Architecture is the mirror of cultural influences that creep into nations, civilisations and religions. Therefore, Arts and Architecture including the cultural heritage, ancient monuments, mausoleums, tombs and other historic sites are given paramount significance in all faith traditions and their scriptures in various symbolic ways. The same holds true for Islam too. Besides common sense of preserving history and culture, Muslims were inspired by the Qur’anic exhortations to safeguard their monuments. The Qur’an calls historical monuments ‘symbols of Allah’ (Sha’air-ul-Lah) and enjoins their preservation as a means to achieve Taqwa al-Qulub (purity of hearts) (22:32). Here, the Qur’anic term ‘Sha’air-ul-Lah’ or ‘symbols of God’ implies any place of spiritual, religious, cultural and historical importance that depicts the signs of God. For instance, the two small mountains of Safa and Marwah in Makkah, between which Muslim pilgrims travel back and forth seven times during the Hajj and Umrah, are “symbols of God” in the Qur’anic view. The act of running between these two mountains by Prophet Ibrahim’s wife, Hazrat Hajrah was so much endeared to God that He enjoined it upon every Muslim who performs the rituals of Hajj. The Quran says: “Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah” (Surah Baqara: 158). Similar importance is attached to Zamzam, the miraculously-generated source of water from God, which began thousands of years ago when Hazrat Ibrahim’s infant son Ismail was thirsty and kept crying for water. Given this lofty status of monuments in the Quran, an act of preserving or maintaining any of such monuments causes one to achieve the Taqwa or purity of the heart. Therefore, Muslim caliphs and early rulers in the Arabia showed keen interest in building and preserving historical monuments. Right in the early era of Islam, Muslims had built monuments of very fine architectural styles inspired by the former Sassanid and Byzantine models. They were of both secular and religious fashion. Islamic monuments and historical relics generally include mosques, madrasas (schools and universities), minarets, Sufi shrines, squinches, domes, tombs etc. The most notable among them are: The holy Kaa’ba, the first mosque of Islam, Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina, Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Jam-e-Damishq or the Grand Mosque of Damascus, mosque of Ibn Tulun, Great Mosque of Qairawan Tunisia, Selimiye Mosque, Masjid-e-Jami in Isfahan, Caravanserai, Tak-i-kisra, the palace of Ukhairdir, the Alhambra, Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, madrasa and tomb of Sultan Hasan in Cairo, Great Mosque and Mental Hospital in Divrigi, the Ribat of Susa Tunisia, Castle of the Nizaire, Baghdad Iraq at the time of Caliph al-Mansur. The Most Sacred Monuments of Islam On top of the Islamic monuments is the Kaa’ba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred mosque in the world to which Muslims turn their faces in their five daily prayers. According to Islamic history, Kaa’ba had been originally constructed by Prophet Adam (pbuh) and later, it was rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). It is also known as the Bait-ul-Lah (house of God), cognate of the Hebrew-derived place name Bethel and is situated near the site of the well of Zamzam. Going by the Islamic tradition, Kaa’ba is the first place that was created on earth. Masjid al-Nabwi, the mosque of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) comes next to the Kaa’ba. It is situated in Medina, also known as “city of the Prophet,” in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia. It was the city of Medina to which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions migrated when they were oppressed at the hands of Meccan people and were not able to freely practice their faith. The first mosque of Islam, Masjid al-Quba or the Quba Mosque is also located in Medina. Moreover, the first official institute of learning and mysticism in Islam, the veranda of the Suffa, is also attached with the Masjid al-Nabwi. The Suffa constituted the first Islamic university. The students of the Suffa, from among the Prophet’s companions, were spiritually inclined people who devoted their lives to the study of sciences, spirituality and wisdom. The third most significant Islamic place, both in history and religion, is Jerusalem, to which Muslims temporarily turned their faces while praying. Muslims show great veneration to this city because there are two highly significant Islamic sites in Jerusalem: the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Dome of the Rock, also known as Qubbat as-Sakhrah in Arabic, is the most notable Muslim site in Jerusalem. Much like the Kaa’ba, it is built over a sacred stone. This stone carries historical relevance and religious significance to both Muslims and Jews. There is so much in history about the old town of Jerusalem. By being the most sacred place on earth for Christians, Jews and the third holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, it’s a big monumental place in all Semitic faiths. Among the most visited sites in Jerusalem are the Western Wall, Temple Mount with the Dome of Rock and the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Besides, there are numerous wonderfully strange sites that are half hidden. You may try to find out where the last supper took place, the birth place of Virgin Mary or the Ethiopian Monastery Deir-Sultan. No matter what faith you profess or even you believe in none, Jerusalem will captivate your heart. Nonetheless, there is a misconception about the Masjid al-Aqsa, prevailing particularly in the Urdu and Arabic newspapers. It is wrongly called “Qibla-e-Awwal” (the first Qibla) for Muslims, while, in fact, the Ka’bah was the Islamic “Qibla” even before the Masjid al-Aqsa. If so, then how could it be justified to call it the first Qibla? The fact is that Masjid al-Aqsa was made the Islamic Qibla temporarily for only sixteen and a half months for a specific reason and divine wisdom behind it. Moreover, it is a common knowledge that the Ka’bah was built 40 years before the establishment of the Masjid al-Aqsa, as a Hadith tradition reported. Once, Jews said to Muslims that the Baitul Maqdis was their Qiblah and that it was greater than the Ka’bah in status, because it was built earlier. Clearing this misconception, God revealed this verse: “The first house ever constructed for mankind (to worship God) is indeed the one in Mecca, teeming with blessings and (the centre of) guidance for the whole world” (3:96). Soon after the Dome of the Rock was established in 691-2, Umayyad caliph al-Walid constructed a grand and magnificent mosque in the capital of Damascus between 705 and 715 AD. Damascus was then one of the most important cities in the Middle East and it later became the capital of the Umayyad caliphate. UNESCO World Heritage Site writes: “In the Middle Ages Damascus was the centre of a flourishing artisan industry. Amongst the 125 monuments from the different periods of its history, the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umajjades is one of the most spectacular, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary.” The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, also known as Jam-e-Damishq, is accordingly a magnificent monument of Muslims built by thousands of craftsmen of Coptic, Persian, Indian and Byzantine origin. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica write: “The marble grilles that cover the windows in the south wall are the earliest example of geometric interlace in Isl?mic architecture. The walls of the mosque were once covered with more than an acre of mosaics depicting a fanciful landscape thought to be the Qur’anic paradise, but only fragments survive. The mosque was destroyed by Timur in 1401, rebuilt by the Arabs, and damaged by fire in 1893. Although it could not be restored to its original splendour, the mosque is still an impressive architectural monument”.
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