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24 September 2020

Renovating the Bab ar-Rahmah Cemetery

Safa Faruqui
Renovating the Bab ar-Rahmah Cemetery

Masjid Al-Aqsa is the third most sacred place in Islam, the site of the miraculous Al-Isra wal-Mi’raj and Islam’s first Qiblah:

‘Glory be to the One Who took His servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makkah) to al-Masjid al-Aqsa (in al-Quds), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs…’ [The Noble Qur’an, 17:1]

Alhamdulillah, with your support, Muslim Hands have been helping to preserve Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa for over a decade! SubhanAllah, we are honoured to invite you to yet another opportunity to preserve Masjid Al-Aqsa!

We are renovating Al-Aqsa’s historic cemetery, Bab ar-Rahmah (The Gateway of Mercy). Located at the eastern wall, this is the third most prominent cemetery in the Islamic world, after Jannat al-Baqi (The Garden of Expanse) in Madinah and Jannat al-Mu’allah (The Most Exalted Garden) in Makkah.

We are honoured to be able to preserve this sacred space through this new renovation project! Our plans include repairing graves, repaving pathways, maintenance and more.

Who is buried in this cemetery?

Bab ar-Rahmah is around 1,400 years old, established at the time of Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra). Unsurprisingly, it therefore contains many historic and significant graves, including those of the first wave of Muslims who settled in Jerusalem. Several Sahabah are buried there, including:

  • Shaddad ibn Aws (ra), a jurist who governed Homs until he moved to Jerusalem, where he passed away in 58 AH at the age of 75.

Shaddad (ra) was born in Madinah before Prophethood, and he was one of the narrators of hadith. Other companions such as Abu ad-Darda (ra) said about him, ‘Shaddad (ra) was amongst those that have been given knowledge (ilm) and understanding (hilm)’.

  • Ubadah ibn Samit (ra), the first Islamic judge in Masjid Al-Aqsa, who passed away in Ramlah in 34 AH at the age of 72.

Ubadah (ra) was born in Madinah before Prophethood. He was present at all the battles and conquests of Egypt with Amr ibn al-As (ra). Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) appointed him the first Muslim judge over ash-Shaam.

  • Thabit Dhu al-Asabi al Tamimi (ra), a Yemeni Sahabah who settled in Jerusalem after the Muslim conquest.

There are around 70 other Sahabah, leaders, martyrs and scholars buried in Bab ar-Rahmah. The cemetery also includes many Muslims from the generation after the Prophet Muhammad’s (saw).

And of course, Muslims from all Islamic periods afterwards are buried here, including martyrs from the many armies who defended Jerusalem. In fact, most of the families of Jerusalem have a plot in Bab al-Rahmah.

Where is the cemetery located?

Bab ar-Rahmah covers around 11,000 square metres. It extends along the eastern wall of the Old City, which is 891 metres long, including 460 metres of Masjid Al-Aqsa’s eastern wall.

The cemetery ground is intersected by Bab al-Asbat (Lion’s Gate), which means it is divided into two sections. Notable families of Jerusalem used to bury their deceased in the northern half; however, since 1967, the graves started to get mixed up. Because of overcrowding, spaces between graves and family plots were filled in, and the paths between graves were mixed up. New graves were mixed with old ones, and many historic gravestones disappeared, though one can still see some Ottoman and Mamluk gravestones.

The southern half of the cemetery is still filled with gravestones from every historical period. Thus, fourteen centuries after its establishment, Bab al-Rahmah is still an important historical landmark and part of our Islamic heritage.

Why is it called Bab al-Rahmah?

The cemetery takes its name from one of the gates to the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram ash-Sharif) of the Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa. The gate is called the Bab ar-Rahmah wat-Tawbah (the Gate of Mercy and Repentance), also known as the Golden Gate.

It is located in the eastern wall and is the most beautiful of Jerusalem’s gates. Built in the Umayyad style of architecture, it consists of an elevated, roughly square stone structure, with an independent gatehouse that has been called an exquisite example of Umayyad craftsmanship. Two small rooms were added to the roof, which became a watchtower during the Ottoman period.

The gate is mentioned in numerous early Islamic sources. The exact date of its construction is disputed; it is somewhere between the late Byzantine and early Umayyad eras. Many experts say it was possibly constructed by the Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, as part of the grand Umayyad project for the extension of Masjid Al-Aqsa. Abd al-Malik also commissioned the construction of the Dome of the Rock in 692 CE.

The Golden Gate has some significant history. During the Crusader period, it was a church, and it was a masjid during the Islamic period. It is said that Imam al-Ghazali (rh) lived and taught there for a few years, possibly writing part of his Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum al-Deen) as well. The rooms are thus known as al-Ghazali’s Dome.

The Ottoman Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent rebuilt the Golden Gate when they rebuilt the city walls, but they walled it up in 1541 CE, and it has stayed that way till today.

Are the Bab ar-Rahmah Gate and Cemetery religiously significant?

Masjid Al-Aqsa in general is associated with the Day of Judgement, as it is where we will all be resurrected and gathered.

Because of this, over the centuries, many people came to Al-Quds in their old age so they could be buried near Masjid Al-Aqsa. They were buried in three major cemeteries - Bab al-Rahmah, Mamilla and Bab al-Sahira - as well as in smaller burial sites. For example, several Mamluk commanders reserved a room for their own tomb in public buildings, such as schools and Sufi lodges.

Even the great Messenger of Allah, Musa (as) requested to be buried near Masjid Al-Aqsa in his final du’a before dying:

'Then (Musa (as)) asked Allah to bring him near the Sacred Land at a distance of a stone’s throw. He (the narrator, Abu Hurairah (ra)) said, "The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, "If I were there, I would surely show you his grave at the side of the path near the red sand dune"'. [Bukhari]

We even find a narration that the Ka’bah itself will be be resurrected and brought to Masjid Al-Aqsa:

On the authority of Abu Bakr (ra) (which is most likely a Marfu‘ hadith) who said, ‘The Ka‘bah will be gathered to Bait al-Maqdis (i.e. Masjid Al-Aqsa), with all those who performed Hajj and Umrah clinging on to its coverings’. [Al-Fakihi in the narrations about Makkah]

In particular, the location of the Bab ar-Rahmah Cemetery may be significant: there is an ‘al-Sirat’ marker near the southern end, which is believed to be the place where the al-Sirat bridge will be hung.

It is also believed that, after the Prophet Muhammad (saw) passed away, one of his wives stood at the Mount of Olives, looking at Masjid Al-Aqsa. She (ra) said that this would be the place of ‘Fasl’ - when good and evil are separated on the Day of Resurrection.

Moreover, the Bab ar-Rahmah Gate is associated with Isa (as), as Christians believe that the Prophet Isa (as) will enter through this gate when he returns to earth. Although Islamic sources don’t confirm this specifically, it is true that Masjid Al-Aqsa will be visited by Isa (as):

The Prophet (saw) said, ‘A group of my Ummah will not cease fighting for the Truth and will prevail till the Day of Resurrection. Isa the son of Maryam (saw) would then descend and their (the Muslims’) commander [Imam Mahdi (as)] would invite him to come and lead them in prayer, but he would say, “No, indeed some of you are commanders over each other as Allah’s honour for this Ummah”’. [Muslim]

The Prophet Isa’s (as) return is also a sign of the Day of Resurrection, as can be seen in the following ayah:

Abu Hurairah (ra) reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, ‘The Hour will not be established until the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler…’ [Bukhari]

Help us preserve this cemetery

As you can see, the Bab ar-Rahmah cemetery is historically and religiously significant. Not only is it a part of Masjid Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam, it is also important in its own right. Many prominent Sahabah are buried there, and the cemetery is associated with the return of Isa (as) and the hallowed grounds of the Day of Judgement. It is important that we maintain this graveyard, to preserve our history as well as make it easier for people to visit its graves:

Our renovation plans include repairing graves, repaving pathways, maintenance and much more. The total project cost is £220,000, which covers the cost of renovating 11,000 square metres.

Here’s how you can help:

  • £100 renovates 5 square metres
  • £200 renovates 10 square metres
  • £500 renovates 25 square metres
  • Or you can give an amount of your choosing to the Bab ar-Rahmah Renovation Fund

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to honour Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa and its history! Join us in preserving this Islamic landmark.

‘And whoever honours the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts’. [The Noble Quran, 22:32]

 


Muslim Hands UK

Established in 1993, Muslim Hands is an aid agency and NGO helping those affected by poverty, conflict and natural disaster in over 20 countries worldwide.