The Christian and Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem remain of great interest to His Majesty King Abdullah II, as a continuation of the royal commitment to care for these holy sites. The Hashemite Fund for the Reconstruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock was established under a law issued in 2007 (after amending the Law of the Reconstruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock No. 32 of 1954). This fund is supervised by a board of trustees chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad.
A previous committee, formed under the 1954 law, had given great attention to the Al Aqsa Mosque, including all mosques, domes, maharib and other cultural sites. The committee worked continuously on the maintenance and restoration of these sites, removed the effects of the fire, which had damaged more than one third of the mosque, and undertook reconstruction of the first Dome of the Rock Mosque, dating from 691 AD.
Other Jerusalem restorations
Projects for the care and reconstruction of holy sites in Jerusalem in the era of King Abdullah include: the rebuilding of the Minbar of Salaheddin and its installation in Al Aqsa Mosque; the restoration of the southern and eastern walls of Al Aqsa Mosque; and another 11 restoration and maintenance projects on the various facilities and sections of Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Studies were completed for six other projects, related to the installation of sophisticated systems for lighting, sound, mechanical and sanitary works and for the fifth minaret of Al Aqsa Mosque on the eastern wall.
Saving the Minbar of Salaheddin…and more
For centuries, the Hashemites have been the recipients of a special trust, as custodians of Islam's sacred places in the city of Jerusalem. When His Majesty King Abdullah II inherited this responsibility from his father, it came with a challenge that had baffled scholars for more than thirty years: how to reconstruct the great Minbar of Salaheddin, at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The minbar, a decorated pulpit from which the imam delivered sermons, was considered a great artwork from the height of the Islamic empire. During the 12th century, when Jerusalem was still under Crusader occupation, the Muslim leader of Aleppo, Nureddin Zengi, called upon the finest craftsmen in the state to construct a spectacular minbar for the Al Aqsa Mosque. It symbolised the grandeur of the Islamic civilization, its devotion to God, and its hope of regaining sovereignty in its third holiest city.
In 1187, Nureddin's successor, the great Salaheddin Al Ayyubi, reconquered Jerusalem. He installed Nureddin's minbar in Al Aqsa Mosque where it remained for nearly 800 years.
In 1969, a firebomb was planted in Al Aqsa by a radical Zionist. The fire nearly destroyed the building and it reduced to ashes one of the Muslim world's great treasures. His Majesty the late King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan pledged to rebuild the minbar – a task that would prove much more challenging than anticipated.
Little remained of the original, and no detailed records had been made of its construction, dimensions, materials or interior structure. Fragments of charred wood, antique paintings and black-and-white photographs were the only guides available to the committee established to oversee the task. Even the knowledge of how to design and build the minbar's intricate panels seemed lost, a relic of the distant past.
Rebuilding the minbar became more than just a test of skill – it became part of a major effort to safeguard the rapidly vanishing cultural heritage of the Islamic world.
When King Abdullah II ascended to the throne of Jordan, he and his religious affairs adviser, His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, renewed their efforts to find someone who could replicate what was known of the minbar's design.
They found Minwer Meheid, a young man from a bedouin family in Saudi Arabia, with degrees in engineering and architecture. Although he had no formal artistic training, Islamic geometry had been a personal interest, part of Meheid’s own quest to understand the history of Islam. Using the traditional geometric principles he had learned from books, Meheid resolved the question of how to reproduce the complex inlaid patterns of the minbar's surface with absolute precision. Based on these initial sketches, Meheid was appointed to lead the reconstruction project.
More months of study followed, as Meheid travelled the Islamic world, searching for other ancient minbars from which he could learn how the Islamic master craftsmen actually constructed their works. The oldest minbars, he learned, were built on a lattice of tightly fitted wooden pieces, held together by precisely carved mortise and tenon joints – without a single nail or drop of glue.
By the time he finished his plans, Meheid had produced close to 1,400 architectural drawings for the minbar, detailing the exact dimensions of more than 60,000 wooden pieces.
With the backing of the Hashemites, a workshop was created in the city of Salt, and some of the finest woodworkers from the Islamic world were brought to complete the new minbar, an exact copy of the one that had been destroyed. Even with a team of a dozen people, it took nearly four full years to construct it. When it was finally finished and moved to Jerusalem on 2 February 2007, it fit in the spot of the original minbar to the centimetre.
Today, the Salt workshop is the nucleus of the new Institute of Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture, headed by Meheid, whose designs for the minbar led him to be awarded a doctorate from the most prestigious academy of traditional art in the world, the Prince's School for Traditional Arts in London.
The task of understanding and preserving the arts of the Islamic civilisation, many of which have been neglected for years, remains huge. The restoration of the Minbar of Salaheddin is one of several significant restoration and preservation efforts that Jordan's monarchs have championed over the last several decades, and that have put Jordan at the forefront of Islamic scholarship and cultural preservation today.