The Dome of the Rock

Exterior of the Dome of the Rock
Exterior of the Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock (Qubbatus Saqqara) is often mistakenly referred to as the al-Aqsa mosque but is actually part of Masjid al-Aqsa. This structure was built by Caliph Abd al-Malik from 685 to 692 CE and houses the sacred rock from which it is said the Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ) ascended to heaven (Mi’raj) after the night journey to Jerusalem (Isra’).

  • The octagon shaped building was the cutting edge of design at the time, built on a marble base with the remainder being made out of wood rather than stone. The two planners were Raja ibn Haywah, a Muslim scholar and Yazid ibn Salam, a non-Arab Muslim native of Jerusalem.
  • Four of the eight sides have doors and there are seven windows on each side. The dome itself is 25 meters high and covered with gold. The interior is decorated with mosaic, marble and verses from the Quran. The architecture is regarded as a masterpiece due to the mathematical rhythm of its proportions. For example, each of the outer walls is 67 feet long, which is exactly the same as the dome’s diameter and which is also the height from the base to the drum.
Aerial view of the Dome of the Rock
Aerial view of the Dome of the Rock – Photo: Getty Images
  • When the Crusaders took over Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock mosque was re-named Templum Domini and had a cross placed on top of the golden dome. The rock inside was covered to make an altar and the Quranic inscriptions were covered with Latin texts. The Qibly mosque was re-named Templum Solomonis. This kingdom was to last 87 years, during which time neither Jew nor Muslim was allowed to dwell within the walls of the city.
Close up detail of the Dome of the Rock
Close up detail of the Dome of the Rock – Photo: benedikternstmg (Instagram)
  • Ali Ibn al-Athir (رحمه الله) writes in his book Kamil at-Tawarikh (The Perfect History) of the scene when the Muslims recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders: “…At the top of the cupola of the Dome of the Rock there was a great gilded cross. When the Muslims entered the city on the Friday, some of them climbed the top of the cupola to take down the cross……a great cry went up from the city and from outside the walls, the Muslims crying ‘Allahu-akbar’ in their joy, the Franks groaning in consternation and grief. So loud and piercing was the cry that the earth shook. …Salahuddin ordered that the shrines should be restored to their original state. The Templars had built their living quarters against al-Aqsa, with storerooms and latrines…This was all restored to its former state. The Sultan ordered that the Dome of the Rock should be cleansed of all pollution, and this was done…”.
Interior of the Dome of the Rock
Interior of the Dome of the Rock – Photo:Y.Isap
  • When the Dome of the Rock was first built the outside was covered in mosaics. The beautiful external tile work which can be seen today was commissioned by Sulayman II Qanuni (the Lawgiver), known throughout Europe as Sulayman the Magnificent. With the incomparable skills of Persian master ceramicists, 40,000 tiles were fired and put into place. The inscription surrounding the top is Surah Yasin, regarded as the heart of the Quran. This was commissioned by Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
  • Inside the Dome, the major Quranic inscription over the arches of the inner arcade is addressed to the “Followers of the Gospel”, i.e. Christians, denying the shocking notion that God had sired a son. It warns them against inaccurate and dangerous statements about God (in Surah An-Nisa):“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His transcendent majesty that he should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender.” [4:171]
Cross section of the Dome of the Rock
Cross section of the Dome of the Rock
  • When the Dome of the Rock was originally built, there was a surplus of 100,000 gold dinars left from the budget. Caliph Abd al-Malik decided to have these dinars melted down and turned into plates to cover the dome. Almost 400 years later, the dome was severely damaged by an earthquake and the plates were replaced by blackened lead. From 1955 major restoration work, lead by King Hussein of Jordan, was carried out during which the dome was covered with a durable aluminium bronze alloy. In 1994 King Hussein donated the money to have it replaced with the gold plated metal we see today.
  • The dome is topped by a full moon decoration which is aligned so that if you could look through it, you would be looking straight towards Makkah.
  • Jews and Christians believe this is the place where the Prophet Ebrahim (عليه السلام) was prepared to sacrifice his son Ishaq (عليه السلام) after seeing a dream indicating for him to do so. This is a fundamental difference to the Muslim belief that it was actually his elder son Ismail (عليه السلام) who he was prepared to sacrifice and that this happened in Mina, Saudi Arabia. 
  • Orthodox Jews believe the Dome of the Rock to be the centre of the world.

References:  Palestine: Beginner’s guide – Ismail Adam Patel, Al-Quds – Mohammed Abdul Hameed Al-Khateeb, The Crusades – Christine Hatt, HUMA’S travel guide to Palestine.

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