Prophet Abraham Holy Mosque is the oldest mosque and most salient landmarks in the city of Hebron. The followers of the three monotheistic religions believe that it is the place where Abraham is buried. The place is surrounded by a large wall whose (some believe) its foundations were laid down in the era of Herod the Great about two thousand years ago. The top balconies were built in the early Islamic era.
The Romans built a church in the place of the Mosque in times of Emperor Justinian. One hundred years later, the Persians demolished the church. The roof and the domes of the Mosque were built by the Umayyad caliphs; the Abbasids opened a new gate from the eastern side, while the Fatimid magistrates furnished it with carpets. During the Crusades rule, the mosque was turned into a church in 1172, but when Saladin conquered the territory after the Battle of Hittin, he turned the church into the mosque proper.
Features of the Mosque
In his description of the Mosque, Mujeer Al-Deen Hanbali says: The Mosque is located southeast of Hebron, surrounded by great wall which is 3.5 cubits thick on each side. The number of courses in the top spot (at the door of the castle from the west) is 15, each course is 1.3 cubits wide. The building is 26 cubits high at the door of the castle (place of drums beating).
The mosque features two square minarets built on the wall: the first is in the south-east and the second in the north-west, each is 15 meters high.
The shrine inside the wall (to the north) is roughly 80 cubits from the niche to the shrine of Jacob. The east-west width (from the entrance of the hallway to the window overlooking the shrine of Joseph) is slightly more than 41 cubits.
The rectangular stone enclosure lies on a northwest-southeast axis, and is divided into two sections by a wall running between the northwestern three fifths, and the southeastern two fifths. The northwestern section is roofed on three sides, the central area and north eastern side being open to the sky; the southeastern section is fully roofed, the roof being supported by four columns evenly distributed through the section. The interior part of the structure includes a gable which runs from the middle of the southern part of the wall to the north with three arcs. In the middle of the gable, just beneath the highest arc, lie the Mihrab and the speech niche. In the opposite side, there is a platform for muezzins built on magnificent marble pillars, and the marble is in a circular architecture prevailed in the reign of Sultan Muhammad bin Qalawun (1291-1341 AD).
In the northwestern section, which functions primarily as a mosque, are the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca. This shrine has three doors, and it runs to the heavenly yard (called the mosque courtyard). To the middle, there is the Abraham Shrine, which is made of circular marble. To the western side of the Shrine, there is the Abraham cenotaph, while to the eastern side lies Sara's cenotaph. Beside this Shrine there is the Maaliki Niche with a window overlooking the shrine of Joseph. The far end of the yard where the Slimani Wall runs is the tomb of Jacob to the west of Abraham's tomb (opposite the tomb of Leah, Jacob's wife).
The heavenly yard between Abraham's shrine and Jacob's shrine (peace be upon them), as well as domes built on the shrines of Abraham, Sara, Jacob and Leah where built during the Umayyad rule. The tiles inside were paved during the Ottoman's era.
The Cave has a small door next to the pulpit, with a 15-step stone staircase.
Inside the wall from the east is the Jawili Mosque, a wonder landmark carved in a hollow mount. The roof and the dome were then added, along with twelve pillars. The floor, walls and pillars are all made of marble. The western side of the mosque has iron windows. The mosque is 30 cubits long and 25 cubits wide. Construction works commenced in Rabee' Al-Akhir 708 and completed in 7020 Hijri under the rule of Mohammed bin Qalawun. A panel on the wall reads: Sanjar Ajawili built this mosque by his own money.
Beside the mosque, there is a kitchen which is used to cook buckwheat groats. The kitchen has three ovens and six grinding stones. The place also has garners for wheat and barley. The buckwheat groats are served to residents and visitors. Three meals are cooked a day: in the morning, in the afternoon and late afternoon. Fourteen (or even fifteen) thousand loaves are served every day.
Prophet Abraham Holy Mosque: Green (Access for Muslims), Grey (Access for Jews)
The Mosque in Modern Days
External Structure: General Overview
Inside the Sulaimani Wall, there are a number of buildings, including the main mosque and the open courtyards with the surrounding corridors, domes and rooms. To the south of the open courtyard, there are two domes symbolizing the tombs of Abraham and his wife, with a gable separating them and a room for the mosque servants. Above the northwest corner of the Sulaimani Fort rises a beacon and another beacon above the south-eastern corner. To the eastern wall of the Fort stands Al-Jawili Mosque.
The shrine of Joseph is contiguous to the western wall of the fort from the outside. Above the shrine, there is Sultan Hassan School with a staircase that was renovated in 1950. The outside courtyard of the mosque holds ancient buildings such as Sultan Suleiman Tower, remains of the ancient wall, the Qalawun Sactrum, Towashi Hospice and others.
Outer walls of the mosque (i.e. the Sulaimani Fort) are rectangular (59.28 meters long, 33.97 meters wide, 16 meters high and 2.68 meters thick), built with huge rocks (some rocks are 7 meters long and 1.5 meters high) with decorated belts, friezes and cornices toppings. In the Islamic era, more three meters were added, mainly for military purposes. On the south-east and northwest parts of the Fort, two square-shaped minarets were erected (each is 15 meters above the roof of the mosque) in the Mamluk period.
The roof of the building inside the Fort involves domes and flat and serpentine surfaces covered with sheets of lead, while the roof of the Jawili Mosque, the Dome of Joseph and Sultan Hassan School are covered with square mosaic. People used to call this School the 'ambergris.'
Entrances of the Mosque: There are three entrances for the Holy Mosque. The first and the main entrance is located in the south-east of the mosque. The entrance starts with a corridor (with a staircase) and then runs to the left passing under an arch and then runs 7 upstairs. It used to have a long staircase with semi-circle steps. This staircase and the front door were blown by the Jews on November 10, 1968. A staircase of 32 steps runs straight to the second entrance (to the north-west). The third entrance is located near the western ablution corner, a few yards from the second entrance. Recently, a zigzag staircase has been added to this entrance in order to get to the Sultan Hassan School. One window of the ablution corner was turned into a door, which distorted the original spirit of the place. The third entrance is especially important when worshipers leave the Mosque after Fridays. Women, in particular, use this entrance when throngs of worshippers gather for the Friday sermon.
A spacious uneven piazza, to the western part of the Mosque, accommodates (in the northwest corner of the Fort) remnants of a tower and walls running to the Fort. Opposite these walls (next to Qalawun Sactrum), there was an intact bibelot tower featuring a tablet that displays the name of Sultan Suleiman Bin Salem. This tower, as well as the remnants of the wall between the two towers, have recently been removed. This tower was rebuilt next to the northwest tower, but it is not identical to its ancestor in terms of measures, shape and size. The aforementioned tablet was pinned to the tower, with another panel underneath that reads "In 1965, the Department of Antiquities relocated this tower which was originally built fifty meters to the east."
A modern ablution niche and an outdoor patio were contiguous to the western wall of the Sulaimani Fort. The patio had a tank that supplies the niche with water; however the tank was totally removed. The niche is surrounded by many rooms and utilities, including Joseph's Tomb sheltered with a dome built in the tenth century; Sultan Hassan School (twenty meters long and eight meters wide); and the modern staircase which was built in the piazza in 1950. The staircase runs to the School through a door (which was a window).
Remains of Qalawun Sanctum are found alongside the south-western part of the Fort. A new floor was built on top of the Sanctum, which was built in 679 Hijri.
Lately, the Jews have built a tourist rest house on the main street at the entrance to the piazza. The twenty-meter long rest house covers up the Mosque, and thus the architectural magnificence of the place. This also mismatches with the purpose behind removing the old buildings to expose the piazza and the Mosque.
The Main Prayer House
The Main Prayer House is a rectangular place (28.45 meters long and 21.80 meters wide) that encompasses three lobbies. The largest has gypsum windows and others made from transparent glass. This lobby has a balcony with a metal fence installed on iron rods. The fence bears banners with engraved names: Allah, Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali, Hassan and Hussein. The arches of these lobbies are constructed on four huge pillars (buttress, pillars and half-pillars) topped by crowns. The pillars, and other stakes function as supporters that reinforce the walls.
The stakes are brocaded with marble strips with natural colors or painted in marble-like colors. The walls are lined with marble slabs. Some of these slabs were damaged, and thus replaced with stones painted with oil to look like marble.
Two posters are attached to the eastern wall of the prayer house. The first (in Greek) names a person who asked for blessing and forgiveness. The second is written in Arabic and includes the date of making the marble (in the time of the Al-Nnasir Muhammad Qalawun, 1332). Right from the prayers niche, there is a marble stripe with verses from the Koran (by calligrapher Ibrahim Anti 1895).
The walls and pillars above the marble stripes are all whitewashed with oily colors. The ceilings are all diagonally intersected and held by arcs based on the pillars and walls, all are whitewashed and decorated with oily paints.
In the Sulaimani wall of the foyer, there is a hollow prayer niche plated with colored marble, while its ceiling is coated with golden mosaics. The arch of the prayer niche is plated with white and black marble in the form of overlapping circles. The arch is surrounded by delicate, fine marble inlaid with shells. Two pillars on both sides of the niche support the arch.
Above the entrance of the Cave (next to the bench of the muezzin), there is a small dome held by four marble columns. Above the second entrance of the cave (next to the prayer niche), there is a base of a small dome held by four marble columns. The third entrance is believed to be next to the room where Leah is buried (right in the western part of the room). The entrance is covered with a slab that fits with the surface of the floor. In some accounts, this entrance is to the north of Rebecca shrine.
To the northern wall of the prayer house, there are three main doors:
The first is in the eastern end. It runs to a lobby leading to the main entrance of the mosque. The second faces the mihrab (prayer niche) and leads to the foyer that incorporates the two symbolic domes of the tombs of Abraham and Sarah. The third is located in the eastern end and it leads to the Malikiya prayer house.
The Prayers House receives sunlight through four gypsum windows and four transparent glass windows in the middle lobby, and two transparent glass windows in the northern wall.
To the right of the praying niche, Badr al-Jamali built a Fatimid wooden rostrum in Ashkelon, which was then moved to Hebron by Saladin. This artifact was meticulously made, with engraves and Kofi inscriptions that indicate the date of its making (1091 AD).
Two colored stone rooms (oily paints in the outside and whitewashing in the interior) were built on both sides of the middle lobby. The two rectangular rooms have a gable ceiling. Each room has a marble monument featuring verses from the Koran and the name of the person who ordered the building of the rooms (Al-Nnasir Muhammad bin Qalawun). Each room has a door and two coppery casements with inscriptions that read "This is the tomb of the Prophet Isaac" and "This is the tomb of Our Lady Rebecca, wife of the Prophet Isaac, God bless her." The door features the name of the manufacturer (Haji Abdul Latif, 1200 Hijri).
In the far side of the prayer house is the muezzin platform, which is made from marble and held by six marble columns and iron railing. The platform is accessed through a spiral iron staircase.
Al-Malikiya Prayer House
This prayer house is built to the northwest of the Main Prayer House. The Malikiya prayer house is a rectangular portico. The arches of the ceiling have a cross-shape. The walls and the ceiling are whitewashed. The prayer niche is inlaid with faience. There is also a door (in the corner shaped by an octagonal base of Abraham's Dome) that leads to the Main Prayer House, and another door that takes the visitor to the Sultan Hassan School. The Malikiya prayer house has another door that leads to the minaret, and a fourth door that is directly attached to the symbolic tomb of Joseph. Two small domed buildings separate the outdoor patio from the Malikiya prayer house. In each doomed building, there is a modern glass window with a wooden frame. The roof of the Malikiya prayer house has two apertures covered with vaults. This house has been earmarked for women.
Al-Jawili Prayer House
This house consists of three cross-shaped lobbies with roofs sustained by square trusses. The house has a stone in the lintel of the dome, with small windows with glass shutters. Some of the external walls are covered with rocks. Stone trusses that separate the house from the Sulaimani Wall uphold the arches. The Mihrab of the Jawili Prayer House is carved in rocks and inlaid with marble.
A nook with a modern wall was appropriated for women, but it was removed in the 1960s. Today women perform their prayers in the Malikiya House. The walls, the trusses, the beams and the arches are all whitewashed. The walls of the Front are decorated with marble together with verses from the Koran in the upper side. The entrance of the main corridor has two doors separated by a rectangular space. Each door has two windows and a semicircular shutter. The walls of the corridor are painted in melted limestone with some inscriptions written (in Arabic and Turkish) on some pieces of marble.
Domes and Lobbies
The domes are particularly built on shrines. Abraham's dome (with an octagonal base) was built next to the middle entrance of the Jawili Prayer House. The stone dome has walls garnished with marble with the upper side featuring verses from the Koran, while the doorstep has a written text showing that Mansour Qalawun was the one who had the House garnished in marble. In the middle of the dome, there is a symbolic structure of the tomb. It receives light through a casement overlooking the open courtyard.
Sarah's Dome looks very much like Abraham's, though it has a hexagonal shape and doesn't have marble doorplates or inscriptions. However, just like Abraham's, it still has a symbolic structure of the tomb installed in the middle of the dome. It receives light through a casement overlooking the courtyard of the main entrance of the Holy Mosque of Abraham.
The place between the two domes is rectangular. The walls of Abraham's dome are embellished with marble which is covered with fine marble particles inlaid with pearls, while the walls of Sarah's dome feature only beams (on the main entrance of the House) and inscriptions on faience that read: "In the name of Allah the Merciful. Lo! Abraham was a nation obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters".
The area above the door leading to the open lobby has neither marble nor faience. In every corner there is a marble pillar, with a streak that features verses from Sad Sura : "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. And remember our servants Ibrahim [Abraham] and Ishaq [Isaac] and Yaqub [Jacob], endowed with might and sight; verily, we made them sincere by a sincere quality-the remembrance of the abode; and, verily, they were with us of the elect, the best. And remember Ismail and Elisca and Dhu l-Kifl, for each was of the righteous. This is a reminder! Verily, for the pious is there an excellent resort, gardens of Eden with the doors open to them; reclining therein; calling therein for much fruit and drink; and beside them maids of modest glance, of their own age. This is what ye were promised for the day of reckoning! This is surely our provision, it is never spent! This, and, verily, for the rebellious is there an evil resort, hell; they shall broil therein, and an ill couch shall it be! This,-so let them taste it! hot water, and pus, and other kinds of the same sort!" The streak also has a verse from Surah Ale-Imran: "In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqam (place) of Ibrahim (Abraham); whosoever enters it, he attains security."
The rest of the walls and the cross-like arches of the ceiling are whitewashed. The two entrances to the two domes and the middle entrance of the main Prayers House are found in the yard, opposite the entrance that leads to the open piazza.
In front of the domes of Abraham and Sarah, there is a lobby with an arched, cross-shaped ceiling. The lobby is separated from the open ceiling by trusses (two identical trusses and one shorter truss) linked together with arches. Some areas of the walls of the lobby are covered with marble, while others are only whitewashed. The small exit door of the main Prayers House leads to the heavenly yard: an open rectangular courtyard whose eastern side functions as a wall of the Sulaimani Fort. In the farthest side of the courtyard, there is a ladder which runs directly to the library.
The octagonal Dome of Jacob has walls banded with marble that features verses from the Noble Koran, while the doorstep has a written text showing that Mansour Qalawun was the one who had the House garnished in marble. In the middle of the dome, there is a symbolic structure of the tomb. It receives light through a casement overlooking the open courtyard, and another casement that overlooks the Malikiya Prayers house.
Leah's Dome looks very much like Jacob's, though it has a hexagonal shape and doesn't have marble doorplates or inscriptions. However, just like Jacob's, it still has a symbolic structure of the tomb installed in the middle of the dome.
The place between the two domes is rectangular, with a domed, cross-shaped ceiling. The walls are without windows and they are humbly whitewashed with oily paints. It has a door that leads to the open courtyard, two doors functioning as entrances to the two domes, as well as two doors for the servants' room. The upper part of the western wall has small beams with random medallions. This place houses stores and rooms for the servants of the mosque. These are whitewashed and they have no windows
Two doors in the western wall of the Sulaimni Fort function as exits to the Fort. One of them leads to the symbolic structure of the dome that houses Joseph's Tomb and the other (in front of the lighthouse) leads to the Sultan Hassan School with an arched corridor underneath.
The rectangular room hosting Joseph's Tomb is banded with marble. The rest of the walls and the dome itself are whitewashed. The symbolic structure of the tomb is installed in the middle of the dome which features a window overlooking the square.
The Sultan Hassan School (formerly called the Castle) is rectangular in shape with arches that are cross-shaped in the roof. The ceiling and the walls (except for those attached to the Fort) are whitewashed. The School has two windows overlooking the courtyard and another window in the north-west side, but the latter was turned into a door when the staircase had been built. This school is now known as the 'ambergris,' and it contains a room that is known as the 'small ambergris'. The ambergris proper was forcefully seized by the Jews on February 11, 1983 and turned into a Jewish religious school.
The Sultan Hassan School was built on an arched corridor running to Jacob's Shrine. This corridor is accessed through a door to the right of the second entrance of the Holy Mosque. The ceilings and the walls of the corridor, as well as Jacob's Shrine (which has a casement overlooking the open courtyard) are whitewashed.
Abraham bought the Cave from Ephron bin Souhar Hittite for 400 dirhams in order to bury his wife Sarah. When Abraham died, he was buried there, in the west side beside Sarah. When Rebecca died, she was also buried there, to the southern side of Sarah's tomb. Isaac was buried next to his wife's tomb. Both Jacob and Leah were buried beside Abraham's tomb. The children of Jacob built a wall around the Cave and put signs on graves with names of the dead prophets. Then, they closed the doorway. The Great Wall (the Sulaimani Wall) was built later. Muslims then built a mosque over the Cave.
The Cave has a 15-step staircase that runs down to a vault that is 70 centimeters wide, 80 centimeters high and 20 meters long. The rest of the Cave nether lobbies were built on both sides of the vault. The lobbies run with a curvature to the room found under the entrance aperture. This room is believed to be the second house (next to the muezzins' niche). There is a third house located west of Leah's shrine. This house (3 meters long, 3 meters wide and 5 meters high) is covered with a circular marble-and-rock slab. The floor is paved with stone, and the walls are whitewashed.
In the farthest point of the Cave ceiling, there is an aperture where they used to keep glowing lamps. In the southern corner of the Cave, the Mamluks built a Mihrab with stalactites, part of which was damaged by sabotage. On the floor, stones with regular shapes are dumped randomly. A marble broken slab (120 centimeters long and 60 centimeters wide) has a script that reads "No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep;" while a stone panel has the word 'Abraham' carved in Latin. The floor of this room rises 30-40 centimeters above the cellar level.
A door in the meeting point between the cellar and the room leads to a tunnel that is 2.5 meters long and 120 centimeters high (though it was higher before parts of it were buried in earth). Today, excavations are being carried out around the tunnel as well as in its walls. The walls are formed from igneous rocks and the roof is formed from milestone rocks. The tunnel ends in a narrow aperture that is only accessed by crawling. This aperture again leads to another 3-meter long tunnel buried in earth, especially in the dead end. The left-hand wall is whitewashed, while the entire place is wet and soggy. The Cave houses other lobbies, but these are inaccessible given the mudslides and earth piling up.
The cellar runs from the staircase near the prayers niche (pulpit) to the Cave room where oil lamps are fueled. Around 5 meters from the far side of the cellar, there are two closed apertures that might have been doors leading to the tombs of the prophets and their wives under the rubble. A stone (that fell as a result of sabotage) has a round frame with oval carves that together shape an asterisk (*). Another stone has also a rounded frame that features the word 'Jacob' in Latin.
The Hospice of Abraham
The Hospice of Abraham was built by the Fatimids a thousand years ago next to the Holy Mosque of Abraham. The Hospice then involved a kitchen, food and grain warehouses, an oven and a school. Money and other essential resources were then allocated for the Hospice. Endowments were appropriated by kings, sultans and princes and commanders of Muslim armies. The tallies of these endowments were kept in a coffer in Joseph's Shrine. Allocations were forwarded from Egypt, Syria East Jordan and Palestine.
The kitchen of the Hospice serves as a place to cook buckwheat groats for residents and visitors (about 14-15 thousand meals a day). The meals are distributed three times a day: in the morning, afternoon and late afternoon. In the latter meal, a drum is beaten for visitors to gather and collect their meals (a tradition that goes back to Abraham who would beat the drum for his guests as a signal for the mealtime).
As part of the efforts to remove the buildings from around the Mosque, the Hospice and its extensions were removed in 1964 and moved to a temporary place next to the Sultan Pool in the city. In early 1983, the Department of Islamic Endowments constructed a new building for the Hospice in the northern side of the Mosque. The new Hospice (inaugurated in 1984) is provided with all necessary amenities. Meals are now cooked in a gas oven. The place hires 4 employees for the morning shift (usually carrying out cleaning and groundwork) and 2 employees in the afternoon shift (tasked with serving food).
Jews Crimes against the Mosque
Al Jazeera Media Network spotted a number of Jewish attacks on the Holy Mosque:
- The most far-reaching attack, according to a Palestinian scholar, occurred on June 8, 1967 when the Israeli soldiers, accompanied with a Chief Rabbi, forcibly stormed into the Sanctuary, raised the Israeli flag on the Mosque and denied Muslim worshipers' access to the Mosque.
That was only the tip of the iceberg, the scholar added. Since then, raids have become part of the soldiers routine, most prominently:
- December 18, 1967: Soldiers installed wooden cupboards with copies of the Torah.
- October 11, 1968: Soldiers blew up the stairs leading to the mosque and demolished the archaeological well adjacent to the wall.
- October 31, 1968: Military ruler in Hebron informed Director of Endowments and Chief Guard that Israel annexed the Jacobean lobby (part of the mosque) to be a place for Jews prayers, in addition to the Abraham lobby.
- November 2, 1976: 15 settlers stormed into the Mosque, tore up copies of the Noble Koran, trampled on them and stayed there a couple of hours.
- January 13, 1977: A soldier broke into the Mosque during the noon prayer and discharged sprays of pepper-like liquid- making worshippers cough and sneeze.
- May 31, 1987: Soldiers stationed near the Mosque swore at Prophet Muhammad when the muezzin was calling for prayers. They also threatened to kill the guards if the muezzin didn't stop.
- October 13, 1987: Administrative ruler informed the Chief Guard of the Mosque that the occupation authorities would install electronic devices, television lenses and electronic gates on the three main entrances.
- September 18, 1991: Settlers assaulted worshipers with chairs after Al-Asr prayer, rummaged metal barriers and beat the elderly.
- February 25, 1994: Settler Baruch Goldstein stormed the Mosque during the Fajr prayer and shot dead 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded dozens. The Israeli soldiers then assaulted Palestinians (who were protesting against the bloodbath) killing other 30. The Commission of Inquiry then divided the Mosque between Muslims and Jews, with the large part appropriated as a synagogue.
- August 15, 1994: Occupation authorities installed 14 modern cameras, 58 flashlights and new alarms.
- February 13, 1995: Occupation authorities installed a ready-made barrack for the police and two mobile rooms for the soldiers in the garden of the Mosque.
- June 10, 1996: Israeli army installed huge calculators on the electronic doors to count worshipers.
- January 31, 1998: Settlers poured caustic soda at two guards of the Mosque.
- February 21, 2010: Israeli government put the mosque on the list of Jewish historic and heritage sites, and allocated $ 1.06 million for maintenance and renovation.
Since 2000, attacks on Mosque employees have become frequent and systematic, particularly at times of calling for prayers on Saturday. Muslims are denied access to the Mosque during the Jewish holidays, while settlers flock to the Mosque on all occasions.
Muslim worshipers are subject to tough, three-phase inspection. In the first phase, worshipers are forced to pass through an iron gate individually. In the second phase, they are inspected in an area of four gates, while in the third phase, they are inspected electronically in an area of two gates.
Hebron Mufti, Sheikh Maher Meswadi, denounced the Israeli official decision that allows settlers to enter the Mosque, wondering how, after the aforementioned 1994 massacre, the Shengar Commission punished the victim and rewarded the criminal when it divided the Mosque between Muslims and Jews.
Sheikh Maher remarked that the occupation authorities do not allow Palestinians to walk in the area around the Mosque during the Jewish holidays, while they allow settlers to hang over Hebron neighborhoods all the time, and on the Islamic religious occasions, in particular.
Sheikh Maher did not rule out that the occupation might impose further procedures to tighten the Jewish control over the Mosque, especially after Israel put it on the Jewish heritage list. He however stressed that these arbitrary measures will not stop residents of Hebron and worshipers from fulfilling their duty to the Mosque.