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06-27-2006, 08:49 PM
The Noble Sanctuary

AT THE HEART OF JERUSALEM is the Noble Sanctuary, Al-Haram al-Sharif, enclosing over 35 acres of fountains, gardens, buildings and domes. At its southernmost end is Al-Aqsa Mosque and at its centre the celebrated Dome of the Rock. The entire area is regarded as a mosque and comprises nearly one sixth of the walled city of Jerusalem.

The Noble Sanctuary is one of the three most important sites in Islam, and a showcase for Islamic architecture and design from Umayyad to Ottoman times that continues as an important religious and educational centre for Muslims to the present day.

Glimpses of History

The beauty and tranquility of the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem attracts thousands of visitors of all faiths every year. Many believe it was the site of the Temple of Solomon, peace be upon him, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, or the site of the Second Temple, completely destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.

For Muslims the area has a special significance, as the site of the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey, peace and blessings be upon him, and as the first qibla (direction of prayer) for Islam.

The Night Journey

Glory be to He
Who carried His servant by night,
from the Holy Mosque
to the Furthest Mosque,
the precincts of which
We have blessed.
so that We might show him
some of Our signs.
Surely He is the All-Hearing,
the All-Seeing.
------------------Sura al-Isra'
------------------Qur'an 17:1

In the ninth year of the Prophet's mission, about 620 AD, Muhammad rose in the middle of the night to visit the Sacred Mosque in Makkah. After a time of worship he fell asleep near the Ka'aba. The angel Gabriel came to him and woke him from his slumber. He led the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to the edge of the sacred Makkan mosque. Awaiting them was al-Buraq, a white winged beast "whose each stride stretched as far as the eye could see." Muhammad mounted al-Buraq and sped northwards with Gabriel to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Furthest Mosque.

When they reached Jerusalem the Prophet dismounted and prayed near the Rock. Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets, peace be upon them all, gathered together to pray behind him. Muhammad was presented a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. The Prophet chose the milk and Gabriel said, 'You have chosen the true religion'.

The Prophet then embarked on the ascension (Miraj) in which he, peace and blessings be upon him, received the command to pray five times a day and the revelation encapsulating the beliefs of Islam:

"The Messenger believes in what was sent down to him from his Lord. And the believers; each one believes in Allah and His angels and in His books and His messengers. We make no division between any one of His messengers. And they say: We hear and we obey. Oh Lord, grant us Thy forgiveness; unto Thee we return." Qur'an II/285

Muslim Jerusalem

In 638, just a few years after the death of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, an army of his followers surrounded Jerusalem. The city Patriarch, Sophronius, handed over the city after a brief siege. There was only one condition; that the terms of their surrender be negotiated directly with 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Khalif of Islam.
'Umar entered Jerusalem on foot. There was no bloodshed. There were no massacres. Those who wanted to leave were allowed to, with all their possessions. Those who wanted to stay were guaranteed protection for their lives, their property, and their places of worship in the 'Umariyya Covenant.

The 'Umariyya Covenant

For the first time in its long history, Jerusalem had been spared a bloodbath.
It is said that 'Umar accompanied Sophronious to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and that he was offered a place to pray in it. 'Umar declined, fearing it might establish a precedent which would threaten the church's continued use as a Christian house of worship. He prayed instead to the south of the church, now the site of the Mosque of 'Umar in Jerusalem.

'Umar then asked to be taken to the site of Al Aqsa Mosque. Accompanied by hundreds of Muslims, he found the area covered in dust and debris and immediately initiated its clearing.
A huge timber mosque which held three thousand worshippers was erected on this site in the time of 'Umar, at the southernmost wall of the Noble Sanctuary.

Map of Jerusalem at the time of 'Umar

The Dome Of The Rock

Jerusalem became known as Al-Quds, The Holy. Many of the Prophet's Companions travelled to worship at the blessed spot to which Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was brought by night and from which he ascended through the heavens to his Lord. According to the authenticated tradition of the Prophet, travel for the sake of worship is undertaken to only three mosques; the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, and the Furthest Mosque in Jerusalem.

In 685AD the Umayyad Khalif, 'Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, commenced work on the Dome of the Rock. Essentially unchanged for more than thirteen centuries, the Dome of the Rock remains one of the world's most beautiful and enduring architectural treasures.

The Dome of the Rock from the East

The gold dome stretches 20 metres across the Noble Rock, rising to an apex more than 35 metres above it. The Qur'anic verse 'Ya Sin' is inscribed across the top in the dazzling tile work commissioned in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent.

'Ya Sin.
By the wise Qur'an.
Surely you are among those sent on a straight path.
A revelation of the Mighty, the Compassionate.
That you might warn a people whose fathers were never warned, so they are heedless.'
Qur'an, 36:1-6

Al-Aqsa Mosque

After completion of the Dome of the Rock, construction began at the site of the original timber mosque built in the time of 'Umar. A vast congregational mosque rose up, accommodating more than five thousand worshippers. Originally commissioned by 'Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, it was apparently completed by his son Al-Walid in 705AD.

Al-Aqsa Mosque from the west

The building became known as Masjid al-Aqsa, Al-Aqsa Mosque, although in reality the whole area of the Noble Sanctuary is considered Al-Aqsa Mosque, the entire precincts inviolable according to Islamic law. Every Friday prayer, the Al-Aqsa Mosque building overflows, with thousands of worshippers who must make their prayers outside in the courtyards of the vast open expanse of the Noble Sanctuary.

Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Dome of the Rock

While the Dome of the Rock was constructed as a mosque to commemorate the Prophet's Night Journey, the building known as Al-Aqsa Mosque became a centre of worship and learning, attracting great teachers from all over the world.

It has been modified several times to protect it from earthquakes, which sometimes occur in the area, and to adapt to the changing needs of the local population. The form of the present structure has remained essentially the same since it was reconstructed by the Khalif Al-Dhahir in 1033 AD. It is said that he did not alter it from the previous architecture except to narrow it on each side.

Other Structures

The importance of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Islam is reflected in the wealth of smaller structures which surround the Al-Aqsa Mosque building and the Dome of the Rock. Constructed both to commemorate and to extend the functionality of the site as a religious and educational centre, they are too numerous to mention in detail here, other than to highlight some of the most significant:

Dome of the Chain
Directly east of the Dome of the Rock, the Dome of the Chain was built by 'Abdul Malik ibn Marwan and marks the exact centre of the Sanctuary.

Dome of the Chain from the East

Dome of the Prophet
Restored in 1538AD by Muhammad Bey, the governor of Jerusalem.

Dome of the Prophet from the Northwest

Dome of the Miraj
Commemorating the Prophet's ascension. Restored in 1200AD.

Dome of the Miraj from the North

Dome of al-Nahawiah
Built in 1207AD by Amir Hassan ad-Din, as a school of literature.

Dome of al-Nahawiah from the South

Dome of the Hebronite
A 19th century building dedicated to Shaykh Muhammad al-Khalili.

Minbar of Burhan al-Din
Originally built in the 7th century, this open-air pulpit is named after the 14th century Qadi of Jerusalem.

The Golden Gate
Dating back to Umayyad times, the Golden Gate's two vaulted halls lead to the Door of Mercy, Bab ar-Rahmah, and the Door of Repentance, Bab at-Tawba. Imam al-Ghazzali is thought to have written his Revival of the Religious Sciences while living above these gates and teaching in Al-Aqsa.

The Golden Gate from the inside the Noble Sanctuary

Musalla Marwan
Just below the paved courtyard in the southeast corner of the Sanctuary lies the vast vaulted subterranean area referred to mistakenly as Solomon's Stables. The actual construction is Umayyad, dating back to the 8th century, its original purpose to level the courtyard above.

Inside Musalla Marwan - facing South

Ancient Aqsa
Directly beneath the eastern half of the Al-Aqsa Mosque building is another subterranean area, leading from the courtyard in front of the Mosque to the Double Gate in the southern wall of the Sanctuary. Sealed for hundreds of years, this gate led to the Umayyad palaces which once lay to the south.

The Islamic Museum
An extensive Qur'an collection, and Islamic ceramics, coins and glassware stand together with guns, swords and daggers in the oldest museum in Jerusalem. A unique group of architectural elements help document the history of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

A section of the Museum's Qur'an Collection

Islam and the Noble Sanctuary

Glory be to He
Who carried His servant by night,
from the Holy Mosque
to the Furthest Mosque,
the precincts of which
We have blessed.
so that We might show him
some of Our signs.
Surely He is the All-Hearing,
the All-Seeing.
------------------Sura al-Isra'
------------------Qur'an 17:1

The word islam means surrender. It is derived from the Arabic word aslama which is from the same root as salam, the word for peace. In the religious context, Islam means complete surrender to the will of God. In this sense Islam is the true religion of all mankind, whose message has been renewed from the time of the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him, through an illustrious line of prophets sent by God to inform humanity of the paths that lead to Him, and thus to inward and outward peace. The core teaching of each of these prophets was the same. Their maxim, that there is no deity, no object worthy of worship, except God alone, was articulated in the final form of Islam revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, as la ilaha illa lllah, there is no god but God.

By its widest definition, the one who accepted the pure teachings of these prophets in their time and in their original form was a Muslim, one who surrendered himself to the will of God. Thus in Islam, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John, and Jesus, are accepted, amongst many others, peace be upon them all, as legitimate prophets of God and as Muslims. In this context the entire area of the Noble Sanctuary, Al- Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, has been dedicated for use as a masjid (lit. a place of prostration) for Muslim worship, not only since it was cleared of debris and refuse by 'Umar ibn al-Khattab and the Companions of the Prophet nearly 1400 years ago, but since the dawn of mankind.

Perhaps in recognition of this tremendous prophetic heritage, the first qibla, or direction of prayer, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was towards Jerusalem. Significantly, it was Al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem that was the destination of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, on the famous Night Journey referred to in the Qur'an and hadith. It was here that Muhammad led the prophets in prayer and it was from here that he ascended through the heavens visiting the prophets again on his way to the sidrat al-muntaha, the Lote Tree of the Furthest Limit, and his encounter with his Lord.

Source: The Noble Sanctuary: Al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem

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