Sunday, January 20, 2013

Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount).

Dome of the Rock in the background, Dome of the Chain in the foreground.
Two of the most prominent structures on Temple Mount.
 (Image from historvius.com)


Temple Mount as it is known to the Jews; Haram al-Sharif as it is called by Muslims or Noble Sanctuary as some people refer to it as occupies an area of about thirty-five acres in the southwest corner in the old City of Jerusalem.  Contained within Temple Mount are fountains, gardens, buildings and domes. At its southernmost end is al-Aqsa Mosque and at its center, 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.


Undeniably, it is the most contested piece of real estate on earth and the tussle goes back centuries.
 
 David K. Shipler, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, wrote the following:

"Mount Moriah, or Temple Mount to the Jews, and Haram al-Sharif to the Muslims, is a flat, raised area of about 175,000 square yards just inside, and bordered by, the eastern wall of the Old City, facing Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. There, Abraham is believed to have been prepared to carry out God's order to sacrifice his son Isaac. There in 960 B.C. King Solomon completed the first Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The Second Temple was built on the plateau in 520 B.C.

It is a place of sacred conjunction for both Islam and Judaism: The vein of bedrock that breaks into the open there, that stone from which Muslims believe Muhammad rose on his horse to heaven, may also be the Even Shetiyab, the rock around which the earth was created, according to ancient Jewish lore, and which was probably enclosed inside the holiest part of the temple. Today the western wall of the mount is a focus of Jewish worship, but only out of frustration, for the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, as it is also known, is nothing more than a massive retaining wall holding up the tons of earth and stone that form the plateau."
 
According to Jewish tradition, it is here the Third and final Temple will also be built. The location is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the place that Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood. It was from the Holy of Holies that the High Priest communicated directly with God.

Among Sunni Muslims, Haram al-Sharif is widely considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary (Bait-ul-Muqaddas) and the location of Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets who are also venerated in Islam.

Aerial view of Temple Mount (Image from procon.org)

There are three main structures of note on Haram al-Sharif.

The Dome of the Rock is actually a structure that covers a rock....a very big rock. 

According to Islamic history, ten years after the Prophet Mohammad received his first revelation, he made a miraculous night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and to the Seven Heavens on a white flying horse called Al-Buraq El-Sharif. While in Jerusalem, the Prophet stopped to pray at the rock (the one now covered by the golden dome), and was given the commandment to pray five times a day.

After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, in 637 AD the Umayyad caliph, Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, commenced work on the Dome of the Rock. The structure has remain unchanged for more than 1300 years and for me, it is an iconic symbol of Jerusalem.  The moment I see that gold dome in a photo, I know exactly what it is.

The golden dome itself stretches 20 meters (66 feet) across what is now known as the Noble Rock, rising to an apex more than 35 meters (115 feet) above it. The Qur'anic verse 'Ya Sin' is inscribed across the top in the dazzling tile work commissioned in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent.

I've seen plenty of images of the interior space of the Dome of the Rock, showing the rock face but it's not clear from the research that I've done so far that the dome is currently open to non-Muslims.  I think that it was at one point in time but that restrictions might currently be in place prohibiting entry but I will have to see.  Fingers crossed because the interior looks stunning and I would love to see it with my own eyes.

Dome of the Chain
is a free-standing dome located adjacent to the Dome of the Rock.  It's a beautiful structure that is located in the geographic center of Haram al-Sharif and because of this, some historians believe that the structure existed prior to Islamic rule in Jerusalem.  However, it seems to be commonly believed that the dome was
probably built in 691 AD by the   Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, the Umayyad caliph who also built the Dome of the Rock.

In Judaism, the Dome of the Chain owes its name to an ancient legend during King Solomon's rule.  Tradition has it that  it is the site where King David hung a chain that could not be grasped or touched by anyone deceitful, unjust or wicked and where his son King Solomon administered justice. Over its lifetime the dome has been a Christian chapel to St. James during the Crusades, an Islamic prayer house for the Ayyubids and it has been by the Mamluks and Ottomans.  The last major renovation was undertaken by the Islamic waqf of Jerusalem in 1975.

The building in Islamic tradition is similar - it is the spot where Judgment Day will occur in the *end of days* and where a chain will stop the sinful and let the just pass through.

Al-Masjid El-Aqsa is an Arabic name which means the *Farthest Mosque*. To understand its significance to Muslims, we have to go back to the days of the Prophet Mohammed.

Today, Muslims throughout the World use Mecca as the direction of prayers (Qibla). However, for 16½ months following the Prophet Mohammad's miraculous journey, Jerusalem was the Qibla. The Prophet Mohammed also instructed Muslims to visit not only the mosque where they lived in Mecca, but also the *Farthest Mosque* from them which lay 2,000 kilometers north, in Jerusalem. Hence the name Al-Masjid El-Aqsa, or Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is the second oldest mosque in Islam after the Ka'ba in Mecca, and is third in holiness and importance after the mosques in Mecca and Medina.  It was built by the Umayyad caliph, the son of Al-Walid Abdul Malik ibn Marwan who built Dome of the Rock.  The rectangular shaped mosque has a central nave and six aisles.  The interior space is about 3500 square meters and holds up to 5000 Muslims at prayer at one time. The Qibla facing south towards Mecca and the Rock within the Dome of the Rock are on the same central line.

The outer dome was covered with lead in 1985 replacing the aluminum dome of 1964 in order to restore it to its original cover.  The inner dome, decorated with stucco work, dates back to the 13th century

For non-Muslims, Haram al-Sharif is open during fixed times on weekday mornings and afternoons on payment of an entrance fees. The Mosque is closed to Non-Muslims on Fridays throughout the year and all Muslim holidays. I'll need to find out what the times are before I leave for Israel so I can plan accordingly.