MOOMTAZ EMRITH

Windsor, ON, Canada The Dome of the Rock, known in Arabic as Qubbat hal-Sakhrah and, in Hebrew, as Kippat ha Sela) is a celebrated Muslim shrine, located in the old City of Jerusalem in Haram al-Shareef (Sacred Land), also known as Temple Mount. It is the oldest existing shrine or monument in Islam. It was built in the seventh century A.D. – that is just some fifty years after the conquest of Jerusalem by the second Caliph of Islam, Omar ibn Khattab (R.A.) in 637 A.D. The Dome is located not far from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered by Muslims as the third holiest mosque in Islam after the Grand Mosque at Ka’aba, in Mecca; and the Nabawi Mosque in Medina. The “Rock” around which the Dome is built, is regarded as ‘sacred’ by both Muslims and Jews.

A view of the famous shrine “Dome of the Rock” with its gilded Dome that dominates the view of the Temple Mount (Al-Quds). It is a piece of living history of the three Semitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) made his “Night Journey” from Mecca to Jerusalem (Isra) and then set foot on the Rock to mount the celestial mare Al-Buraq that took him to Heaven (Mehraj) to ‘meet’ with Allah (God) Who handed him the final injunctions that would regulate the practice of the ‘new’ faith of Islam by its followers and which would form the corner stone of the moral and religious life of Muslims who, to-day, number 1.8 billion adherents in the world. The Jewish tradition, for its part, professes that the Rock below the Dome was the foundation stone and the spot from where the world expanded and that God gathered the dust from that spot to create the first human: Adam. The Dome of the Rock is NOT a mosque. It is a shrine sacred to both Muslims and Jews. It was built in the late seventh century by the Umayyad Caliph, Abd el-Malik ibn-Marwan. However, the original Dome of the Rock was destroyed in an earthquake in 1015 A.D. but was rebuilt in the years 1022-23. A.D. “The Dome of the Rock”, as one critic puts it, “is, in its core, one of the oldest existing works of Islamic architecture” and is “an alluring example of the emerging of a distinct Islamic style in architecture.”

Islam is a universal faith meant for all humanity. Its message transcends geographical boundaries; embraces all cultures and ethnicities. Islam, as the world knows, began in the middle of the sixth century in Mecca, Arabia (to-day Saudi Arabia). Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) received the first divine revelation, which will form part of the Holy Book of Islam – the Quran — in the cave of Mount Hira, which is located not far from Mecca. In fact Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) used to retire regularly to the cave to meditate, to reflect … when, one day, while involved in his meditations, the Arch-Angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded him: — “Read!” And Muhammed, who was illiterate, was startled and confused because he could not read. The Angel insisted. Finally, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), despite himself, mumbled: –“What shall I read?” And Angel Gabriel said: –“Read in the name of the One Who created …” That verse would be the first revealed to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), following which, Arch-Angel Gabriel advised him that that he had been chosen by Al-Mighty Allah (God) as His Prophet and Messenger. And that was the beginning of a new chapter in the religious history of humankind. The shape of the Dome is octagonal and was inspired, undoubtedly, from Byzantine architectural influences and it would not be long before it would itself become the inspiration behind many future churches and mosques — each an architectural marvel in its own right. Indeed, by its unique shape and form, the Dome of the Rock would be hailed as an architectural masterpiece. The gilded Dome’s structure is comprised of a wooden dome mounted on an elevated drum-shaped structure supported by sixteen piers and columns comprising the octagonal arcade of some two dozen piers. In the year 808 A.D., the building was seriously damaged in an earthquake and, again in 1015. But it would be rebuilt by the Abbasids and Fatemids Caliphs during the years 1022-23. However, in 1015, another severe earthquake had literally demolished the edifice but, as in the past, it was rebuilt and restored completely within a year to its original form. In 1099, the Crusades, launched by Pope Urban II, captured Jerusalem and the shrine was taken over by the Augustinians, who turned it into a Church and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also located on the Temple Mount, was converted into a Royal Palace. The Knights Templar, an active contingent in the army of the Crusades since 1119, claimed that the Dome of the Rock stood on the site of the Temple of Solomon, which was held as sacred by the Jews and which had long been destroyed by the Romans.

Hence the spiritual significance of the City of Jerusalem – more particularly of Al-Quds — to the followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam… On October 02, 1187, the great Islamic leader, Salah ud-Din (Saladin), defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin and retook Jerusalem for the Muslims. He had the Dome re-consecrated as a Muslim shrine. The cross atop the Dome was replaced by the crescent. Al-Malik al-Muazzam Isa, who was Salah ud-Din’s nephew, supervised the restoration works inside the shrine and later also added a porch to the Al-Aqsa Mosque nearby. The Dome of the Rock slowly gained fame as a religious Islamic shrine and hailed as a monumental jewel of Islamic architecture. Palestine and the City of Jerusalem fell under Ottoman rule and would remain so till 1918. The great Ottoman Sultan, Suleyman, the Magnificent, opted to retile the exterior of the Dome with multi-coloured tiles, which would give the Dome its special cachet as we know it to-day. The work took seven years to complete. As regards its interior, it was redecorated down the years by lavish well-wishers that comprised Sultans and Emirs, with mosaic, faience and marble. Also, the Dome, inside and outside, is decorated with Qura’nic inscriptions. One particular inscription is Sura Ya Seen (The heart of the Qur’an) inscribed across the top of the tile works, was commissioned by other than the great Ottoman Sultan Suleyman, the Magnificent himself. Above Sura Ya seen, is inscribed Sura al-Isra, which recounts the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then his ascent to Heaven.

Not too far from the Dome, in 1620, the Ottomans also built the free-standing Dome of the Prophet and, during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II, other major renovation works were undertaken. In the years 1874-75, a major restoration project was undertaken by Sultan Abdulaziz when all the tiles in the west and southwest walls of the octagonal part of the shrine, were removed and replaced by exact replicas made in Turkey. The Dome of the Rock till to-day remains an iconic structure in the Islamic world and ranks among the fascinating architectural structures in the world and is, sure, a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Come to think of it, in its own right, the Dome has nothing to compare to it. A shrine, a monument … revered by the followers of the three major religions in the world.

It is an edifice that has been witness to a lot of history over the centuries and still remains an iconic memorial to a mystical event that marked the life Muhammad (pbuh), the last Prophet and Messenger of God. The Dome of the Rock, like the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, is another marvelous architectural gift of the Muslims to world architecture.