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Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi
submitted by This Week In Palestine

By Hebron Rehabilitation Committee

Historical background
Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi, the Sanctuary of Abraham or Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the old city of Hebron is considered to be the fourth holiest site in Islam. One of the ancient historical, religious, and heritage sites in Palestine, this 1000-year-old mosque enshrines the tombs of the prophet Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah, as well as the tomb of Joseph. It is believed that the prophet Mohammad visited it on his night flight from Mecca to Jerusalem.

Prophet Abraham chose al-Haram al-Ibrahimi, also known as the Cave of Machpelah, which he had bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial plot to bury his wife Sarah in 1900 BC when he returned to the land of Palestine.

According to Arab legend, the massive stones of the sanctuary’s walls built without mortar were laid by King Solomon. The walls had no doors and therefore visitors had to walk around them. Following the Islamic conquest, the walls were converted into a mosque, and throughout the ages it was a site for reverence and care. Umayyad and Fatimid caliphs, sultans, and emirs tended the mosque. In the year 583 hegira (1187 AD), when the Islamic leader Salaheddin Al-Ayyoubi recaptured the city of Hebron from the Crusaders, he moved the minbar or pulpit from the city of Asqalan to the mosque in Hebron fearing that Asqalan would fall into the hands of the Crusaders. Badr al-Jamali, vizier to the Fatimid Caliph al-Mustanser Billah, gave orders in the year 484 hegira (1091 AD) to build the pulpit with the head of Imam Al-Hussein carved on it.

In the year 679 hegira (1280 AD), King al-Mansour Qalawoon opened the main entrance of the mosque and set up its neighbouring fascia, and in the year 685 hegira (1286 AD) he renovated the doors of the mosque. In addition, King Qalawoon carved verses from the Holy Quran on the dome of Jacob’s tomb.

In the year 720 hegira (1329 AD), custodian of the two holy mosques Emir Sinjer Al-Jaouli built a rectangular mosque on the eastern side of al-Ibrahimi Mosque’s wall, which was named after him: Al-Jaouliyeh. During the reign of Emir Barqooq at the end of the 18th century hegira (14th century AD), Emir Shihabeddin Al-Yaghmouri opened a door in Al-Sulaymani western wall near Joseph’s Tomb. In the year 732 hegira (1332 AD) the cap of the minbar was coated with frieze and the wall of the mosque and the mihrab or niche with fine sheets of marble.

Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi now
Al-Ibrahimi Mosque is a parallelogram that is 65 meters long by 35 meters in width, built of large drafted ashlars. Standing 15 meters high, it is the work of Herod the Great. The crenellated upper part of the wall is of Mamluk origin. Formerly, it was flanked by four square minarets, of which only those at the north-east and north-west corners remain.

Two flights of steps, from north and south, lead to the inner court of the sanctuary. Near the fifth step of the north staircase is an opening under a block in the wall.

The mosque in the southern part of the enclosure is a Crusader church as shown by a Greek inscription in a corner of the left aisle of the mosque, which was an enlargement of the original Byzantine basilica used by Christian pilgrims en route to Abraham’s Oak at Mamre. It measures 28 meters from west to east and 21 meters from north to south.

The cenotaphs of the patriarchs are richly decorated and covered with green tapestries embroidered with Qur’anic verses and other pious inscriptions. They are believed to stand exactly over the burial place of the Patriarchs.

Entrance to the complex is up the Mamluk stairway on the north-western wall of the edifice. This leads via a passageway into the spacious Al-Jaouliyeh Mosque with its splendid columns and calm interior. Entering the Herodian wall brings you into a courtyard. Here octagonal rooms to the right contain the 14th century cenotaphs of Jacob and Leah and the two rooms across the courtyard house the cenotaph of Abraham and Sarah.

Passing between the two rooms, you enter Al-Is’haqeyyah or the Great Mosque. Central to the mosque are the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca, which in their present appearance date from 1332.

In an opening in the floor a light may be lowered to show a part of the cave. The Crusaders opened the cave in 1119 and then closed it up again after examining the tombs of the Patriarchs.

Al- Haram al-Ibrahimi under occupation
Since 1967, Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, like all other Moslem holy sites in Palestine, became a target for the Israeli occupying forces and Zionist settlers. Several attempts to take control of the mosque were made. Gradually, the Israeli occupying authorities allowed Jews to pray in the mosque and later several places inside the mosque were restricted to Jews only. During Jewish holidays Moslems are denied access to the mosque.

At 5:00 on the morning of February 25, 1994, on the 15th day of the holy month of Ramadan, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an extremist settler from Kiryat Arba’ settlement who holds US and Israeli citizenship, opened machine-gun fire at Moslem worshippers during prayer. He killed 29 people and injured 135. On the same day outside the mosque, the Israeli army opened fire towards fearful and panicky worshippers and killed at least ten civilians.

Following the incident, Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi was converted into a military post and later divided into two parts, one for Moslems and another for Jews. Thus the mosque became a point of conflict and constant tension that has marred its sanctity.

Recently, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, in cooperation with the Islamic Waqf Department, has undertaken the complete renovation of Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi. The beauty of the external building and the brightness of the colours inside have been restored.

The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee was founded in 1996 by a presidential decree from the late President Yasser Arafat. They can be reached through hebronrc@hebronet.com

This Week in Palestine
April 2008

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