrificed. It is thought to be the site of Adam’s tomb; Jacob was said to have anointed it. As mentioned above, it is thought to be a possible site of the Ark of the Covenant. It is also thought to be the possible site of Solomon’s temple, the culmination of revelations of Moses and Jesus in the restoration of the primordial Abrahamic unity (Islam). Because it is thought to be the site of Solomon’s temple, Judaism forbids entrance; it could be the site of the holy of holies, the inner sanctuary in Jewish temples. No one but one priest is ever allowed entrance, and him but once a year, for it contains the presence of the living God. Jews believe that the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem will occur on its original site – where the Dome of the Rock now stands.


Notes:

Images from A. Farooki's Islamic Multimedia Gallery Aladdin Short Story


Bibliography:

Berney, K. A., and Trudy Ring, Ed. International Dictionary of Historic Places, vol. 4: The Middle East and Africa. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago 1996.

Eliade, Mircea, Ed. in chief. The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol.1. Macmillan Publishing Co., New York 1987.

Glasse, Cyril, Ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper San Francisco, 1989.

Wuthnow, Robert, Ed. The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Washington, D.C. 1998.


Edited, Researched and Written by:
Sarah Streyle
December 17, 1999

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