Domes of the Rock and Chain v. A Dome of Iron: Which Best Protects Israel from Islamic Attack?



By Timothy Furnish.


Over Thanksgiving I spent eight days in Israel, having been invited there by my friend Dr. Moshe Terdiman, founder of the think-tank “Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa.”  I lectured at the Truman Center of Hebrew University on “Iran’s GlobalDa`wah—Focus on Africa” and at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Haifa University, on “Does Five Plus Sevener Equal Twelver? The Shi`a of Yemen and Arabia and their Relationship to Iran.”  Also, on Thanksgiving Day (November 28) I delivered the keynote address, “Sufis v. Salafis in Islamic Africa,” at the first (hopefully hereafter annual) “Islam in Africa” conference held in Israel and attended by several Israeli ambassadors to various African countries, as well as the ambassadors of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana to Israel.  When not working, I had four days to investigate the Old City of Jerusalem.

Although I had been there twice before (2003 and 2007), this trip was uniquely interesting in a number of way.   First, compared to my first two trips, there were many, many more African Christians (Nigerians and Ghanaian’s, in particular) on pilgrimage.  Possible reasons might include: the growing wealth of Africans;  greater awareness of transnational Christianity on their part; easier access (both from home and by the Israelis) to Jerusalem; increasing piety among African Christians; or some combination thereof.  A countervailing trend was the presence of many more Muslim women wearing the niqab (face-covering) and burka (body-covering), not simply the hijab (head and chest covering)—proving that even in Israel the idea that Islam al-hall, “Islam is the solution,” continues to gain in popularity.  Most importantly, I was finally able, at last, to gain access to al-Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount; and although I could not access Qubbat al-Sakhrah, the “Dome of the Rock,” I was at least able to get close and take pictures as well as explore the area around it (in the meagre hour allotted for “infidels”).   One of the most fascinating edifices which is accessible to Christians and Jews is Qubbat al-Silsilah, the “Dome of the Chain” immediately to the east of the Dome of the Rock:


Dome of the Chain, in front of the famous Dome of the Rock. 


Yours truly inside the Dome of the Chain. Thankfully no infidels were harmed in the taking of this picture.  My prior visitation means that on Judgment Day I will get to cut to the front of the line!

When I got  back home, I researched this strange structure, mainly via a superb, scholarly article by Gülru Necipoğlu, entitled “The Dome of the Rock as Palimpset: `Abd al-Malik’s Grand Narrative and Sultan Süyleman’s Glosses” from Muqarnas, Vol. 25 (2008), pp. 16-105.  According to Necipoğlu, even before the building of the Dome of the Rock the Umayyad caliph Mu`awiya “propagated the use of the term ‘land of the Gathering and Resurrection [on the Day of Judgment]’ (ard al-mahshar wa ‘l-manshar) with regard to Jerusalem” and he “furthermore attempted to extend Jerusalem’s sanctity to the entire province of Syria-Palestine (al-sham), the locus of his capital, Damascus.”  Mu`awiya “thus established a precedent for identifying the holiness of the sanctuary in Jerusalem with cosmology, eschatology, and the legitimization of dynastic caliphal authoriity….” (Necipoğlu, p. 19).  The later Umayyad caliph `Abd al-Malik had built the Dome of the Rock before he died in 705 AD as well as, most probably, the Dome of the Chain, constructed “on the site where David [was said to have] judged the Children of Israel by means of a chain of light suspended between heaven and earth….which could distinguish those who were speaking the truth in legal disputes from those where were lying [and which was] withdrawn to heaven when a disputant attempted to trick it.  The same tradition identifies the Dome of the Chain as the place where the Prophet [sic] encountered the maidens of Paradise at the time he was miraculously transported to Jerusalem on his Night Journey.”



Night Journey, or Night Moves?  Muhammad certainly has a way wiith the ladies, er, houris….

Also, Necipoğlu mined Islamic pilgrimage guides—Arab, Ottoman Turkish and even Persian—from  the ninth through the 16th centuries AD for how they viewed the structural layout of the Temple Mount.  Many of them play up the scatological meaning of the various edifices on the area around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the surrounding topography;  for example, the “Straight Bridge” (sirat al-mustaqim) which “is visualized…as leading from the Mount of Olives to the Haram al-Sharif” simultaneously “evokes the ‘straight path’ repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an….” (p. 77).  In sum, the Dome of the Rock and Chain, and “the signs of the Hour mapped onto the surrounding complex are only reminders and precursors of their real versions, a preview of things to come.” (p. 79).  Overall, says Necipoğlu, the Dome of the Rock in Islamic thought “salutes the end of time….” (p. 81).

How the 1.3 million Muslims in Israel feel about the scatological heritage of al-Haram al-Sharif—or even whether they are aware of it—is beyond my ken; but it is noteworthy that in the bookstores of the Old City I found five books on the Mahdi and the Muslim End of Time, four of which I purchased and plan to read (the other one was too thick and expensive to buy and cart back home): 1) Ahdath al-Kafiyah wa-Fitan Akhar al-Zaman (“Traditions of Secrecy and the Conflicts of the End of Time”), Cairo, 2012; 2)  Nihaya al-`Alam: Ashrat al-Sa`ah al-Sughra wa-al-Kubra (“The End of the World: Minor and Major Signs of the Hour,” Riyadh, 2010; 3) al-Qawl al-Sunni fi Fitnah al-Dajjal wa-Zuhur al-Mahdi (“The Sunni Doctrines on the Conflict of the the Dajjal and the Appearance of the Mahdi,” Cairo, 2011; and Ashrat al-Sa`ah wa-al-Fitan al-Malahim (“Signs of the Hour and the Conflicts and the Epic Battles,” Gaza, 2012.  Cairo, along with Beirut, is one of the major Arabic-language publishing venues, so I assign no great import to Islamic scatological works published there.  However, the publication of any work on this topic in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is striking, considering how much the Saudis fear a repeat of the regime-threatening attempted Mahdist coup of 1979; and a publisher in Palestinian Gaza putting out a book stirring the Islamic scatological pot may well indicate that the Palestinian Muslims are ready for apocalyptic battle with the Israelis—or, conversely, that they are ready to throw in the kaffiyeh on their own human efforts and, rather, just wait for the Mahdi to come smite their oppressors.

Muslim scatological fervor is boiling over in nearby Syria, as I analyzed on this site in September, 2013.   The extent to which Muslims in Israel are aware of, and inflamed by, this is unknown; what is known is that Damascus and Jerusalem are much more prominent in Islamic traditions (both Sunni and Shi`i) about the coming of the Mahdi and the subsequent scatological events than are Mecca and Medina. Therefore, it would behoove Western geopolitical and intelligence analysts—both in and out of government—to put some effort into studying this topic, rather than relegating it to the theater of the absurd or myopically obsessing over what Evangelical Christians think about the end of the world.

I would also add that the historical scatological significance of Jerusalem to Muslims is a major argument against the thesis that the Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel (I have already argued at length elsewhere that this charge little accords with Twelver Shi`i doctrines): Islam’s third-holiest site is that religion’s most important scatological locale, and no one is more respectful of such traditions than the ayatollahs in Qom and Tehran.  Thus, if al-Quds is nuked or even contaminated with fall-out from a bomb on Tel Aviv, the Mahdi and Allah will not only be displeased but unable to stage the eschatological denouement.  The presence of the Domes of the Rock and Chain in Jerusalem is thus, in my studied opinion, and even greater deterrent to Islamic nuclear attack on that city than is Israel’s more prosaic Iron Dome anti-missile system.


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