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The Rock Inside the Aqsa Mosque – What’s it All About?

The Rock Inside the Aqsa Mosque – What’s it All About?
In no way can the Rock be more important and as such more revered than the other parts of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Dome of the Rock (Qubbah al-Sakhrah) in Jerusalem built, as commonly perceived,[1] between 65 H/684 CA and 72 H/691 CA within the precincts of the original al-Aqsa Mosque (al-Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary)[2] is one of the earliest existing monuments of Islamic art and architecture. Its significance lies in its religious, civilizational, geographical and historical contexts.

The Dome of the Rock is located on an artificial platform, approximately in the center of the al-Haram al-Sharif or the original al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Creswell, it is “an annular building and consists in its ultimate analysis of a wooden dome 20.44 m. in diameter, set on a high drum, pierced with sixteen windows and resting on four piers and twelve columns, placed in a circle just large enough to surround the Rock, and so arranged that three columns alternate with each pier.

A central cylinder is thus formed, of height about equal to its diameter. This circle of supports is placed in the center of a large octagon averaging about 20.59 m. a side, formed by eight walls 9.50 in height (excluding the parapet, which measures 2.60 m.).

Externally there are seven bays in each side, but those next the corners – that is to say the bay at each end of each side, or sixteen in all – are treated as blind panels. The remainder are each pierced in their upper part by a window.”[3]

The Rock (Sakhrah), which the domed edifice (the Dome of the Rock) shelters, is the highest point in the al-Haram or the Al-Aqsa Noble Sanctuary.

It is a bluish rock.[4] It stands about one and a half meters above the floor – or about the height of an average man[5] – at its highest part and is approximately eighteen by thirteen meters in area. Beneath it is a cave about four and a half meters square, in the roof of which there is a hole about a meter in diameter.[6]

Much extraordinary reverence is attached to the Rock, which, nevertheless, is rooted in little or no truth. In the main, such reverence is based on copious groundless legends and myths that are either work of some Muslims who have been contriving and propagating them in different ages, under different circumstances and for different purposes, or are no more than the re-creation or even re-telling of the same as found in the Jewish tradition.

Indeed, the Rock bears no special importance in Islam. It is significant inasmuch as it constitutes a part of the original Al-Aqsa Mosque or Noble Sanctuary, the second mosque on earth established forty years after the construction of the Ka’bah or Al-Masjid al-Haram.[7]

In no way can the Rock be more important and as such more revered than the other parts of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

By the same token, everything that the Holy Quran and the Prophet (peace be upon him) have said about Al-Aqsa Mosque applied as much to the Rock as to the rest of the sections of the Mosque.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, with all its elements including the Rock, was the first qiblah (the direction to which the Muslims turned in prayer for about one year and a few months following the migration (Hijrah) to Madinah).

It was a place where the Prophet was taken {for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram) to the Farthest (al-Aqsa) Mosque whose precincts We did bless, – in order that We might show him some of Our signs…} (Quran 17:1), and thence, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ascended to the sky for his al-Mi’raj Journey.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the only three mosques to which journey ought to be undertaken, the other two being the al-Masjid al-Haram and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.[8]

And finally, Al-Aqsa Mosque is a mosque where a prayer is worth five hundred prayers performed in ordinary mosques, as narrated by al-Bazzar (in the al-Masjid al-Haram a prayer is worth one hundred thousand prayers, while a prayer in the Prophet’s Mosque is worth one thousand prayers performed in ordinary mosques[9]).

The only thing in the Islamic authentic tradition that could be loosely linked with the Rock is the moment when the Prophet arrived at Al-Aqsa Mosque during his Night Journey (Al-Isra’) from the al-Masjid al-Haram.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was riding a beast called Al-Buraq. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) arrived and disembarked in Al-Aqsa Mosque, the angel Jibril (Gabriel), who accompanied the Prophet (peace be upon him) all the way through, tied Al-Buraq to the stone, having punctured it beforehand with one of his fingers.[10]

However, two concerns could be raised as to the content of this account.

Firstly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used the word al-hajar (stone or rock) therein, rather than al-sakhrah, and the latter was always the matter of the regular reference to the Rock.

Thus, it stands to reason that Al-Buraq could have been tied to any of many existing rocks and stones in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque.

 

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[1] A number of controversies surround the date of building the Dome of the Rock. The commonly articulated view is that in 65 H/684 CA the work commenced and in 72 H/691 CA it was completed. However, there are views asserting that the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik b. Marwan could not embark on building such an extraordinary and pricey edifice before crushing the insurgence of Abdullah b. al-Zubayr in Hijaz. In this case, building the Dome of the Rock could only start either in 72 H/691 CA or 73 H/692 CA. (See: Blair Sheila S., “What is the Date of the Dome of the Rock?”, in: Bayt al-Maqdis, Abd al-Malik’s Jerusalem, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 59-85)

[2] By the al-Aqsa Mosque we here mean the whole area of the Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif, accounting for the second mosque on earth instituted 40 years after the Ka’bah. The present-day al-Aqsa Mosque covers only a section of the Sanctuary.

[3] Creswell K.A.C., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1989), p. 20.

[4] Khosraw Naser, Book of Travels, translated from Persian by W. M. Thackston, Jr., (Albany: Bibliotheca Persica, 1986), p. 32.

[5] Ibid., 32.

[6] Duncan Alistair, The Noble Sanctuary, (London: Longman Group Limited, 1972), p. 28.

[7] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Ahadith al-Anbiya’, Hadith No. 3172

[8] Ibid., Kitab al-Jumu’ah, Hadith No. 1115.

[9] Ibid., Kitab al-Jumu’ah, Hadith No. 1116.

[10] Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab Tafsir al-Qur’an ‘an Rasulillah, Hadith No. 3057.


About Dr. Spahic Omer

Dr. Spahic Omer, a Bosnian currently residing in Malaysia, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia.He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. He obtained his PhD in 2000 from the University of Malaya in the field of Islamic history and civilization.His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. In 2003, his book "Studies in Islamic Built Environment" won IIUM's Isma'il al-Faruqi Best Publication Award, and in 2015, his book "Architecture and Society" won Malaysian National Book Award (Anugerah Buku Negara).He can be reached at [email protected]; his website is medinanet.org.

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