(4/2021) What did the Dome of the Rock Really Commemorate?
The Dome of the Rock is viewed by over a billion Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam, and the site of Muhammad’s “Night Journey” (Sura 17). In fact, an indentation in one of its corners is presented as no less then Mohammad’s footprint. In reality the Qur’an does not say it happened in Jerusalem, nor does it mention Jerusalem, anywhere.
The event, According to Sura 17, took place at the ‘farthest mosque’, whose location is obscure. Already the early Muslim commentators debated where to locate that ‘farthest mosque’. Some suggested it is at the edge of Mecca, or near Meccah (at Al Ju’ranah), at al-Madinah, or in Kufa (the Shi’ite tradition).
One thing is sure – it’s location in Jerusalem is the least likely for the simple reason that Jerusalem was not under Muslim control in the days of Mohamad. It was conquered by Islam only 6 years after his death.
Moreover, Jerusalem was sanctified by Islam only a few decades after its conquest, around the 660’s. It was the Umayyads, when they were banned from Meccah by Ibn Zubayr, who branded Jerusalem as holy, also to Islam.
But was the Dome of the Rock really formed to commemorate Mohamad’s ‘night journey’? The structure of Dome of the Rock is imitating in its design byzantine concentric churches. The remains of such churches can be seen to this day in sites like Caesarea, Capernaum, Mount Gerizim, and more. Furthermore, Its dome is the same size as the dome over the tomb of Jesus at the Holy Sepulchre, merely 500 meters away. In Addition, inside the Dome of the Rock are quotes from the Qur’an that manifest the Muslim view on Jesus – a prophet, but not a messiah; the Son of Mary, but not the son of God (Sura 19:33-35).
So it seems that the Dome of the Rock was created mostly to compete with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Christian theology in general. Indeed, the 10th century Jerusalemite Muslim historian, Al-Maqdisi, stated that the Dome of the Rock was created to compete with the Christians (and nothing more).
Yet other Muslims sources indicate the Dome of the Rock related to another sanctity, and NOT Mohamad’s night Journey. Get ready to be surprised.
THE DOME OF THE ROCK ACTUALLY COMMEMORATED THE JEWISH TEMPLE!
In the 2nd century, after suppressing the Jews and their revolt, Roman emperor Hadrian banned the Jews from Jerusalem and renamed the city – “Aelia Capitolina”. Centuries later, the Muslims adopted its shorter name, “Ilya”, to name Jerusalem. But in some Muslims sources Jerusalem was also named “Ilya Medinat Bayt al-Maqdas”, or “Medinat Bayt al-Maqdas”. “Bayt al-Maqdas”, in Arabic, means “House of the Temple”. It is very similar to the Hebrew term – בית המקדש, which refers to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Moreover, there are a number of Muslim sources that refer to a holy place of worship, in Jerusalem, which they call the “Bayt al-Maqdas.” In the 9th century Elhanaf Ibn Qays was quoted saying “I used to pray with Abu Dahar at the Bayt Al-Maqdas. When he came in, he used to take off his shoes.” The contemporary Ibn Hanbal’s also stated: “I entered the Bayt Al-Maqdas and saw a man prolonging his bowing.”
What structure are they talking about? A clue appears in the Qur’anic commentary of Mukatil ben Suleyman (died 768 CE), who states “The rock in the Bayt Al-Maqdas is the center of the whole world.” Bayt Al-Maqdas, it seems, is no other then the Dome of the Rock!. And Ben Suleyman’s was simply recycling a much older Jewish Mishnaic tradition stating that the ark was placed on a rock which was the source of the world’s creation (Mishna, Yoma 2 5).
But the most striking testimony is found in the writings of Shams Al-din Suyuti (died in 875 CE). He described Muslim liturgy around that sacred rock, with the following details – 52 men were employed in anointing the rock with scented oil and burning incense over it. They purified themselves every morning, and were dressed with special garments.
A later Muslim source adds that special ceremonies were carried over that rock on Monday’s and Thursdays. These happen to be the days of the week in which Jews read the Torah, and the liturgy in general is highly reminiscent of the Jewish practices during the time of the temple. Furthermore, there are some Mamluk manuscripts depicting the Dome of the Rock as flanked by two Cherubim, two winged figures that were placed over the ark of the covenant.
Some Concluding Thoughts
So why does the Muslim world deny this Muslim tradition today? The reason is clear – if it erases the memory a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount, it can deny any claims of the Jews on the site. This is also why no archaeological research is permitted or conducted on the Temple Mount.
Most of the information is based on the publication –
Avraham A. and Peretz R. 2016. “Endowment to the Sakhrat Bayt al-Maqdis and al-Aqsa Mosque” Early Islamic Inscription from the Village of Nuba. New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its vicinity, Pp. 55-70 (in Hebrew).
And the references in it.