The Dome of the Rock -
M a s j i d a l - S a k h r a h
At the heart of Jerusalem is the Noble Sanctuary, Al-Haram al-Sharif, enclosing over 35 acres of fountains, gardens, buildings and domes. At its southernmost end is Al-Aqsa Mosque and at its centre the celebrated Dome of the Rock.
The entire area is regarded as a mosque and comprises nearly one sixth of the walled city of Jerusalem. The Noble Sanctuary is one of the three most important sites in Islam, and a showcase for Islamic architecture and design from Umayyad to Ottoman times that continues as an important religious and educational centre for Muslims to the present day.
According to the authenticated tradition of the Prophet, travel for the sake of worship is undertaken to only three mosques; the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, and the Furthest Mosque in Jerusalem - Bait al-Maqqdis.
The plan of the Haram al-Sharif is roughly that of a rectangular, whose major axis runs from noth to south. It is approximately 145,000 square metres in size.
The two principle buildings within the Haram al-Sharif are the Dome of the Rock (masjid al-Sakharah), on a raised platform in the middle, and the Masjid al-Aqsa, against the south wall. There are other smaller buildings dotted around in the noble sancuary, such as the masjid al-Umar, which was build by Umar ibn al-Khattab in the year 637 A.D., coming at a time when Jerusalem was in ruins and desolation.
With the reign of 'Abdul Malik ibn Marwan (685-705 A.D.), the Ummayyad Caliph, work commenced on the Dome of the Rock, or Qubbat as-Sakhrah as it is called in Arabic.
Built between 685 and 691 C.E., over a period of seven years, this shrine is the first piece of Islamic architecture sponsored by a Muslim ruler that was created as a work of art.
Jerusalem, was a holy city, both to Muslims and non-Muslims; such as Jews and Chrstians, and to the Caliph, its glorification may have seemed an obvious duty.
The Caliph collected large sums of money amounting (say Arab historians) to "seven times the revenue of Egypt"; and with that, a magnificent building was created.
But in subsequent years, the building suffered much from earthquake shocks, and underwent various restorations. In the year 407 A.H. (1016 A.D.), an earth quake shock caused the Dome to collapse, and it was re-erected, six years later, by the Caliph Hakim.
There is an often quoted statement of Muslim historian al-Muqaddasî on the reason for the building of Dome of the Rock. Al-Muqaddasî asked his uncle why al-Walîd spent spent so much money on the building of the mosques in Damascus. The uncle answered:
O my little son, thou has no 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 are beautiful churches still belonging to them, so enchantingly fair, and so renowned for their spendour, 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 should be unique and a wonder to the world. And in like manner is it not evident that Caliph Abd al-Malik, seeing the greatness of the martyrium of the Holy Sepulchre and its magnificence was moved lest it should dazzle the minds of Muslims and hence erected above the Rock the Dome which is now seen there.
The capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders begins a new chapter in the history of the Haram al-Sharif. In 1099, Haram area was occupied by the Crusaders and the monuments there turned to different uses. The Dome of the Rock was turned into a church, with a golden cross placed at the top of the dome, and the Masjid al-Aqsa transformed into a royal residency, renamed Templum Solomon (or the Temple of Solomon).
The Dome of the Rock was renamed Templum Dominai (or the Temple of the Lord), from which the Knights Templar whose Order was formed there takes its name. Qur'anic inscriptions over the dome of the Rock were plastered over, steps were carved into the rock itself and an altar erected on top of it.
On the 2nd October 1187, on the 27th Rajab, the day Muslims celebrate the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam)'s night journey, Salahuddin al-Ayyubi captured Jerusalem after a 12 day seige. One of his first acts was to put back the buildings to their former uses as places of Muslim worship. At the same time, he carried out important embellishments.
He caused the walls of the Dome of the Rock to be covered with marble, and set up the beautiful inscription which may still be seen above the open gallery of the cupola. He also restored the stucco incrustation of the inner dome.
Over the centuries that followed, various repairs and additions were made; but the most important restoration was that which was carried out, after the Turkish conquest.
In the righ on Sulaiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), this Sultan, whose works are still to be found all over the city of Jerusalem, carried out a wholesale renovation of the Dome of the Rock.
A large part of the decoration in glazed tiles upon the exterior of the shrine and most of the windows were added during his reign.
If one were to select some buildings to represent Islamic architecture the Dome of the Rock would certainly be among them.
It was built over as-Sakhra (the rock), the spot where the prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) ended his Night Journey to Jerusalem and ascended to Paradise.
Essentially unchanged for more than thirteen centuries, the Dome of the Rock remains one of the world's most beautiful and enduring architectural treasures.
The mosque is octagonal in shape, having 8 sides. Each side has a door and 7 windows, with rock crystal carving.
The gold dome above stretches 20 metres across the Noble Rock, rising to an apex more than 35 metres above it.
Directly beneath the lofty dome and surrounded by the highly ornate inner circular and outer octagonal arcades.
The cupola (dome) has been covered with gold ever since it was built, due to the piety of the master-builders, Rija ibn Haya and Yazid ibn Salim, who spent upon this luminous covering all that remained of the wealth that had been entrusted to them for the purpose of erecting the monument.
At the outset, before the successive restorations over the centuries, the curve of the dome (cupola) was slightly horseshoe-shaped, something that must have accentuated its apparent upward movement, recalling the Miraj (night journey and ascention) of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) into the heavenly spheres.
This dome is set upon a drum, which, in turn, rests upon the basic octagon that represents the earth, like a perfect crystal. The original facing consisted of glass mosaics, magnifying the beauty of the earth created by God, but the porcelain of the present-day dome, with its dominant blues, growing denser and darker as it descends from the drum to ground level, doubtless recalls the transition, almost dematerialized and transparent, from the crown in the sky formed by the drum to the walls of the basic octagon. The delicate lacework of the azure tiles in the gilded areas becomes less and less frequent as one descends from the drum to the ground, though the golden light of heaven and of the cupola which is its messenger never ceases to filter downwards. Even the flagstone of veined Marble that make up the lowermost foundation seem to shimmer with the last rays of this celestial light. It is another world of forms, wherein everything descends from above, like the Revelation itself. It is said in the Mirhajnamah of Mir Haydar that when the Prophet Muhammad arrived in the Seventh Heaven, he saw a celestial vault in the colors of light. That is what the roof of the Dome of the Rock endeavors to evoke with its foliated scrolls, interlacements, arabesques, and mosaics of purple and gold, enhanced by the black band with its cursive letters, inscribed in gold, recalling the Message.
Below are sixteen stained-glass windows through which God's light enters. This iridescent light descends towards man, its reliefs and shadows filtering through the arches, pillars, and columns that articulate the space, outlining the arabesques that intertwine men and their universe, drawing them into the Wake of God, who is always living, always creating. It is said in the Qur'an that men of faith will know paradise as their eternal home. The atmosphere of beauty that prevails in a place like the Dome of the Rock is like a distant announcement of that destiny. Qur'anic verses from surah 'Ya Sin' is inscribed across the top in the dazzling tile mosaic work commissioned in the 16th century by Sulaiman the Magnificent.
'Ya Sin. 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.'
It is an eight sided building topped with a dome covered with gold sheathing. The Noble Rock, on which the miraj (ascention) of Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) took place, (surah 17: 1) is the focus of the interior of the Dome of the Rock, situated directly beneath the lofty dome and surrounded by the highly ornate inner circular and outer octagonal arcades.
The mosque also has a defined frontal orientation and is often arranged around or in relation to a courtyard.
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