The ‘Dome of the Rock’ (Qubbat As-Sakhrah in Arabic), is one of the most important sites of Islam. This example of Islamic monumental architecture is often thought of as a mosque. In fact, was meant to be a commemorative shrine.
Caliph Abd al-Malik of the Umayyad Dynasty, does not record the reasons why he built the Dome. It is easy to speculate though why a 7th Century Muslim would have held the place in such high regard:
Islamic tradition held that this was the site where Adam fell both literally and figuratively from heaven after the Fall
This was the location where Abraham was tested by God to sacrifice his son. Note that Islam views this event differently than does the Scripture. The Qur’an never clarifies whether the son that Abraham was ordered to sacrifice was Isaac (the ancestor of the Jews) or Ishmael (ancestor of the Arabs). Traditions exist within Islam for both. Also, in some Muslim readings, Abraham actually did sacrifice his son, who was then resurrected by God. Today, Muslims place the sacrifice much nearer to Mecca.
This was the location of both the First and Second Temples in Judaism.
Jerusalem was the center of the first ‘qibla’, or direction of prayer, before it was changed to Mecca.
Perhaps a more expedient motivation for the construction project would have been political (and for that matter, financial) in nature. Abd al-Malik’s capital was in Damascus. During this time, he was at war with another Arab dynasty, which was in the midst of seizing control of Mecca and the Ka’ba (which houses the Black Stone). Establishing Jerusalem as an important religious center would have been particularly important for attracting pilgrims.
Additionally, building such a structure would have been an effort of conveying at least in his mind, the superiority of Islam over Christianity. To make the most noticeable structure within Jerusalem decidedly Islamic, something more impressive than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher had to be made. Ironically, the classic Byzantine octagonal architecture was utilized as a prototype.
The Dome of the Rock has a 60-foot high vaulted dome (slightly higher than the dome of the Byzantine Holy Sepulcher). It is currently covered on the outside with gold leaf, a gift of the Jordanian government, but was probably originally faced with polished glass or some kind of mosaic work intended to draw the eye upward and away from its Christian counterpart.
The Dome of the Rock is inscribed within with Classic Arab writing that seeks to assault the Person and Work of Christ. Many of these were added around the time of Saladin. One such quote is provided here:
“O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed unto 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.“
705AD – Malik’s son, Abd El-Wahd, transforms the mosque that previously had been the Byzantine ‘Church of St. Mary’ into the Al-Aqsa Mosque (from 705 to 715). He left the structure as it was, namely a basilica with a row of pillars on either side of the rectangular center. All he added was an onion-like dome on top of the building to make it look like a mosque. He then named it “El-Aqsa”, so it would sound like the mosque mentioned in the Qur’an.
Did You Know?
In the Qur’an, there is no mention of Jerusalem. Perhaps as far the 10th Century, many Islamic scholars believed that the correct interpretation of “Mohammed’s Night Journey” to “the furthest mosque” had no connection to Jerusalem.
With the building of the Dome of the Rock by Abd al-Malik, a new tradition begins to evolve though that the Mosque of Omar was actually the “furthest mosque” or literally, “that distant place of worship” – i.e., “Masgad el Aqsa”. The Mosque of Omar (what had been the Byzantine Church of St. Mary) was now modified and the octagonal structure became the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Furthermore, the Moslem tradition continued, when Mohammed ascended to heaven after this night flight he left his footprint on the stone, which was housed under the Dome of the Rock.
The Al-Aqsa mosque is as unique a structure as you will find on earth when you consider that it is a Muslim Mosque built out of a Byzantine Church that is set on a Roman Pagan Temple Foundation, which is laid on top of the ruins of not one – but two Jewish Temple platforms.
1099AD – The Crusaders retake Jerusalem from the Mohammedans. They mistakenly believed that the Dome of the Rock was actually the First Temple, or that of Solomon’s. The Dome of the Rock was renamed ‘Templum Domini’ or the ‘Temple of our Lord’. They also believed that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was Solomon’s palace. This explains why these structures weren’t destroyed. The Al-Aqsa Mosque was turned into the Headquarters for the Knights Templar.
1187AD – The Mohammedan ruler Saladin then vanquished the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187 and again returned the Temple Mount to Islam.
1967AD – Israel recaptures the entire City of Jerusalem and with it, the Temple Mount. From 1187 until 1967 the Temple Mount was managed by Mohammedan control. When a massive invasion of Israel occurred in 1967 by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the Arabs decisively lost and Israel regained much of the land of their heritage from the invading nations. Most importantly, Israel united the City of David – Jerusalem – under Israeli sovereignty that includes the Temple Mount.
Within the Temple Mount is found a huge underground mosque called the ‘Al Marwani’.
The southeastern corner of the bedrock falls steeply away from the level of the rest of the Temple Mount plateau. To level this off, during the time of Herod a series of rooms were built in order to lift the corner of the Temple Mount above the bedrock. These are referred to as ‘Solomon’s Stables’, a name erroneously given to them during the times of the Crusades. Today, the remains are more than 30 feet below the courtyard area and consist of twelve rows of pillars and arches.
Islamic tradition gives credit to a caliph by the name of Al Marwani back in the 8th Century as having transformed this area into a series of usable rooms intended to serve as a mosque. It wasn’t until 1996, that the empty area was converted into a mosque capable of housing 10,000 people.
During Muslim festivals and holy days, as many as 200,000 adherents to Islam can fit on top of the Temple Mount, including the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa and Al Marwani. In fact, the entire area of the Temple Platform is really viewed as being a mosque.
Over the past few decades, serious consideration has been given to a site 330 feet to the north of the Dome of the Rock.
The Mt. Moriah bedrock sticks out and reaches a high point within the Dome of Rock. When going to the south of the Dome of the Rock, the bedrock drops sharply in elevation. When going to the north however, the bedrock drops only a few feet and stays relatively level. 330 feet away another outcropping occurs under a under a small Islamic shrine known as the ‘Dome of the Tablets’ or what is called by the Arabs as the ‘Dome of the Spirits’. There seems to be some association with these monikers and the ancient Jewish Temple.
Interestingly enough, this structure lines up perfectly with the Eastern Gate and is conjectured by some to be the location of the Holy of Holies as found within the Temple. It’s the Holy of Holies that would have housed the Shekinah Glory of God that would have resided above the Ark of the Covenant.