It was on my first trip to Israel that I visited the mount where the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Omar are located.
As we arrived at the door that opened into the plaza where the two building were, we were stopped by police who inspected our belongings and even the purses of the ladies with us. It was then I began to understand the security and need to protect the area due to the divisions in the area.
These buildings in the middle of Jerusalem are Islamic shrines which houses the Foundation Stone, the holiest spot in Judaism.
Muslims refer to the dome as the "Noble Sanctuary". It was constructed over the site of the Second Jewish Temple which was destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. In 637, Jerusalem was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate army during the Islamic invasion of the Byzantine Empire. The Dome of the Rock was erected between 685 and 691 AD, making it the oldest extant Islamic building in the world. Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan who initiated construction of the Dome, hoped that it would “house the Muslims from cold and heat” and intended the building to serve as a shrine for pilgrims and not as a mosque for public worship. Historians contend that the Caliph tried to create a structure which would compete with the existing buildings of other religions in the city.
Everywhere about the Mosque of Omar are portions of pillars, curiously wrought altars, and fragments of elegantly carved marble - precious remains of Solomon's Temple. These have been dug from all depths in the soil and rubbish of Mount Moriah, and the Moslems have always shown a disposition to preserve them with the utmost care.
The outer side walls of the dome are made of porcelain and mirror the octagonal design. They each measure approximately 60 feet wide and 36 feet high. Both the dome and the exterior walls contain many windows.
The Dome is in the shape of a Byzantine martyrium, a structure intended for the housing and veneration of saintly relics, and is an excellent example of middle Byzantine art. In my research I learned that al-Maqdisi reported that surplus funds consisting of 100,000 gold dinar coins were melted down and cast on the domes exterior, “which at the time had a strong glitter that no eye could look straight at it.” During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent the exterior of the Dome of the Rock was covered with Iznik tiles. The work took seven years. Haj Amin Al-Husseini, appointed Grand Mufti by the British, along with Yacoub Al Ghussein implemented restoration of Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
According to Islamic belief, the Prophet Jacob, son of Isaac, was the first to build the Mosque as a House of God. The Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia was the first House of Worship to God, and the Masjid Al-Aqsa was the second. Originally built by Jacob and greatly expanded and renovated by King Solomon, the Mosque was destroyed twice. As a result, Muslims technically believe the al-Aqsa Mosque is the Third Temple.
In 1955 an extensive program of renovation was begun by the government of Jordan, with funds supplied by the Arab governments and Turkey. The work included replacement of large numbers of tiles dating back to the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, which had become dislodged by heavy rain. In 1960, as part of this restoration, the dome was covered with a durable aluminum and bronze alloy made in Italy. The restoration was completed in August 1964. In 1998 the golden dome covering was refurbished following a donation of $8.2 million by King Hussein of Jordan who sold one of his houses in London to fund the 80 kilograms of gold required.
As we entered into both of these holy places I could sense the times they represented, since it was upon the stone covered by the dome that Abraham took his son Isaac to slay him as commanded by God. (Muslims believe it was Ishmael instead). God saw the faith of Abraham so his son was spared.
Before entering the Mosque I noticed a man washing his feet, all exposed flesh, and even his tongue, before he entered into the holy place himself. While this was a sign of physical cleaning, he honored his teaching to wash himself. As a Christian, I felt the significance of being washed by the sacrifice for me on the Cross.
After leaving the grounds, we departed through the door that led into the area above the Western Wall (sometimes called The Wailing Wall) which divides these religious properties. From this stop we could view numerous people praying and wailing.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.” Psalm 122:6