Where to go Guide
The Old City of Jerusalem, as the point of convergence of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has long been known as a flashpoint of religious conflict. Yet the Mosque of Omar is linked to a surprising story of peaceful coexistence between two of these religions that have warred over Jerusalem for centuries.
The Mosque of Omar commemorates the conquering Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab, who in 638 AD came to the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Having been invited into the Church to pray by the Patriarch Sophronius he refused, saying, “If I had prayed in the Church, it would have been lost to you, for the Believers would have taken it out of your hands, saying ‘Omar prayed here.’” So Omar prayed outside the Church and the story serves as a cornerstone to the Mosque which was to follow.
Built in the 12th century, the Mosque of Omar is neighbor to the giant Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Over the ages, different structures have been built and destroyed but the Church as it stands today is essentially the same building as consecrated by the Crusaders in 1149. During the Crusader period, the Mosque of Omar was part of a complex occupied by the Knights of St John, quartered nearby to protect the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For centuries, the entrances to both the Mosque and Church shared the same courtyard. Later, during the Ottoman period, a street-side entrance to the Mosque was opened to accommodate worshippers.
The Mosque of Omar has two minarets whose tops are identical and, although built on different foundations, are exactly the same height. It is thought that the line between the minarets cancels out the dominance of the huge cross of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The southern minaret was built later than the Mosque’s northern minaret, dating from the Mamluk period (15th century) but is almost identical to its twin in the north. There is no definitive information as to why the minarets were built so far away from one another. Another feature of the Mosque are the beautifully carved and inscribed stones of the Mosque’s gateway.
Soon after the conquest of Jerusalem by Salah Eddin (Saladin) in 1187 AD, the care of the Mosque was entrusted to the Alami family who held the Waqf (trust) Al Alami for centuries. To this day, access to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is restricted by a complex protocol providing different Christian denominations ownership and conditional access to certain parts, with the Waqf having ownership of a portion as well as its own privileged access. Maintaining the roof is the responsibility of the Waqf, and sitting at the heart of Jerusalem, it remains one of the quiet refuges of the Old City. Rebuilding and repairs are an integral part of the life of ancient buildings. Both the Mosque of Omar and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre have each undergone generations of modifications. Documents held by the Alami family, ordering repairs and restoration to the Mosque, shows that these undertakings have been commissioned as far back as the 16th century.