The most universally recognized symbol of Jerusalem is not a Jewish or Christian holy place but a Muslim one: the Dome of the Rock, or Qubbat as-Sakhra as it is known in Arabic. When people see its golden dome rising above the open expanse of Haram as-Shareef, they think of only one place in the world. The Dome of the Rock is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and most remarkable monuments of early Islam, visited every year by thousands of pilgrims and tourists. It is Jerusalem’s answer to Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, London’s Big Ben and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas twin towers; dazzling the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Dome of the Rock is Jerusalem.
The Dome of the Rock was built around 688-691 C.E. (68-72 A.H.) by the Umayyad Caliphal-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik. This building is located in the middle of the Haram as-Shareef complex and the dome itself covers the Holy Rock, located directly under the dome, from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on his night journey. The Holy Rock itself is a huge irregular rock measuring 17.7 metres north-south, 13.5 metres east-west, and 1.5 metres in height.
The building had underwent several restorations that maintained the original plan and design. It symbolizes the excellence of Islamic architecture and more than just an example of a typical mosque, it is also a reflection of its historical context. This includes the attempt to rival the Islamic empire’s predecessor in the area, the Byzantine-Christian empire, as well as to establish a monument over a holy site.
The golden dome stretches 20 metres across the Noble Rock, rising to an apex more than 35 metres above it. Half of the lower part is covered with marble while the second half is covered with blue qashany squares inscribed with the Qur’anic chapter ‘Ya Sin’, a work commissioned in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent:
By the wise Qur’an
Surely you are among those sent on a straight path
A revelation of the Mighty, the Compassionate
That you might warn a people whose fathers were never warned, so they are heedless
The Dome of the Rock, Noble Sanctuary Online Guide [Online Document]
A partial view of the exterior of the Dome with Qur’anic inscriptions on blue qashany squares
The Dome of the Rock is an octagon; four of its sides face the 4 directions, and the Rock is in the center and is about 1.5 metres high. It measures 18 metres long by 13 metres wide, covered by a circular dome consisting of four circular fringes covered with marble squares with three marble columns between every two of them. They also carry 16 arches covered with white and black marble. The upper circular part of the Dome is covered with mosaic decorations of plants in harmonious colours, mainly green, blue and gold. The neck has some shells with 16 windows, made internally of glaze and externally of china or qashany blocks decorated with circular vents. The ceiling of the middle and external porches is flat and covered with wooden decorations leaning toward the external octagon and covered with lead sheets, but they are covered with silver aluminum sheets. The neck is covered with qashany decorations outside with a strip containing Sura’ al-Isra’a (The Night Journey), which was made in the 15th century. The neck had been covered with mosaics decorated with plant images. There are 40 columns, and 4 large external doors, namely David’s door or Isra’fil, the Paradise door, al-Aqsa door and the west door facing Bab al-Qattaneen.
That this Muslim shrine has become the symbol of Jerusalem because of its magnificent golden dome dominating the skyline of Jerusalem is well recognized. Writing in about 985 C.E., Al-Muqaddas?the famous Muslim traveler born in Jerusalem, wrote that
At the dawn, when the light of the sun first strikes on the cupola and the drum catches the rays, then is this edifice a marvelous site to behold and one such that in all Islam I have never seen its equal; neither have I heard tell of aught built in pagan times that could rival in grace this Dome of the Rock.
As cited by Solomon Steckoll, The Temple Mount (Tom Stacey, Ltd., London, 1972), p. 31
Writing of the sublimely beautiful structure with its heavenly dome, the British authority on Muslim architecture, K. A. C. Creswell, exclaimed:
Under a scheme whereby the size of every part is related to every other part in some definite proportion….the building instead of being a collection of odd notes becomes a harmonious chord in stones, a sort of living crystal; and after all it really is not strange that harmonies of this sort should appeal to us through our sight, just as chords in music appeal to our hearing. Some of the ratios involved….are fundamental in time and space, they go right down to the very basis of our nature, and of the physical universe in which we live and move.
As cited by Dome of the Rock, Sacred Sites [Online Document]
From the Muslim point of view, the Dome of the Rock was an answer to Christianity and its doctrines, providing Muslims with arguments to be used against Christian theology. The inscriptions are seven hundred and thirty-four feet long in all, amongst the lengthiest inscriptions in the world. There is a great amount of repetition and many quotations from the Qur’an The following extracts are as follows:
- Inner Face: South Wall. In the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no God but Allah alone; He has no co-partner. He is the Kingship and His the praise. He giveth life and He causeth to die, and He hath power over everything.
South-East Wall. Verily Allah and His angels pronounce blessing upon the Prophet. O ye who have pronounced blessings upon Him and give Him the salutation of peace. O, People of the Book, do not go beyond the bounds in your religion and do not say about Allah anything but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is but a messenger of Allah and His word which He cast upon Mary and a spirit from Him. So believe only in Allah and of His messenger, but do not say “Three” (Trinity) and it will be better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son.
North Wall. The Messiah will not deign to be in the service of Allah nor will the angels who stand in his presence. O Allah; pray upon Thy messenger the servant Jesus – (N-W Wall) the son of Mary and peace be upon him the day of his birth, the day of his death and the day of his being raised alive. That is Jesus, son of Mary – a statement concerning which you are in doubt. It is not for Allah to take for Himself any offspring, glory be to Him.
West Wall. Allah bears witness that there is no God but Him, likewise the angels and the people possessed of knowledge (S-W Wall) – Upholding justice. There is no God but He, the Almighty and All Wise. Verily, the religion in Allah’s sight is Islam.
Outer Face: West and North-West Walls. In the name of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate. There is no God but Allah alone. Praise be to Allah who hath not taken to himself offspring. To Him there has never been any person in the sovereignty. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, may God pray upon him and accept his intercession. Praise be 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.
In the last 1300 years, with only one exception
And only God knows best.