Jerusalem, originally uploaded by joshbousel.
An excerpt from http://www.sacredsites.com/middle_east/israel/jerusalem.html:
Following a brief period of Persian rule, Jerusalem was captured in 638, six years after the death of Muhammad, by the Muslim Caliph Umar. Soon after his occupation of the city, Umar cleansed the Temple Mount, built a small mosque and dedicated the site to Muslim worship. The most imposing structure the Muslims found in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nearby the Arab conquerors undertook to build a more spectacular edifice, the Dome of the Rock, not only to proclaim the supremacy of Islam, but also to ensure that the new followers of Islam would not be tempted by Christianity. The site chosen was the very same rock where previously had stood the Jupiter temple of the Romans and before that, the two temples of the Jews.
Yet there was another reason for the Muslim veneration of this particular site, one more important than the political expediency of usurping another religion’s holy place. A certain passage in the Koran links the Prophet Muhammad with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. That passage, the seventeenth Sura, entitled ‘The Night Journey’, relates that Muhammad was carried by night ‘from the sacred temple to the temple that is most remote, whose precinct we have blessed, that we might show him our signs…’ Muslim belief identifies the two temples mentioned in this verse as being in Mecca and Jerusalem. According to tradition, Muhammad’s mystic night journey was in the company of the Archangel Gabriel, and they rode on a winged steed called El Burak (meaning `lightning’), which according to Islamic Hadith tradition was a winged, horse-like creature that was “smaller than a mule, but larger than a donkey.” Stopping briefly at Mt. Sinai and Bethlehem, they finally alighted at Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and there encountered Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets, whom Muhammad led in prayers. Gabriel then escorted Muhammad to the pinnacle of the rock, which the Arabs call as-Sakhra, where a ladder of golden light materialized. On this glittering shaft, Muhammad ascended through the seven heavens into the presence of Allah, from whom he received instructions for himself and his followers. Following his divine meeting, Muhammad was flown back to Mecca by Gabriel and the winged horse, arriving there before dawn.
At this hallowed site, known in Arabic as Haram al Sharif, the 9th Caliph, Abd al-Malik, built the great Dome of the Rock between 687 and 691. Besides its association with the `Night Journey’ of Muhammad, Jerusalem was also chosen as the site of this first great work of Islamic architecture for political reasons. For a brief period between 680 and 692 Mecca had become the capital of a rival caliphate established by Abd Allah ibn Zubayr who controlled most of Arabia and Iraq. Following the retreat of the Umayyad army from its siege of Mecca the construction of the Dome was undertaken in order to discourage pilgrimages to Mecca. Often incorrectly called the Mosque of Umar, the Dome of the Rock, known in Arabic as Qubbat As-Sakhrah, is not a mosque for public worship but rather a mashhad, a shrine for pilgrims. Adjacent to the Dome is the Al-Aqsa Mosque wherein Muslims make their prayers. Designed by Byzantine architects engaged by the Caliph, the Dome of the Rock was the greatest monumental building in early Islamic history and remains today one of the most sublime examples of artistic genius that humanity has ever produced (the Great Mosque of Damascus, being a true mosque, is the earliest surviving monumental mosque). The dome is 20 meters high, 10 meters in diameter, and its supporting structure, made of lead, was originally covered in pure gold (the real gold was removed over the centuries and the dome is now made of anodized aluminum). The sacred foundation stone is encircled by sixteen arches that formerly came from different churches in Jerusalem, which were destroyed during the Persian occupation of the city in 614 AD. Writing of the sublimely beautiful structure with its heavenly dome, its columns of rare marble and its brilliant mosaics, the British authority on Muslim architecture, K.A.C. Creswell, exclaimed:
“Under a scheme whereby the size of every part is related to every other part in some definite proportion, the building instead of being a collection of odd notes becomes a harmonious chord in stones, a sort of living crystal; and after all it really is not strange that harmonies of this sort should appeal to us through our sight, just as chords in music appeal to our hearing. Some of the ratios involved are fundamental in time and space, they go right down to the very basis of our nature, and of the physical universe in which we live and move.”
The Dome of the Rock, while certainly one of the world’s great architectural masterpieces, is often incorrectly understood to be an Islamic creation. Writing about the non-Islamic influences on the architectural style of the Dome, the author of Muslim Religious Architecture, Dogan Kuban, comments that,
“Art historians have kept up an unceasing flow of studies of the Dome of the Rock. In the context of Islamic architecture it remains unique, but in that of Roman architecture its form is directly in line with the late tradition in Syria. All of its important features, from the interior double colonnades to the great wooden dome, have been shown to be faithful reproductions of features of the Cathedral of Bosra in southern Syria. Its well-known mosaic decoration is Islamic only in the sense that the vocabulary is syncretic and does not include representation of men or animals. The entire building might be viewed as the last blossoming of the Hellenistic tradition before the Islamic synthesis created its own formulas.”
The holy rock of Sakhrah in Jerusalem was for a few years the primary sacred site of Islam. When Muhammad had fled to Medina (the second sacred city of Islam) he told his followers to make Jerusalem the kiblah, as was the Jewish tradition. Following a quarrel with the Jews in Medina, Muhammad received a revelation from Allah (Sura 2:45) that directed him to reorient the direction of the kiblah from Jerusalem to Mecca, where it has since remained.
The Muslims in power before and during the Dome’s construction period had tolerated Christianity and Judaism, allowing pilgrims of both religions to freely visit the Holy City. This era of peaceful coexistence ended in 969 however, when control of the city passed to the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt (a radical and somewhat intolerant Shiite sect) who systematically destroyed all synagogues and churches. In 1071 the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantines, displaced the Egyptians as masters of the Holy Land, and closed the long established pilgrimage routes. The prohibition of Christian pilgrimage by these less tolerant Muslim rulers angered Western Europe and became a contributing cause of the Crusades, a series of invasions that culminated in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. The Christian Kingdom lasted almost 90 years, during which time the Dome of the Rock was converted to a Christian shrine and named Templum Domini (meaning Temple of the Lord), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt, and hospices and monasteries were founded. The city was recaptured by the Muslims again in 1187, was ruled by the Mamlukes from the 13th to 15th centuries (except for the brief periods of Christian control in 1229-1239 and 1240-1244) and the Turks until the 19th century. The Jews, who had been barred by the Christian crusaders, returned from the 13th century onward, by the middle of the 19th century nearly half the city’s population was Jewish, and in 1980 Jerusalem was officially made the capital of Israel.
For information on Ramadan, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramadan.