The Main Reasons for Building the Dome of the Rock

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia

The Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan embarked on building the Dome of the Rock for several socio-political and religious reasons. Three of them seem to have been most decisive:


Firstly: Religious reason


With no exception, Muslim historians keep informing us generously that the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik had a remarkable religious upbringing. He was born in Madinah in 23/643 or 26/646. There as a youngster he joined the rising intellectual and religious elite of the Muslim community in passionate knowledge pursuit.[1] Ultimately, he emerged as one of the most reputable scholars of Madinah, the religious and learning center in Islam for centuries, becoming an epitome of scholarship, excellence and virtue. Abu al-Zinad has said: “Four are the scholars (jurists, fuqaha’) of Madinah: Sa’id b. al-Musayyab, ‘Urwah (b. al-Zubayr), Qubaysah b. Dhuwayb and ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan before entering the field of political affairs.”[2] ‘Abd al-Malik was nicknamed the dove of the Mosque on account of the time he used to spend in the Prophet’s Mosque for both learning and worship purposes.[3] During the reign of the caliph Mu’awiyah, when his father Marwan b. al-Hakam was the Madinah governor, ‘Abd al-Malik was even appointed in charge of the Madinah Register (Diwan al-Madinah).[4] He remained in Madinah until 64/683 when the case of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr reached so alarming proportions that the whole region of al-Hijaz hastened to pledge allegiance to him, and the members of the Umayyad family, in turn, had to flee for their safety to Syria. Next, ‘Abd al-Malik was a governor of Palestine for sometime to his father,[5] and it was, in all probability, then that he added to his affection for the whole area and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as that he coined some preliminary strategies with regard to the territory’s future development.


After the peril of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr had been forever done away with, the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik backed by a majority of the religious and intellectual leadership members[6] in the state devoted his time to duly performing his duties as the commander of the faithful. Because he possessed such a remarkable religious and intellectual background – molded for 41 years or two thirds of his lifespan – religious duties preoccupied much of ‘Abd al-Malik’s attention and time. A foremost segment of such duties appears to have been the restoration of the al-Aqsa Mosque in neighboring Palestine, the third holiest site in Islam. In fact, not only on the al-Aqsa Mosque did the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik’s efforts focus but also on the whole area of Jerusalem.[7] The chief aim of the caliph thus was to promote, encourage and facilitate pilgrimage to the hallowed site, which is in accordance with the Prophet’s tradition as well as the practices of some of the Prophet’s earliest companions who occasionally took the trouble to journey to Jerusalem and in some instances even settle and die there.[8] 

By subjecting the al-Aqsa Mosque – al-Haram al-Sharif – to some splendid building and beautification activities, ‘Abd al-Malik must have had felt that he was discharging that which he was entrusted with. i.e. serving the cause of Islam, the Muslims and their holy sites. He knew very well that ever since the caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab had built a simple mosque at one side of the al-Haram using the most ephemeral building materials, no other building activity has ever been undertaken in the area. Moreover, the same area was surrounded by several churches some of which were so enchantingly fair and renowned for their splendor that were dazzling the minds of the Muslims. Thus, ‘Abd al-Malik may have decided to build a large and elevated Dome somewhere in the centre of the al-Haram. The Dome was intended to serve, firstly, as a dome (symbol) of the existing the caliph ‘Umar’s Mosque – albeit somewhat at a distant location; secondly, as a dome (symbol) of the entire al-Aqsa Mosque in a wider sense of the word;[9] and finally, as a symbol of the permanent supremacy and governance of Islam and the Muslims over the second mosque (Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif) on earth. The al-Aqsa Mosque had been established forty years after the Ka’bah, Baytullah (the House of God) or al-Masjid al-Haram,[10] but it had been intermittently all through history altering its original role and position in consequence of frequent corruption and backsliding in those who had been entrusted to guard it and hold it unadulterated and sacred for all purposes. The Dome was erected over the Rock because it was positioned approximately in the middle of the place, and having already been elevated, the Rock thus helped the dome which shelters it appear larger than it, in reality, is, more overwhelming, more inviting and more expressive, from wherever one beheld it: from near or from afar. After the completion of the Dome of the Rock, ‘Abd al-Malik certainly planned but was unable to carry out any other significant development scheme to the al-Aqsa Mosque, but his son al-Walid could, carrying on whence his father had once stopped.

The baseless legends which link the Rock with the Prophet’s celebrated Journey into the Heaven (Mi’raj) could not possibly be one of the reasons for building the Dome of the Rock, as such a thing adequately reflects neither the spirit of the time nor the evidence of various old and contemporary sources. Furthermore, even though such legends my have been concocted quite early, yet nothing warrants that they had been fabricated at the time of the structure’s construction and had been freely articulated in any circles.[11] No genuine authority in either hadith (the Prophet’s traditions) or the Muslim history reports that the Prophet (pbuh) ascended from the Rock to the Heaven (al-Mi’raj). In actual fact, everything we hear or read in relation to the Rock is based on little truth. The Rock is significant inasmuch as it constitutes a part of the al-Aqsa Mosque (Noble Sanctuary), nothing more and nothing less. It cannot be held more important and, as such, more revered than any other section of the Mosque.


Secondly: Political reason


We have already seen that from the day he had been chosen to succeed his father until the death of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr, the ground upon which ‘Abd al-Malik was standing laying his claims to the caliphate has not been stable in any way. Therefore, he repeatedly had to be on the defensive fighting off his adversaries, the most powerful of which undoubtedly was ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr. Virtually everything else in the state and at every level of the state administration was overshadowed by this concern of ‘Abd al-Malik’s. However, no sooner had the uprising of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr been quelled than a new approach to defending, developing, promoting and administering the state was embraced. Jerusalem was given most attention in development undertakings alongside Damascus.[12] It was so mainly because of Jerusalem’s sanctity, nearness, the loyalty of its populace during the past trying times, and, last but not least, on account of its position as a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic urban phenomenon where Islam and the Muslims had to incessantly vie with the others in each and every civilizational field ever since it had been conquered.

It has been argued for a long time – primarily on the basis of an account of al-Yaqubi who was a violently anti-Umayyad polemicist –[13] that the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock so as to prevent further pilgrimages from Syria, and to substitute the Rock for the Ka’bah. He was at war with ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr in Makkah so he intended to prevent the latter’s influence from being disseminated through Syria by the crowds of returning pilgrims, some perhaps ‘indoctrinated’.[14] Of the prominent scholars who endorsed this odd, and with an absolute heretical flavor, view are Ignaz Goldziher,[15] Creswell,[16] Philip Hitti,[17] Titus Burckhardt,[18] and many others. However, so many comprehensive studies with loads of irrefutable evidence have been undertaken – by the Muslims and non-Muslims alike – to invalidate this view that saying almost anything in this regard would be nothing but repeating of what has been already said, one way or another.[19] At any rate, it is high time for this absurd thesis to disappear from our textbooks. The gist of the evidence advanced by the latter group of scholars is, to some extent, encapsulated in the words of Goitein: “However, a thorough study of the sources and a careful weighing of the historical circumstances show that the erection of the Dome of the Rock could not have been intended to divert the Hajj from Mecca to Jerusalem, while the contradictory traditions concerning the holiness of the latter could not have had their origin exclusively, or even mainly, in the short period between the beginning of the erection of the Qubbat al-Sakhra (about 66 A.H.) and Ibn Zubayr’s death (73 A.H).”[20] 

Sheila Blair also inferred: “When ‘Abd al-Malik ordered the Dome of he Rock, Mecca was still in the hands of ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, but it is unlikely that he intended it as a counter-Ka’ba, for such an act would have been anathema to a pious person like ‘Abd al-Malik who had re-issued the standardized ‘Uthmanic text of the Qur’an, and pilgrimage continued throughout ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr’s occupation.”[21] 

And finally, on the word of Oleg Grabar, too many arguments exist against the explanation to the effect that the Dome of the Rock was built in order to rival the Ka’bah and deviate therefrom the current of pilgrimage that maintaining its possibility becomes an impossible task.[22] 

Yet, such were the circumstances surrounding the emergence of the Dome of the Rock that it, by no means, could totally exempt itself from having been influenced by the turbulent political developments. Having successfully defeated ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr – the man who almost succeeded in stripping the Umayyads of power – ‘Abd al-Malik was confronted with the arduous task of reestablishing the legitimacy of the Umayyad claim to the caliphate. By embarking on building the Dome of the Rock – a part and parcel of the al-Aqsa Mosque proper, the second mosque and one of the most revered spots on earth – the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik definitely aimed to project himself as the champion of Islam and its cause. And to send his message clearly and loudly across the former stronghold of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr – about only one year after the latter’s end – ‘Abd al-Malik  commissioned his governor of Makkah and Madinah al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi to demolish and then reconstruct the Ka’bah.[23] The significance of reconstructing the Ka’bah at that particular point of time did not lie solely in the act of ‘looking after’ the paramount sanctuary of Islam and the Muslims. Rather, it lied in the truth that the legacy bequeathed by ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr to the community was thereby intended to be blotted out once and for all. It ought to be noted here that ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr rebuilt the Ka’bah from the ground up, after it had been destroyed by the Syrian army in 64/683. He did so on the foundation of the Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). That means that the Ka’bah was formerly bigger and had a rectangle shape.  However, when the Quraysh reconstructed it, shortly before revelation started coming down to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), they made it smaller, that is, the Ka’bah acquired a cubical shape, since they did not have sufficient funds to retain the Prophet Ibrahim’s foundation. Following the death of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr, ‘Abd al-Malik demolished what his rival had added to the Ka’bah from its original foundation, restoring its old structure as the Quraish had had it.[24] 

As part of the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik’s broad-spectrum drive which encompassed most of the civilizational aspects, by means of developing and upgrading Jerusalem – including building the Dome of the Rock – pilgrimage to Jerusalem has been heavily promoted and aided. But not much for indoctrinating purposes as for the permanent conciliation between the conflicting parties was such a campaign instigated and meticulously nurtured. Some exalted and common-to-all ideals were meant to be thus promoted, so as to sideline and if possible put an end to such issues as had kept the Muslims apart and sluggish for years.[25] Yet again did ‘Abd al-Malik’s brand of politics, which synthesized piety, force, extraordinary shrewdness and political acumen, manifest itself just when it was needed most. Thus, Abu al-Hasan al-Mada’ini reported that while it was habitually spoken of the caliph Mu’awiyah b. Abi Sufyan that he was most forbearing (ahlam), it was spoken of the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik that he was most resolute and unwavering (ahzam).[26]

The chore of the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik was delicate and grueling; as such, comprehending the nature and scope of his undertakings is unlikely to be missed. In reality, he was the one who re-laid the foundation of the Umayyad dynasty, re-organized the kingdom, re-arranged its fundamental principles, and re-stabilized its renown, after the same had been done by Mu’awiyah b. Abi Sufyan but was wrecked during the discord and tumult which separated them. No sooner had Mu’awiyah passed away than the whole state with its underlying socio-political and economical systems was set in complete disarray. The situation reached an apogee when a civil war between ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr and the Umayyads broke out and during which – and during the incidents which preceded it – some most unfortunate and goriest pages of Islamic history have been inscribed. And it was ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan who was destined to salvage the dynasty by means of his extraordinary genius, wisdom, loyalty and good judgment, an accomplishment unquestionably on a par with that of Mu’awiyah’s who some 33 years ago, partly through peaceful means and partly through force and intimidation, wrestled the caliphate from ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his supporters. On the ruins of his predecessors’ legacy, ‘Abd al-Malik succeeded in restoring peace, respect, affluence and glory to the Umayyads, which following Mu’awiyah’s death seemed as good as lost forever. For this reason does Ibn Tabataba portray ‘Abd al-Malik as “clever, sensible, learned, a tyrannical ruler, much feared, a statesman and good administrator for mundane affairs in his day.”[27] And for the same reason, indeed, did Abu Ja’far al-Mansur, who meant to the ‘Abbasid establishment what both Mu’awiyah and ‘Abd al-Malik meant to that of the Umayyads, proclaim that there are only three caliphs: Mu’awiyah, ‘Abd al-Malik and himself.[28]

Few can cast doubt on the fact that erecting the Dome of the Rock by the beleaguered caliph under the illustrated circumstances was a timely step, as little doubt could be raised over the appropriateness and legitimacy of his actions. That the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik was really judicious and fastidious in his actions illustrate the implications of appointing Raja’ b. Haywah – one of the leading scholars from the second generation of the Muslims (tabi’un) and a Syrian chief in terms of knowledge and religion[29] – to administer and oversee together with Yazid b. Salam the project of building the Dome of the Rock from the beginning till the end.[30]


Thirdly: The reason related to the conditions surrounding the emergence and rise of the identity of Islamic architecture


The Dome of the Rock is reputed as the first masterpiece of Islamic architecture that has survived intact physically. It is the first work showing that Islamic art by as early as the end of the first Hijrah century was steadily evolving its own unique spirit, language and identity. Prior to the emergence of the Dome of the Rock on the scene, community buildings of the Muslims, especially mosques, were, by and large, simple in their plans and designs, were built of ephemeral building materials, and were devoid of almost every kind of ornamentation and decoration. It is not difficult to learn that such buildings followed the example of the Prophets prototype mosque in Madinah, which, at first, consisted of an enclosure with walls made of mud bricks and an arcade on the qiblah side made of palm-trunks used as columns to support a roof of palm-leaves and mud.[31] The Mosque dimensions have been slightly altered during the reign of the caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, but its rudimentary plan, plain configuration and short-lived building materials were essentially retained. Next, the caliph ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan reconstructed the Mosque, enlarging it considerably. The Mosque walls were built with incised stone and plaster, so were the columns; the roofing was extended and elaborated with teakwood.[32] The mosque was not touched again until the year 88/706 when the Umayyad caliph al-Walid b. ‘Abd al-Malik reconstructed it. 

The swift and awe-inspiring advances against the Persians and Byzantines brought the Muslim conquerors face to face with some highly evolved cultures and civilizations, besides landing enormous fortunes in their coffers. The sensational change in the economic situation of the Muslims, coupled with the substantial changes in the social structure of the ever-expanding state, meant that the desert attitude – to use Ibn Khaldun’s expression –[33] of the Arabs and their low standard of living was slowly but steadily approaching its end. Due to the very nature of the developments, as well as the nature of their causes, the situation appeared unlikely ever to revert to its past course. On the contrary, it was set only to keep improving further. So, no sooner had the Muslims fanned out from the Arabian Peninsula than they started to play a role in shaping the developments as to the theater of world societies, their religions and worldviews. What’s more, they soon set out to lay their claims to world dominion aspiring to magnetize someday the center of gravity in world affairs to the territories now under their authority – exactly what their Prophet (pbuh) had assured them of as early as during the clandestine phase of their struggle while in Makkah.

No one doubted that the new milieu heralded the imminent advent of disparate crafts. Because they are something additional to just making a living, the number and quality of crafts always depend on the extent of civilization in the cities, as well as on the sedentary culture and luxury people enjoy.[34] The same formula governs performing and promoting arts too, in that they also fall within the realm of crafts. And so might be further asserted as far as the elaborate language of Islamic architecture is concerned, inasmuch as the relationship between it and the birth and germination of arts is causal, the latter always being the cause of the former. In other words, the identity of Islamic architecture could only mature – and it, in fact, did – when the Muslims attained a discernible civilizational strength and identity, for mosques and other community edifices via their status, function and form epitomized such strength and identity.

Building the Dome of the Rock in ways that no other building has ever been built before in Islam was further spurred by the real changes that Islamic architecture in general and mosque architecture in particular just then were undergoing. Swayed by the increasingly complex and refined reality, Islamic architecture soon set about to assert its aesthetic qualities to the existing utilitarian ones, so as to buttress its vital role and stature, as well as to multiply – in tandem with the whole of Islamic art – modes of expressing the ideas of transcendental reality. To be sure, the first Muslims have been nurturing some characteristic forms of architecturel, nevertheless, the more complex, diverse, cosmopolitan and affluent the Muslim community grew, the greater variety of styles and techniques that shape the built environment it commanded. For one to become at that juncture fascinated by and interested in art is a normal, yet expected, occurrence, given that using skill and imagination in recognizing order in the world and in creating aesthetic objects, environments and experiences for various motives, which can be shared with others, is universal and perpetual.

Indeed, the general development witnessed by the Muslim state and the reactions to it in different departments of living – including architecture – were natural and spontaneous, serving in the process nothing save truth and contributing considerably to the well-being of the Muslims. To keep erecting mosques unaesthetic, crude and bare under such circumstances, without showing the effects of God’s favors and bounty, would have been viewed by many as tantamount to disrespecting and neglecting them. Since it wouldn’t have been quite proportionate to the level of the maturation and competency of other civilizational constituents in the state, the refined language of mosque architecture was by no means a feasible thing during the early days of Islam. As such, seldom did one give a serious thought to it, and the whole matter remained aptly looked upon as redundancy, at least, and as extravagance or conceit, at most. In due time, however, the attitudes changed, parallel to the rest of the legitimate changes and developments that swept across the lands of the Muslims.

Being a man set to leave his mark on many a facet of Islamic civilization, the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik could not fail to apprehend the implications of the extent, dynamism and intricacy of the Muslim society for the evolution of the language of Islamic architecture. The situation in Syria and Palestine was far more unique than elsewhere, due to their being multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies, as well as due to the distinguished cultural and civilizational awareness of their integrated populace. Moreover, Syria and Palestine were countries of splendid building materials. Syrian limestone was the best of its kind, resisting weathering and acquiring a beautiful amber tint on exposure, and cedarwood was plentiful.[35] All this impelled the caliph who in the wake of the long and exhaustive civil war while deciding to devote his attention and the available resources to conciliatory and development purposes, resolved to look after the second mosque on earth by constructing the Dome of the Rock. We have already seen that the Ka’bah was also the target of the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik’s enterprises, however, the nature of the building, its size and shape were such that imagination and creativity could not be let flow without restraint. But they could run freely their courses elsewhere. However, what ‘Abd al-Malik did was no more than a prelude to what was about to take place during his son al-Walid’s rule when the phenomenon of building reached its climax. Building activities were the order of the day throughout. The main topic of people’s conversation, from aristocrats to commoners, was building. On meeting one another, they used to inquire: “What did you build; what did you put up?”[36]

‘Abd al-Malik used the Dome of the Rock as an avenue to letting his counterpart in Byzantine know that as the Muslims were already standing on an equal footing with their neighboring enemy in many civilizational aspects – in some even superseding them – so could they comfortably claim that they no longer lagged far behind in terms of architecture and art. Likewise, the caliph’s actions were impelling the non-Muslim minorities within the boundaries of the state, as well as the bordering foes of diverse kinds – who were mostly Christians – to hold both the religion of Islam and the Muslims in awe and utmost respect. By means of building and decorating the Dome of the Rock, an appeal has been made to them to join the new religion, which, so to say, incorporated their own – on the word of Goitein.[37] In this way, the crafts of art and architecture were subjected to gradual transformation into an excellent novel means of da’wah islamiyyah (inviting people to Islam).[38] Having said this, the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik’s contribution to the matter ought not to be underrated, yet he could be considered one of the phenomenon’s pioneers. Surely, such was one of the principal reasons why the builders of the Dome of the Rock were concerned as much with the exterior as the interior of the structure in terms of decoration and ornamentation of its components. [39] 

Such was the decoration of Dome of the Rock, as well as the choice of its constituent elements, that it was able to create a stirring and inspiring ambience within and without its realm. The fascinating atmosphere was greeting those who frequented it for whatever reasons: prayers, meditation, eulogy of God, temporary withdrawal from this world for ultimate devotion, etc. On approaching and then entering the building, the visitor was led away from concentrating on self and this world, and toward contemplating God and His divine attributes. The objective of interacting with the building as both a concept and sensory reality thus became similar to that of the prayers that one came to perform in or outside it, and to that of the Holy Qur’an that one came to recite and reflect on, and to that of any other worship activity that one may decide to accomplish in or near the building proper. Hence, those visiting the Dome of the Rock could not fail to be struck by how enchanting it was and how impressively it dominated the landscape not only of the precinct of the al-Haram al-Sharif (the al-Aqsa Mosque) but also of the whole of Jerusalem. Al-Muqaddisi, for example, wrote: “At dawn, when the light of the sun first strikes on the cupola, and the drum catches the rays, then is this edifice a marvelous sight to behold, and one such that in all Islam I have never seen its equal.”[40]

Ibn Battuta also observed: “The Dome of the Rock is a building of extraordinary beauty, solidity, elegance, and singularity of shape. It stands on an elevation in the center of the mosque (the al-Aqsa Mosque) and is reached by a flight of marble steps. It has four doors. The space round it is also paved with marble, excellently done, and the interior likewise. Both outside and inside the decoration is so magnificent and the workmanship so surpassing as to defy description. The greater part is covered with gold so that the eyes of one who gazes on its beauties are dazzled by its brilliance, now glowing like a mass of light, now flashing like lightning.”[41] 

However, what must be pointed out here is that the Muslims at this stage – as well as afterwards – in no way were mere followers or imitators of others in the said and other architectural enterprises, no matter how and to what extent their buildings outwardly resembled those of their counterparts elsewhere. Neither blind imitation nor sheer rivalry was the approach of the concerned generation of the Muslims to building. Rather, it was both a segment and vibrant manifestation of the universal Islamization process that the Muslims diligently had embarked on since the Prophet’s days, and which aimed at advancing Islamic perception of man, of reality, of truth, of the world, of space and time, of development, to the entire world, “…. that ye might be witnesses over the nations and the Messenger a witness over yourselves…” (al-Baqarah 143) Central to the Islamic world-view, culture and civilization are these perceptions and precepts indeed; as regards the building systems, styles and techniques that the Muslims may evolve in the course of their perpetual and all-encompassing Islamization process – as part of this life’s essential affairs – it at the end of the day did not matter what they were as long as they stemmed from the set Islamic norms, conformed to the tawhidic world-view, and were subjected to the realization of the objectives that man is bidden to accomplish on earth. By the same token, it is of no significance whether such systems, styles and techniques are developed solely by the Muslims or, after having been duly refined and corrected, are totally or partly imported from other civilizations. To tell the truth, Islamic universal and timeless principles and values, plus the Islamic unique philosophy of man and life, were that real and the most valuable thing that Islam and the Muslims instantaneously offered to the world in relation to the field of architecture and arts, and to the field of culture and civilization in general (no art or architectural movement or school can be devoid of a philosophy or a value system which precede and inspire it). When it was revealed to mankind, the role of Islam was neither to carelessly and ruthlessly wreck every hitherto achievement of man, nor to blindly sanction all of them. Rather, the task of the final and complete version of Islam was to strike a balance between the old and new in terms of cultural and civilizational accomplishments of man, never compromising, however, even to the slightest, its permanent and immutable ideals and principles in the process.

While dwelling on the subject of Islamic arts: their tawhidic spirit, their principles and method, their purpose and the way to achieve that purpose, Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi – for instance – remarked: “Surely, Islamic art needed materials and themes for its efforts in the visual fields, and it got these wherever it found them. But it is offensively superficial to point to this as ‘borrowing’ in any discussion of the meaning and significance, history or theory of the art. An art is an art by virtue of its style, its content, its manner of rendering, not by the materiaux (real existents) it uses which, in most part, are derived by geographic or social accident.”[42] 

The first seeds of the tendency towards what could be dubbed here as “civilizational media” for propagating Islam, whereby believers while subduing all their actions, words and thoughts to the objectives of truth appear “strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other” so as to fill their adversaries with awe and anxiety (al-Fath 29), have, as a matter of fact, been sown as early as during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) himself and the time of his first two caliphs: Abu Bakr and ‘Umar b. al-Khattab.[43] The matter henceforth was evolving steadily, corresponding to the cultural and civilizational advance of the Muslims, on the one hand, and to the extent of the cultural and civilizational interaction of the Muslim peoples with others, as well as to the intensity of the problems and conflicts thence arising, on the other. Architecture due to its role and significance in the society fast became one of the vehicles employed.

Almost an epitome of this kind of change that the juvenile Muslim community was undergoing is the caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab’s visit to Syria where he met Mu’awiyah, his governor, in full royal splendor as exhibited both in the number of his entourage and equipment. On seeing this, ‘Umar asked: “Are these royal Persian manners, o Mu’awiyah?” Mu’awiyah’s reply was: “O Commander of the Faithful, I am in a border region facing the enemy. It is necessary for us to vie with (the enemy) in military equipment.” ‘Umar was silent and did not consider Mu’awiyah to be wrong.[44] 




The Rock (Sakhrah), which the domed structure in the center of the al-Aqsa Mosque proper (Noble Sanctuary) shelters, has no special religious significance whatsoever. The conventional view that the Dome of the Rock was built by the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan from 65/684 to 72/691 stands no chance to hold out against a thorough and earnest scientific inquiry into the facts that the same is rooted in. The likely truth, however, is that the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik could not embark on building such an extraordinary and pricey edifice before crushing the insurgence of ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr in Hijaz in 73/692, even though some planning and preparation activities may have taken place sometime earlier.

Such were the conditions hanging over the heretofore unequaled architectural masterpiece in the Muslim world that the beleaguered caliph ‘Abd al-Malik appeared to be unable to accomplish it during his lifetime. Not only building the Dome of the Rock but also constructing what we call today the al-Aqsa Mosque may have constituted the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik’s development scheme. Or the original completion of the Dome of the Rock might have taken place after all during the reign of the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan, however, the caliph al-Walid b. ‘Abd al-Malik made several significant additions and even alterations, so that the edifice could go well with the incredible architectural plans and ambitions of his own.

The caliph ‘Abd al-Malik embarked on building the Dome of the Rock for several socio-political and religious reasons. Three of them were most decisive: religious, political, and the reason related to the conditions enveloping the rising and maturing of the identity of Islamic architecture – as explained earlier. At any rate, the thesis that the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock so as to prevent further pilgrimages from Syria, and to substitute the Rock for the Ka’bah, is nowhere near the truth. Too many arguments exist against it that maintaining its possibility becomes no longer a possible task. Indeed, it is high time for this absurd and blasphemous thesis to disappear from our textbooks.

[1] Al-Dhahabi Shams al-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad, Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’, (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1985), vol. 4 p. 424.

[2] Ibn Kathir Abu al-Fida’, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), vol. 9 p. 66.

[3] Ibn ‘Asakir Abu al-Qasim, Tarikh Madinah Dimashq, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1994), vol. 37 p. 114-119. Al-Baladhuri Ahmad b. Yahya, Ansab al-Ashraf, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996), vol. 7 p. 202-203. Ibn Kathir Abu al-Fida’, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 9 p. 66.

[4] Al-Maqdisi al-Mutahhir b. Tahir, Al-Bad’ wa al-Tarikh, (Paris: n.pp, 1916), vol. 6 p. 26.

[5] Al-Baladhuri Ahmad b. Yahya, Ansab al-Ashraf, vol. 7 p. 204.

[6] Ibid., vol. 7 p. 204-205.

[7] Ibn Kathir Abu al-Fida’, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 8 p. 283.

[8] Shurrab Muhammad, Bayt al-Maqdis wa al-Masjid al-Aqsa, p. 355.

[9] Ibid., p. 372.

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

[11] The Encyclopedia of Islam, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986), vol. 5 p. 299.

[12] 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. 67.

[13] Al-Ya’qubi Ahmad b. Ya’qub, Tarikh al-Ya’qubi, (Dar Beirut, 1980), vol. 2 p. 261.

[14] Creswell K.A.C., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1989), p. 19.

[15] Goldziher Ignaz, Muhammedanische Studien, (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchandlung, 1961), vol. 2 p. 35.

[16] Creswell K.A.C., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, p. 19.

[17] Hitti Philip K., History of the Arabs, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), p. 264.

[18] Burckhardt Titus, Art of Islam, (London: World of Islam Festival Publishing Company Ltd., 1976), p. 10.

[19] For some excellent studies on the subject see: Goitein S. D., Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), p. 135-148. The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 5 p. 299. Shurrab Muhammad, Bayt al-Maqdis wa al-Masjid al-Aqsa, p. 357-374.

[20] Goitein S. D., Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, p. 135.

[21] Blair Sheila S., “What is the Date of the Dome of the Rock?”, in: Bayt al-Maqdis, ‘Abd al-Malik’s Jerusalem, p. 84.

[22] The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 5 p. 341.

[23] Al-Baladhuri Ahmad b. Yahya, Ansab al-Ashraf, vol. 7 p. 135.

[24]The Kaba: Its Size and History, http://www.soundvision,com/info/hajj/kaba.asp

[25] Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih Ahmad b. Muhammad, Al-‘Iqd al-Farid, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1983), vol. 5 p. 149.

[26] Ibid., vol. 5 p. 149.

[27] Ibn Tabataba Muhammad b. ‘Ali, Al-Fakhri, translated by C.E.J. Whitting, (London: Darf Publishers Limited, 1990), p. 118.

[28] Al-Baladhuri Ahmad b. Yahya, Ansab al-Ashraf, vol. 7 p. 209.

[29] Ibn Manzur Muhammad b. Mukarram, Mukhtasar Tarikh Dimashq li Ibn ‘Asakir, (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1985), vol. 8 p. 312.

[30] Ibn Kathir Abu al-Fida’, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 8 p. 283.

[31] Al-Samhudi ‘Ali b. Ahmad, Wafa’ al-Wafa, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), vol. 1 p. 327.

[32] Ibid., vol. 2, p. 501-510. Ibn al-Faqih, Kitab al-Buldan, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1988), p. 28.

[33] Ibn Khaldun ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad, The Muqaddimah, Translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal, (London: Rotledge and Kegan Paul, 1987), see the chapter: “The Transformation of the Caliphate into Royal Authority”. p. 160-166

[34] Ibid., p. 343.

[35]Creswell K. A. C., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, p. 6.

[36] Ibn Kathir Abu al-Fida’, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 9 p. 172.

[37] Goitein S. D., Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, p. 147.

[38] Omer Spahic, Studies in the Islamic Built Environment, (Kuala Lumpur: International Islamic University Malaysia, 2002), p. 140.

[39] Grabar Oleg, The Shape of the Holy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 56-103.

[40] Landay Jerry M., Dome of the Rock, (New York: Newsweek, 1972), p. 21.

[41] Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa, Translated and selected by H. A. R. Gibb, (London: Darf Publishers LTD, 1983), p. 56.

[42] Al-Faruqi Isma’il Raji, Al-Tawhid: Its Implications for Thought and Life, (Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1995), p. 207.

[43] Al-Kattani, Al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1980), vol. 1 p. 377.

[44] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), vol. 1 p. 415.

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