The Sanctuary of Abraham (Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi), Hebron
Considered to be the fourth holiest site in Islam, Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi (Sanctuary of Abraham) or Tomb of the Patriarchs dominates the city of Hebron. This 1000-year old mosque enshrines the tombs of prophets Abraham "Ibrahim", Isaac "Is'haq", Jacob (pbut), and their wives. It is believed that prophet Mohammad (pbuh) visited it on his night flight from Mecca to Jerusalem. The structure may date from 1500 BC though Herod probably built the huge wall surrounding it. This site has been transformed by successive rules from a cave to the massive structure that it is today, as well as from a church, mosque and synagogue.
According to Arab legend, the massive stones of the walls built without mortar, were laid by King Solomon (pbuh) with the help of Genies or spirits. The construction of the walls and the pavement of the Haram, however, bear the unmistakable stamp of Herod the Great. Additional Crusader and Mamluk structures combine to make it one of the most impressive ancient monuments in the West Bank outside of Jerusalem.
The Haram is a parallelogram 65m long by 35m in width, built of large drafted ashlars, similar to those in Al-Haram El-Sharif in Jerusalem. Standing 15m 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 4 square minarets, of which only those at the northeast and northwest 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. Jews believe that this opening is connected with the Tombs. This fifth step was the limit to which Jews were allowed in the past, and here they came to pray as at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but since 1967, the Israeli occupants changed the status of the Mosque and altered part of it to a Jewish Synagogue, in violation to international law.
The Mosque in the southern part of the enclosure is a Crusader church as shown by a Greek inscription in a comer 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 28m from west to east, and 21m from north to south. Four columns into a nave and two aisles divide it. The pulpit is a beautiful example of 12th century woodcarving and has been renewed recently.
The cenotaphs of the Patriarchs (pbut) 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 northwestern wall of the edifice. This leads via a passageway into the spacious Djaouliyeh Mosque with its splendid columns and calm interior. An entrance in the Herodian wall brings you into a courtyard. Here octagonal rooms to the right contain the 14th century cenotaphs of Jacob (pbuh) and Leah and the two rooms across the courtyard house the cenotaphs of Abraham (pbuh) and Sarah. The embroidered cloths that shroud the cenotaphs all bear a legend similar to that found on Abraham's: "This is the tomb of the prophet Abraham, may he rest in peace".
Passing between the 2 rooms, you enter Al-Is'haqeyyah or the Great Mosque. Central to the Mosque are the cenotaphs of Isaac (pbuh) and Rebecca, which in their present appearance date from 1332.
The geometric sheets of marble and the inscribed frieze decorating the walls are contemporary. Remarkable stained glass windows beautifully soften the light inside. The medieval entrance to the Cave of Machphelah, below, lies to the right of a magnificent carved wood minbar (pulpit). One of the finest examples of its kind, the minbar was made in 1091 for a mosque in Asqalan and was donated to the Haram by Salahuddin Al-Ayyoubi a century later. Beside it is the Mihrab (niche showing direction of prayer) facing Mecca.
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. The record is an extent of how they clamped down the flagstones they had removed; and these clamps are still in place.
To the south of the main sanctuary is the octagonal Mosque of the Women, the Mihrab of which is done with tiles from Kutahiya. These tiles have also been used to cover the bay over the entrance to the shrine of Joseph the Carpenter.