Originally a mashhad, a shrine for pilgrims, the Dome of the Rock was commissioned for not only religious but also political purposes.
Chaliph Abd El-Malik placed the monument on the Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, in order to enshrine the sacred rock from which, Muslims believe, Muhammad made al-isra’, the Night Journey and ascended to visit Allah in heaven (Koran 17:1).
Along with the theological component, however, there was also a political purpose for the construction of the Dome.
During the late seventh century, the Muslim world was torn by conflict between a variety of Muslim groups, each of which claimed to be Muhammad’s sole heir.
According to tradition, Muhammad first selected Jerusalem as theqibla, the direction the faithful should face during prayer.
Later, the prophet redirected his followers to face the city of Mecca when praying, to symbolize Islam’s independence from the other monotheistic religions that had chosen Jerusalem as their most holy city.
In the late seventh century, however, Chaliph Abd El-Malik wanted to discourage his followers from making the pilgrimage to Mecca because he feared that they might fall under the influence of one of his Muslim rivals.
He, therefore, constructed the Dome in the hopes of establishing Jerusalem as the major Muslim pilgrimage destination, so that he could keep his followers and attract new ones.
While Mecca has remained the qibla for Muslims, Jerusalem is revered by Muslims as the third holiest place in the world.
The pilgrimage to Jerusalem, known as the taqdis, is the final destination of the main pilgrimage (hajj), allowing Muslims to commemorate the significance of the city to their faith.
The golden Dome of the Rock, claimed and restored during a tumultuous century of conflict between Muslims and Christians, rises above the Old City’s walls as an icon of Jerusalem’s enduring significance to the Muslim faith.