Did `Abd al-Malik Build Dome Of The Rock To Divert The Hajj From Makkah?
M S M Saifullah & Muhammad Ghoniem
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
First Published: 18th February 2001
Last Modified: 11th April 2001
Assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu:
The Shi`ite historian al-Ya`qubi writing in his Tarikh made an interesting allegation that the Umayyad caliph `Abd al-Malik built Dome of the Rock to divert the Hajj from Makkah to Jerusalem to outdo his rival `Abdullah b. al-Zubayr. He said:
`Abd al-Malik prevented the people of Sham from the hajj and this is because Ibn al-Zubayr was taking the pledge of allegience from the pilgrims. When `Abd al-Malik had found out about this, he prevented them from setting out to Makkah. But the people protested and said: "Do you prevent us from doing the pilgrimage to the Sacred House of Allah while it is a duty from Allah upon us ?" He said: "Here is Ibn Shihabuddin al-Zuhri narrating to you that the Messenger of Allah said: "The caravans should not be set out except for three mosques, the Sacred Mosque, my present Mosque and the Mosque of Jerusalem" [which] stands for the Sacred Mosque for you. And here is the Rock on [which] it is narrated that the Prophet set his foot before ascending to the heavens, it stands for the Ka`bah. Then he built a Dome on the Rock, suspended silk curtains on it and appointed servants for it. And told the people to revolve around it like they revolve around the Ka`bah and so it was during the rule of Bani Umayyah.
In the passage of his Muhammedanische Studien, Goldziher puts forward in detail the theory that Umayyad caliph `Abd al-Malik, by erecting the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, intended to outsmart his rival `Abdallah b. al-Zubayr, who exploited the holiness of Makkah, his capital, for his own political ends. Using al-Ya`qubi's material Goldziher wrote:
When the Umayyad Caliph `Abd al-Malik wished the stop the pilgrimages to Mecca because he was worried lest his rival `Abd Allah b. Zubayr should force the Syrians journeying to the holy places in Hijaz to pay him homage, he had to recourse to the expedient of the doctrine of the vicarious hajj to the Qubbat al-Sakhra in Jerusalem. He decreed that the obligatory circumambulation (tawaf) could take place at the sacred place in Jerusalem with the same validity as that around the Ka`ba ordained in Islamic Law. The pious theologian al-Zuhri was given the task of justifying this politically motivated reform of religious life by making up and spreading a saying traced back to the Prophet, according to which there are three mosques to which people may make pilgrimages: those in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
Goldziher's theory had been adopted, uncritically or with some criticism, by many early orientalists and a few recent ones; some of them are Creswell, Rippin, van Ess, and Elad.[6,7] Their evidence is largely based on texts of a Shi`ite historian al-Ya`qubi (c. 874 CE) and of an orthodox priest from Alexandria, Eutychius (d. 940 CE). In order to justify their theory they propose that the plan of the rock with the two ambulatories around the rock itself, originated with the liturgical requirements of the tawaf.
The Christian missionaries, as usual, get very excited when they get something with which they can create doubts in the minds of Muslims. One such example is the writing of Joseph Smith where he says:
Certainly Muslim tradition suggests the Dome of the Rock may have been the early religious centre for Islam. The caliph Suleyman, who reigned up to 717 AD, went to Mecca to ask about the Hajj. He was not satisfied with the reply, and chose instead to follow 'Abd al-Malik, travelling to the Dome of the Rock.
We are not supplied with references that state the "Muslim tradition" that says that "the Dome of the Rock may have been the early religious centre of Islam" and that the caliph "chose instead to follow `Abd al-Malik, travelling to the Dome of the Rock." As usual, it is left for the Muslims, to supply the uninformed missionary with the missing information.
In this paper we would like to examine the weaknesses of the hypothesis that Umayyad caliph `Abd al-Malik, by erecting the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to intended to divert the Hajj from Makkah to Jerusalem.
2. The Weakness Of The Hypothesis
Thorough researches carried out by Goitein,[8,9,10] Christel Kessler, Mustafa al-Azami, Grabar,[13,14,15] Sheila Blair and most recently by Raya Shani who studied the sources and carefully weighed the historical circumstances convincingly argued that the erection of Dome of the Rock could not have been intended to divert the Hajj from Makkah to Jerusalem. We will only sum up their observations and conclusions, in particular that of Goitein who has written extensively on this subject. Extra information was added wherever we thought it was necessary. The arguments can be conveniently listed as the following:
A. The Bias & Inaccuracies Of The Historians
To begin with: the great Muslim historians of the third century al-Tabari and Baladhuri, who deal with the conflict between the Umayyads and Ibn Zubayr in the utmost detail, as well as the earlier geographers, including al-Muqaddasi, a native of Jerusalem, never make the slightest allusion to `Abd al-Malik's alleged intention of making Jerusalem instead of Makkah the place of the Hajj pilgrimage. On the contrary, for the year 68 AH, al-Tabari reports that four camps - those of `Abd al-Malik, Ibn Zubayr, Najda the Kharijite and Ibn al-Hanafiyya, the representative of Shi`a, took part jointly in the Hajj. This report stresses only the strange fact that four different parties joined together at one time in the performance of the rites of the pilgrimage. It takes for granted the fact that men from Syria performed the Hajj also at other times during these crucial years. Tarikh al-Khamis, using an older source states that `Abd al-Malik asked people proceeding to Makkah to renew their oath of allegiance to him. Even during the very siege of Makkah by al-Hajjaj, the Syrians were eager to make the tawaf, a request which Ibn Zubayr naturally had to refuse.
It appears that only two older sources mention the allegation that `Abd al-Malik, in putting up Dome of the Rock, intended to divert the Hajj to Jerusalem: al-Ya`qubi, who was an outspoken partisan of the Shi`ites, and Eutychius, the well-known Christian chronographer; but both append to this allegation other statements which invalidate it by their obvious untruths. Eutychius says that `Abd al-Malik and al-Walid - who reigned long after Ibn Zubayr was dead - forbade the pilgrimage to Makkah, while Ya`qubi extends this accusation to all the Umayyads, which is in clear contradiction to trustworthy traditions about the pilgrimage of these caliphs to Makkah. In fact al-Ya`qubi himself says that from 72 AH onwards the Hajj ceremony was performed under the governership of Umayyad when Makkah came under al-Hajjaj's control; the "anti-Makkan" caliph `Abd al-Malik went to Makkah for the Hajj in 75 AH as did other Umayyad caliphs.
Al-Ya`qubi also adds that al-Hajjaj had taken pains to restore the Ka`bah to its original shape clearly suggesting that Ka`bah had not been replaced in the mind of the Umayyads by the new building in Jerusalem. Thus there would have been no necessity to make a substitute for the Hajj, and there would have been no need to continue this practice during Umayyad period, which was as good as putting an effective weapon in the hands of anti-Umayyad elements. Therefore, Grabar puts it nicely by saying:
What had been a religious-political act entailing an unsettled point of religious lore would have been transformed by them into a religious-political act of impiety intended to strike at the very foundation of one of the "pillars of Islam." Thus did the propaganda machine of the Shi`ite and `Abbasid opposition attempt to show the Umayyads as enemies of faith.
It is true that a number of later authors repeat al-Ya`qubi's account, but everyone versed in the technique of Arabic historiography knows that once a story has been incorporated into the mass of historical traditions, it appears again and again in later compilations. The account given by al-Ya`qubi and Eutychius has its origin partly in anti-Umayyad tendencies and partly reflects a certain religious usage which, however, was by no means restricted to Jerusalem.
Andrew Rippin accepts al-Ya`qubi's account without reservations but is skeptical whether pilgrimage to Makkah during the time of `Abd al-Malik was already "a central symbol of nascent Islam". This is contrary to what al-Ya`qubi says, i.e., the Hajj pilgrimage was already performed before and after the conquest of Makkah. The problem with Rippin's view is that it tends to abuse the source material to arrive at a pre-conceived idea without proper justification.
Amikan Elad questions the extent to which the bias of these early historians affects their reliability. In his view, a pro-`Alid bias cannot tilt the balance against the tradition; thus does not demand that it be totally rejected. He suggests that there are similar reports based on sources independent of al-Ya`qubi and Eutychius. However, his justifications are tentative (in his own words!), inconclusive and at times hurried to push his case that `Abd al-Malik built Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to divert the Hajj from Makkah.
B. A "Political Suicide" For `Abd al-Malik
Thus far our examination of the sources has shown that nothing in them justifies the assumption that the Dome of the Rock was originally conceived to replace the Ka`bah. This testimony of the sources may be corroborated by some general historical considerations. It seems obvious that `Abd al-Malik could not endanger his position more than by trying to divert the Hajj and its rites from the Holy Places most solemnly proclaimed as such in the Qur'an. By violating so basic a commandment, `Abd al-Malik would have marked himself as kafir, against whom jihad was obligatory. Moreover, Raja' b. Haywa', the official in-charge of the erection of the Qubbat al-Sakhra (i.e., Dome of the Rock), was an intimate friend of the pious caliph `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz, who could never have given his consent to such a flagrant break with the Qu'ranic commandment of the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, and according to all we know, `Abd al-Malik himself was an orthodox and observant Muslim. All this taken together compels us to discard the notion that the Umayyad caliph intended to replace the chief sanctuary of Islam by another building. It is to be added that earlier in the 20th century Wellhausen had already doubted whether `Abd al-Malik really had the intention of subsituting Jerusalem for Makkah noting his piety.
C. Al-Zuhri - The Man Behind The Hajj To Dome Of The Rock?
Al-Ya`qubi states that `Abd al-Malik, in his attempt to stop the Syrians from going to the Hajj during the conflict with Ibn al-Zubayr, quoted al-Zuhri reporting a tradition which substitutes for the Hajj to al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and tawaf around the Rock. So, `Abd al-Malik built the Dome and tawaf continued in the Umayyad dynasty. According to Goldziher, it was left to the theologian al-Zuhri to legalize and justify the action.
There are many problems with the statements from al-Ya`qubi and finally Goldziher who accepts them uncritically. The "tradition" of permitting the "Hajj" to al-Masjid al-Aqsa mosque itself is doubtful; al-Zuhri was too young then - when the Dome of the Rock began to be constructed - and unknown. At this time al-Zuhri was somewhere between 14 and 20 years of age. It is inconceivable that a mere boy of fourteen or a man of twenty had already achieved such a great fame and respect - not only in his native land of Madinah, but far away in Syria - that he was able to cancel the divine obligatory order of the Hajj and was in a position to command a substitute! Furthermore, there were many Companions of the Prophet(P) at that time in Syria. Why did `Abd al-Malik not exploit them? Their authority and the respect they commanded were far greater than that of al-Zuhri, aged somewhere between 14 and 20 years, and the Syrians would have heard them with more reverence.
The other problem with the story of al-Ya`qubi concerns with the date of meeting between `Abd al-Malik and al-Zuhri. Duri says:
Al-Zuhri did go to Damascus and was by chance taken to `Abd al-Malik who had a legal problem then. The caliph did not know him at first, then was impressed with his knowledge and intellect during the interview, paid his debts, gave him a present, and advised him to continue his studies and so al-Zuhri returned to Madinah. This tradition shows that he was still a young scholar, and that the advice could hardly have been made during the civil war if he had such importance for the caliph. On the other hand, a tradition of al-Zuhri shows that he was critical of `Abd al-Malik during the war with Ibn al-Zubair. We have therefore to dismiss this possiblity and accept al-Zuhri statements "I came to Damascus during the rising of Ibn al-Ash`ath" c. 80-1 AH, seven or eight years after the death of Ibn al-Zubair.
A similar conclusion has been reached by Mustafa al-Azami who says:
.... al-Zuhri's meeting with `Abd al-Malik which did not take place earlier than 81 AH...
So, the story that al-Ya`qubi narrates is anachronic.
Another charge levelled at al-Zuhri by al-Ya`qubi and Goldziher was that he was responsible for "fabricating" the hadith of "three mosques" to justify the moving of the Hajj to Jerusalem from Makkah. There are two problems with this statement.
Hisham Nafi` Ibn `Umar
Salamah b. Kuhail Hajiyah b. `Adi `Ali b. Abi Talib
Qusaim Qaz`ah Abu Sa`id al-Khudri
Aban b. Tha`labah `Atiyah Abu Sa`id al-Khudri
Muhd b. Ibrahim Sai`d b. Abu Sa`id Abu Huraira
Zaid b. Salim Sa`id b. Abu Sa`id Abu Huraira
Yazid b. Abu Maryam Qaz`ah `Abdallah b. `Amr
Therefore, how did the credit for this "fabrication" and theological enterprise go to al-Zuhri alone, who did not see `Abd al-Malik earlier than 80-1 AH? Also Goldhizer's charge that al-Zuhri was responsible for fabricating the traditions in favour of Umayyads had been refuted by Horovitz. Horovitz has shown that this claim is false and tendentious. In fact, al-Zuhri at times enraged some of the caliphs by quoting traditions against their interests, and sticking to these traditions in spite of the fury of his patrons.
There is, of course, another problem also with the argument advanced by Goldziher, Creswell and others. It specifically argues that, because control of Makkah was in the hands of Ibn al-Zubayr who represented a very pious local from the Hijaz and whose family was deeply opposed to the Umayyads, `Abd al-Malik tried to replace Makkah with Jerusalem, and the Dome of the Rock was meant to be an equivalent of the Ka`bah. Oleg Grabar comments about this explanation:
It is an explanation that more or less requires that the building [i.e., Dome of the Rock] be planned before 692, when Mekkah was "liberated" from Ibn al-Zubayr's rule.
Perhaps the best way to conclude is to quote the famous art historian of our times Oleg Grabar who has written extensively on the issue of Dome of the Rock and refuted that it was constructed by `Abd al-Malik to divert the Hajj pilgrimage from Makkah to Jerusalem.
Grabar says that this interpretation is based on texts of al-Ya`qubi, a heterodox Muslim historian brought up in Baghdad who had traveled widely through out the empire, and of Eutychius, an orthodox priest from Alexandria. Although it is also found in other writers before the Crusades, especially traditional Muslim litterateurs, there are indications (a series of errors with respect to attributions and dates) which suggest that in reality we are dealing with one major tradition, or at best two, which have been passed on through definable historiographic channels. All these writers claim that, since a counter-caliph Ibn al-Zubayr was in possession of Makkah, the Umayyad caliph `Abd al-Malik built a sanctuary in Jerusalem in order to divert pilgrims from Arabia proper by establishing the Palestinian city as the religious center of Islam. It has also been asserted that the plan of the Dome of the Rock, with two ambulatories around the Rock itself, originated with the liturgical requirements of the tawaf, the formal circumambulation that is one of the high points of Muslim pilgrimage. There are various arguments against this interpretation. For instance, the statements of al-Ya`qubi and Eutychius are unique in the annals of early Muslim historiography, and yet as momentous an attempt as that of changing the site of the Hajj could not have been overlooked by such careful historians as al-Tabari and Baladhuri, and especially not by a local Jerusalem patriot like the geographer al-Muqaddasi. It can also be shown that the histories of al-Ya`qubi and Eutychius contain willful distortions of fact which indicate that these writers were highly partisan in their opposition to the Umayyads. Furthermore, it would have been politically suicidal for `Abd al-Malik to have made himself into an unbeliever by modifying one of the clearest tenets of new faith only a generation and a half after the Prophet's death. He would hardly have been able to win over, as he did, the majority of the Muslims of his time against internal political threats. Then, a comparatively recently discovered text by Baladhuri makes it clear that the Syrian forces operating against Makkah still considered the latter as the Muslim center for pilgrimage; during the fighting their leader al-Hajjaj requests permission for his troops to make the tawaf, and there appears to have been a fairly constant stream of people going on to their holy duty in spite of the fighting. Nor would al-Hajjaj have taken such pains to restore the Ka`bah to its original shape had it been replaced in the mind of the Umayyads by the new building in Jerusalem. A statement in al-Tabari to the effect that in 687-88 at least four different groups went on pilgrimage shows that the bitter factional strifes between Muslims were held in abeyance for ritual purposes. Finally, it is doubtful whether the comparatively small area of the Dome of the Rock could have been conveniently used for the long and complex ceremony of the tawaf; and it may be argued that, had `Abd al-Malik wanted to replace Makkah, he would have chosen a type of structure closer in plan to the Ka`bah than the Dome of the Rock, since the sacramental and inalterable character of the Makkan sanctuary is fully apparent in its several reconstructions.
And Allah knows best!
Prophet Muhammad's(P) Night Journey To Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa - The Farthest Mosque
The Qiblah Of Early Mosques: Jerusalem Or Makkah?
References & Notes
 Ahmad b. Abu Ya`qub Ibn Wadih al-Ya`qubi (Ed. M. T. Houtsma), Tarikh, 1883, Volume II, Leiden, p. 311.
 I. Goldziher (Ed. S. M. Stern), Muslim Studies (Muhammedanische Studien), 1971, Volume II, Atherton: New York and Aldine: Chicago, pp. 44-45.
 K. A. C. Creswell, A Short Account Of Early Muslim Architecture, 1968, Librairie Du Liban, Beirut, pp. 17-18.
 A. Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs And Practices, 1990, Volume I (The Formative Period), Routledge: London & New York, pp. 53-54.
 J. van Ess, "`Abd al-Malik And The Dome Of The Rock: An Analysis Of Some Texts", in J. Raby & J. Johns (Ed.), Bayt Al-Maqdis: `Abd al-Malik's Jerusalem, 1992, Part 1, Oxford University Press: Oxford (UK), pp. 89-104.
 A. Elad, Medieval Jerusalem And Islamic Worship, 1995, E. J. Brill, Leiden, pp. 158-163.
 A. Elad, "Why Did `Abd al-Malik Build The Dome Of The Rock? A Re-Examination of Muslim Sources", in J. Raby & J. Johns (Ed.), Bayt Al-Maqdis: `Abd al-Malik's Jerusalem, 1992, Part 1, Oxford University Press: Oxford (UK), pp. 33-58.
 S. D. Goitein, "The Historical Background Of The Erection Of The Dome Of The Rock", 1950, Journal Of The American Oriental Society, Volume 70, pp. 104-108.
 S. D. Goitein, Studies In Islamic History And Institutions, 1966, E. J. Brill: Leiden, pp. 135-148.
 S. D. Goitein, "Al-Kuds", in C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, B. Lewis & Ch. Pellat (Eds.), Encyclopaedia Of Islam (New Edition), 1986, Volume V, E. J. Brill: Leiden, p. 325.
 C. Kessler, "`Abd al-Malik's Inscription In The Dome Of The Rock: A Reconsideration", Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society, 1970, pp. 11-12.
 M. Mustafa al-Azami, Studies In Early Hadith Literature, 1992, American Trust Publications (Indianapolis, USA), pp. 289-292.
 O. Grabar, "The Umayyad Dome Of The Rock In Jerusalem", Ars Orientalis, 1959, Volume 3, pp. 45-46.
 O. Grabar, The Formation Of Islamic Art, 1987, Yale University Press: New Haven (USA), pp. 43-71.
 O. Grabar, The Shape Of The Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem, 1996, Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey (USA), p. 115.
 S. Blair, "What Is The Date Of The Dome Of The Rock?" in J. Raby & J. Johns (Ed.), Bayt Al-Maqdis: `Abd al-Malik's Jerusalem, 1992, Part 1, Oxford University Press: Oxford (UK), pp. 59-87.
 R. Shani, "The Iconography Of The Dome Of The Rock", Jerusalem Studies On Arabic & Islam, 1999, pp. 158-207.
 Adpated from S. D. Goitein's Studies In Islamic History And Institutions, op. cit., pp. 136-137.
[19 Al-Ya`qubi, Tarikh, Op. Cit., p. 336.
 Ibid., p. 325.
 O. Grabar, "The Umayyad Dome Of The Rock In Jerusalem", Ars Orientalis, 1959, op. cit., p. 46.
 Many orientalists who supported Goldziher's thesis have missed this important point of proliferation of historical traditions.
 A. Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs And Practices, op. cit., p. 53.
 See ref. 5. Elad seems to approach the subject with a pre-meditated mind that that "`Abd al-Malik built Dome of the Rock to divert Hajj from Makkah." He repeats this statement often in his conclusions of sub-sections.
 J. Wellhausen (trans. M. G. Weir), The Arab Kingdom And Its Fall, 1963, Khayats: Beirut (Lebanon), p. 214.
 A. A. Duri, "Al-Zuhri: A Study On The Beginnings Of History Writing In Islam", Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental & African Studies, 1957, Volume XIX, pp. 10-11.
 Al-Zuhri's date of death seems certain and is given as 17 Ramadan 124 AH / 742 CE. His date of birth is uncertain. It is given as 50, 51, 56, or 58 AH. But Zubayr b. Bakkar and Waqidi - in one report - make his age 72, it is probable that his birth was in 51-2 AH / 671 CE, cf. A. A. Duri, "Al-Zuhri: A Study On The Beginnings Of History Writing In Islam", Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental & African Studies, 1957, ibid., pp. 10-11.
 When did the construction of Dome of the Rock begin? Historians such as Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 654 / 1256) say that the Dome of the Rock's construction began in 69 AH and finished in 72 AH. The inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock are dated from 72 AH. Creswell thinks that this is terminus ad quem, i.e., the date of completion of Dome of the Rock. Such a terminus ad quem causes problems because for `Abd al-Malik the previous years were filled with civil war and strife not conducive to finance a major construction such as Dome of the Rock. Sheila Blair has convincingly shown using supportive evidence from two media - coins and milestones - that 72 AH / 692 CE should be considered as terminus a quo, i.e., the date of beginning of construction (See Sheila Blair, "What Is The Date Of The Dome Of The Rock?" op cit., pp. 59-87). It is to be stressed that both architecture and decoration of Dome of the Rock show a remarkable clarity and consistency constant with a single campaign. We take 72 AH / 692 CE to be terminus a quo. And Allah knows best!
 M. Mustafa al-Azami, Studies In Early Hadith Literature, op cit., pp. 290-291.
 A. A. Duri, "Al-Zuhri: A Study On The Beginnings Of History Writing In Islam", Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental & African Studies, 1957, op cit., p. 11.
 M. Mustafa al-Azami, Studies In Early Hadith Literature, op cit., p. 290.
 Elad attempted to show that al-Zuhri "came to `Abd al-Malik" in the year 72 AH by quoting a tradition that says "he [al-Zuhri] heard `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan in Jerusalem, delivering a sermon" to refute the charge that al-Zuhri met `Abd al-Malik in 80-1 AH, cf. A. Elad, Medieval Jerusalem And Islamic Worship, op cit., p. 155. But the problem with Elad's analysis is that "hearing" someone is different from "meeting" someone.
 M. Mustafa al-Azami, Studies In Early Hadith Literature, op cit., p. 292.
 I. Goldziher (Ed. S. M. Stern), Muslim Studies (Muhammedanische Studien), op cit., pp. 46-47.
 J. Horovitz, "The Earliest Biographers Of The Prophet And Their Authors - II", 1928, Islamic Culture, Volume II, p. 48.
 ibid., pp. 41-42.
 O. Grabar, The Shape Of The Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem, op cit., p. 115. This argument was first put forward by Sheila Blair (see ref. 13).
 O. Grabar, The Formation Of Islamic Art, op cit., p. 47-48.
 A similar argument is forwarded by Karen Armstrong. See K. Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, 1997, Ballantine Books: New York, pp. 240-241.
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