by Marjan Asi
History repeats itself. The less people know their history, the more inclined they are to repeat it. We find this particularly applicable to the affairs of the Muslim Ummah. For example, we know the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the Muslim world, testament to the glory and magnificence of Islam and a matter of pride for Muslims. It continues to inspire awe in anyone who visits it, be they Muslim, Christian, Jew or of any other religious persuasion or no persuasion at all. It has been so admired and the image so ingrained in the minds of Muslims that some have mistakenly come to believe it is Masjid al-Aqsa.
But a clear link is often not made between the significance of this shrine’s construction and the modern-day usurpers of Muslim lands. To understand this, it is important to ask what purpose the Dome of the Rock served. Why was it built? Are there motives to be found other than the official story? Scholars of Islamic history present different theories but no one has provided convincing evidence to prove one or the other point.
But these answers lie in the historical context at the time of the building’s construction. At that time (around 70ah/690ce), ‘Abd al-Malik was king, the fifth of the Umayyad usurpers of power and authority. Although there was opposition throughout the Umayyad reign, most gravely illustrated in the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a) and his followers at Karbala a decade earlier, this time period witnessed a spike in rebellions.
The two largest uprisings were those of al-Mukhtar in al-Kufah and ‘Abdullah ibn Zubayr in the Hijaz. During ‘Abd al-Malik’s rule, both opposition movements were crushed and their respective leaders killed. But by no means did the discontent and unrest die with them.
Like all illegitimate rulers, ‘Abd al-Malik needed a way to consolidate his authority over the Muslims, knowing that force alone would not hold back the Qur’an-inspired generation. He found a way of doing this by building the Dome of the Rock. By creating an extravagant and spectacular building, claiming it was to commemorate the Prophet’s (pbuh) Night Journey to Heaven, he was able to project a facade of religiosity. Simultaneously, ‘Abd al-Malik displayed his power and wealth. He was the force behind this unprecedented and spectacular construction project; nothing like it had ever been seen by the simple desert-dwelling Muslims.
Some even argue that ‘Abd al-Malik was attempting to create a second holy site to divert pilgrims from going to Makkah which had been under the control of ‘Abdullah ibn Zubayr before his opposition movement was brutally suppressed. But knowing that the Muslims were fully aware of a similar scheme by Abraha, the pre-Islamic ruler of Yemen, and would be wary of another such attempt, this would equate to religious and therefore political suicide. Additionally, the Dome of the Rock was not built for circumambulation, making the argument of its rivalry with the Ka‘bah highly unlikely.
Still, ‘Abd al-Malik succeeded in convincing at least some of the more simpleminded Muslims who could not see through his grandiose scheme and the illusion of power that came with it. His reign lasted 20 years, and was followed by nine more Umayyads before they were finally overthrown, though only to be replaced by others that were different only in name.
More than 1,300 years later we find that little has changed in the psyche of tyrants. Today’s Saudis are yesterday’s ‘Abd al-Maliks, building similarly extravagant masjids around the world, as if marking their territory and enticing the average Muslim to follow, or at least not oppose, their own illegitimate hold on power. Many of these masjids are based on the very same designs as the Dome of the Rock.
‘Abd al-Malik’s construction was not based on Islamic architecture. Until that time, Muslim buildings were based on the Islamic principles of simplicity, modesty and utilitarianism. A show of wealth and materialism was looked down upon, as illustrated in the life of the Prophet (pbuh) as well as many of his companions, including the Khulafah and in particular the first two and the fourth. Khalifah ‘Umar was so humble that upon his entering Jerusalem the Orthodox Patriarch could not believe this man dressed in a simple white robe could be leader of the powerful Islamic domain.
This kind of Islamic behavior is alien to the current usurpers of Arabia who continue to destroy monuments harkening back to the days of simplicity and humility from the time of the Prophet (pbuh) in an attempt to literally bury Islamic history. To add insult to injury, they are constructing monstrosities like steel and concrete high-rises, shopping mall complexes and Arab-only railways that are beginning to make up the characteristic features of the Hijaz. Just as these buildings are modeled on western architecture, the design of the Dome of the Rock was similarly constructed, drawing upon the lavish and intricate art and architecture of the Byzantine superpower of late antiquity.
Another parallel between the Umayyads of the past and Umayyads of the present day is their shameless abuse of Islam. Much like ‘Abd al-Malik, the Saudis have the gall to use Islam as justification for their expensive and elaborate buildings. But Muslims who are aware of their history have seen these tricks before and cannot be fooled so easily. These attempts at establishing power by throwing money and manpower at different projects — be they cultural, political or social — is the work of an illegitimate power desperate to project itself as an Islamic force in the Muslim mind.