The Dome of the Rock was built by Abd al-Malik in the VI century BC. It is a temple located in the old Jerusalem. It consists of a cylindrical cupola and an octagonal base. The Dome stands on a rock known as the Foundation Stone. The dimensions used in the building are of Byzantine origin. In the late XX century, the Dome was restored and redecorated. From the inside, the walls are covered with marble and various mosaic ornaments, mainly calligraphy and arabesques. The outside is laid with marble and faience (Grabar 1-2).
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But what was the reason for the Dome to be built? Throughout the history, the Dome presented a great interest for historians and archeologists. In this respect, numerous hypotheses were put forward. It is difficult to distinguish one possible reason because of the lack of authentic texts in which the building of the Dome was mentioned (Rabbat 13). Thus, the researchers refer to logical reasoning to get to the truth. Some of the researchers give an overview of the historical events of the time while others apply archeological theory postulated to the matter. The reasons given by some of the reliable sources are as follows.
According to al-Waqidi, who provides the reader with a historical perspective of the subject, caliphal-Zubayr took over Mecca in AD 691-692 (qt. in Elad 34). He lambasted the Umayyads for their sins and wanted citizens and pilgrims to pay him tribute since he was a caliph. He also loathed Abd al-Malik. However, as al-Waqidi states, al-Zubayr was a vibrant speaker, which was why he was popular among the Meccans. Abd al-Malik, therefore, decided to stop the Hajj (the pilgrimage) to Mecca so that people did not pay tribute to the caliph. Instead, al-Malik built the Dome in Jerusalem because the pilgrims were worried. He wanted to give people an alternative (qt. in Elad 34).
Other researchers believe that the Dome was built in the city of Jerusalem to mark the presence of Muslims in the holy place (Rabbat 14). Indeed, in the late VI century BC, Muslims invaded the city, and the Jews were forced to capitulate. The Jewish people were banned from the city before the invasion; after that, they were permitted to live there again. During the Muslim invasion of Jerusalem, the Jewish temple “the Holy House” was mainly demolished and the Dome was built over it. In fact, the Dome was built and rebuilt several times before the Jewish people were returned to the Holy City; each time some disaster prevented the builders from working. Eventually, of course, the Dome was finished even though its building is connected with these mysterious circumstances (Berger 10).
Another hypothesis has to do with archeology. In their work, Renfrew and Bahm state that the meaning of a temple is purely religious (393). They claim that the building itself is regarded by all religions as the central mark of a place. Thus, the Dome built in the Holy City is the center of it (not necessarily geographical), and the reason for building it was that Muslims wanted to put an axis connecting the world and the cosmos. Constructing a temple is seen as marking the human place in the world and drawing a line between the human and God. (Renfrew and Bahn 393-394)
Other researchers studying the origins of the Dome state in their works that it was built in memoriam of Prophet Muhammad’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. However, the last hypothesis is that the Dome, with its round cupola, resembles a warrior’s tent. It is believed that the faithful Muslims will live in such tents in paradise while non-believers will put their tents at the door of heaven and not allowed inside it. Consequently, it is stated that the temple as such is a symbol that represents the tent above God’s throne on the foundation stone (Van Ess 101-102).
All in all, considering the possible cause of the event, it is worth keeping in mind that the Dome of the Rock was built more than two thousand years ago. It is still more difficult to decide why it was built given the fact that no existing Umayyad texts are confirming one reason or another. However, it is worth noticing that the archeological or cultural symbolism regarding the building from the deeply spiritual viewpoint is a rather far-fetched idea.
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It is hard to imagine that people should think in such categories as “the axis of the world” when building a temple. Undoubtedly, the temple has a distinguished symbolical meaning. In this respect, the idea of the religious significance of the temple put forward by Van Ess seems rather convincing. The shape of the building indeed resembles a tent of a warrior, and it is a historical fact that Muslims were at war with Jews at that time. Thus, it is possible that they built the Dome in such a shape to represent that God was guiding them in the holy war.
Berger, Pamela. The Crescent on the Temple: The Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary. Boston, Massachusetts: BRILL, 2012. Print.
Elad, Amikam. “Why did Abd al-Malik build the Dome of the Rock? A Re-Examination of the Muslim Sources.” Bayt al-Maqdis. Ed. Julian Raby and Jeremy Johns. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 33-57. Print.
Grabar, Oleg. The Dome of the Rock. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.
Rabbat, Nasser. “The Meaning of the Umayyad Dome of the Rock.” Muqarnas 6 (1989): 12-21. Print.
Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice. London, United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Print.
Van Ess, Josef. “Abd al-Malik and the Dome of the Rock. An Analysis of Some Texts.” Bayt al-Maqdis. Ed. Julian Raby and Jeremy Johns. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 89-103. Print.