Sing: Near to the Heart of God, UMH 472
Jerusalem’s iconic symbol is the gleaming Dome of the Rock, whose golden-roof has dominated the Temple Mount for centuries. This Islamic holy place stands on a site that is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
To Muslims the Dome covers the sacred rock where Muhammad prayed and went to paradise during his Night Journey. The Dome of the Rock was the first major sanctuary built by Islam. Although it is sometimes erroneously called a mosque it is actually not a mosque but an adjunct to the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque. It was commissioned by Caliph Abd al-Malik and completed in 691 AD. Its rich ornamentation was the work of Syrian Christian artists.
The roof is covered with gold-plated anodized aluminum. During our visit there was a worker with a ladder doing something around the bottom of the dome. Inside, the sacred rock is protected by a 12th-century cedar wood screen. Crosses on some of the columns show that they were taken from churches. A high reliquary beside the rock is believed to contain a hair of Muhammad’s beard. On the southern side of the rock, steps lead down to an ancient cave, known as the Well of Souls, to which many Jewish and Islamic legends are attached. The Crusaders used the cave as a confessional.
By building the Dome of the Rock, Caliph Abd al-Malik symbolized the transformation of Jerusalem – once a Jewish city, then a Christian city – into a Muslim city. Today, of course, the city is both culturally and religiously diverse.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, originally constructed about twenty years after the nearby Dome of the Rock, early in the 8th century, is Jerusalem’s largest mosque. Its spacious interior, divided by columns into seven aisles, allows room for more than 4,000 Muslim men to stand or prostrate themselves on the carpeted floor during worship. The name Al-Aqsa translates to “the farthest” mosque, a description relating to Muhammad’s Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back on the winged horse Barak.
The mosque has been reconstructed many times for various reasons. It is particularly susceptible to earthquake damage due to the fact that it is built on fill material and is not anchored in bedrock as is the Dome of the Rock.
As we entered the Temple Mount platform we could hear two women calling loudly, “Allahu-akbar!” which means, “God is great!” It took us a bit to see exactly who was hollering because they were standing near one of the pillars at the front of the mosque. The women are not allowed in the main mosque but there is a large women’s mosque next door. We were told that we would not be allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque so we did not approach the doors.