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Dome of the Rock, Al Asqa Mosque – Jerusalem

Though the two are often thought to be the same thing, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Asqa Mosque are completely separate landmarks in the city of Jerusalem.  They sit on the most important and contested religious grounds in the world, known as the Temple Mount (or the Noble Sanctuary).

Dome of the Rock

Built between 687 and 691 by the ninth Caliph (Abd al-Malik), the Dome of the Rock (or Qubbat As-Sakhrah) is one of the most famous Islamic mosques.  It was built by the Caliph to honor the Lord and some historians suggest that the scope of the temple’s construction indicates that it was meant to rival Mecca.  The Dome of the Rock is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the Jerusalem landscape with its signature golden dome rising up from the relatively flat ancient buildings that surround it. 

At the center of the dome is a rock that is believed by Muslims to be the scene of Muhammad’s ascension into the heavens.  In the Jewish religion, the rock is the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son, Isaac.  It’s also where Jews believe that Jacob saw the ladder into Heaven.

The building itself is a masterpiece of ancient ornamental architecture.  At the top of a 35-meter tower is the majestic 20-meter gold-covered dome.  It received a facelift in 1993 in order to eliminate the rust and wear that had accumulated over some 13 centuries.

Though the mosque has changed hands throughout the centuries, it has remained fundamentally unchanged since its construction.  During the crusades, for instance, the Knights Templar used the Dome of the Rock as a spiritual headquarters as it was thought to be a remnant of the Temple of Jerusalem.  While the Dome of the Rock does sit on the grounds of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, historians agree it is a mosque built by the ninth Caliph in the 7th century.

Due to the site’s significance to both Jews and Muslims, it’s unlikely that the proposed plan to move the Dome to Mecca and build the Third Temple of Jerusalem will ever happen.

Al Asqa Mosque

Another important Muslim building in the entire Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount complex is the Al-Asqa Mosque.  It was originally built as a wooden structure by the Umayyads in 710 CE.  Amid fires and earthquakes over the next three centuries, the mosque was rebuilt five times until the last major retrofit in 1035 CE.

The Al-Asqa Mosque is currently the largest mosque in Jerusalem with a capacity of 5,000 worshippers.  Its architectural style is a hodge-podge of old Islamic and Crusader design, since the building changed hands during the Crusades.  Parts of the Mosque look like Crusader work since the Knights Templar used the mosque as the Temple of Solomon during their occupation.

A portion of the Al-Asqa Mosque outer wall is actually the Western Wall that is a central site of worship for Jews.  As a result, there is much friction in this area between Muslims and Jews who contest ownership of the land.

The difference between Al-Asqa Mosque and Dome of the Rock is that Al-Asqa is designated as the central place for Islamic worship and learning, while Dome of the Rock is a pilgrimage site where Muslims can witness the place where Muhammad ascended to the heavens.