Muslim Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock

The third most sacred city in Islam is Jerusalem, which was the original qibla (direction of prayer) before it was changed to Mecca. Jerusalem is revered because, in Muslim tradition, Muhammad miraculously traveled to Jerusalem by night and ascended from there into heaven. The two most important Muslim sites in Jerusalem are the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The most notable Muslim site in Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhrah), which, like the Ka'ba, is built over a sacred stone. This stone is holy to Jews as well, who believe it to be the site at which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac (Muslims place this event in Mecca). A prominent figure on the Jerusalem skyline, the shining Dome of the Rock was built from 685 to 691 CE as a shrine for pilgrims. {1} Its base is octagonal in shape and its outer walls are 60 feet high.

The wooden dome that rests upon columns within the building is approximately 60 feet in diameter. Both the outer walls and the dome have many windows. Much of the mosaic, faience (tin-glazed earthenware), and marble that gives it its sparkle was added centuries after it was built.

In the Middle Ages, Christians and Muslims both believed the dome to be the biblical Temple of Solomon. The Knights Templars made their headquarters there during the Crusades, and later patterned their churches after its design. {2}

The Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic Masjid Al-Aqsa, "farthest mosque") is part of the complex of religious buildings in Jerusalem known as either the Majed Mount or Al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews.

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Muslim tradition states that Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Mount in 621, making the mosque the third most holy shrine in Islam (see Isra and Miraj.)

After the Dome of the Rock (690) the first wooden Al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed by the Umayyads, completed in 710. The structure has been rebuilt at least five times; it was entirely destroyed at least once by earthquakes. The last major rebuild was in 1035.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the largest mosque in Jerusalem; about 5,000 people can worship in and around the mosque. It shows a mixture of styles including Crusader work from when the Crusaders held Jerusalem, during which the mosque was used as a palace and called the Temple of Solomon, in the belief that the mosque was built on the site of the original temple. Al-Aqsa has been at times the target of attacks by Jewish extremists, but most attempts were averted by Israel's security services.

Since part of the mosque's extended surrounding wall is the Western Wall venerated by Jews, this relatively tiny spot in Jerusalem can become the source of friction. There have been times when enraged Muslims worshiping at the mosque have hurled rocks downward at the Jews praying below at the Western Wall. A group of Jews known as the Temple Mount Faithful actually have plans to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple in that area.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades is named after the mosque, probably in memory of Ariel Sharon's controversial visit to the Temple Mount at the beginning of the Second Intifada (also known as the al-Aqsa Intifada). {3}

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