Today the site is peaceful, with trees providing shade over walkways which during Friday prayers are overflowing with the faithful but at other times having surprisingly few people strolling along or being pushed in wheelchairs or helped by those younger than themselves. The Dome of the Rock itself is stunning, with bright blue tilework beneath the brilliant golden dome. Because it is currently closed to non-Muslims, I could only imagine the wonderous inside, the sight of which moved the historian of late antiquity Peter Brown to proclaim that, "Islam must be true."
As I walked over there, I was thinking about Yazid b. al-Muhallab, a late Umayyad general and governor who spent some time living near Ramla under the protection of the future caliph Suleyman. I spent much of yesterday reading about him for my dissertation, and it seemed likely that he had wandered up here at least once. Once there, however, for some reason I couldn't help but be consumed by the thought of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun the Great, who renovated the Dome and tried to take credit for building it, wandering the courtyard with his advisors planning his adjustments during his visit to Jerusalem all those centuries ago.
My fingers are crossed that it will again be open to non-Muslims before I leave Jerusalem.
UPDATE: I forgot that it's also the presumed site of the Last Judgement. The fact of shared holy places is often cited as a reason for conflict, but could there be any better symbol of how much they actually have in common? I love just being within sight of that golden dome and everything it represents.