Eventually Christians appropriated the site: Was not Abraham their father in faith? By the sixth century a Byzantine basilica had been built within the enclosure. Christian primacy in Hebron continued for another 200 years, until the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land in the seventh century. Muslims esteemed the tomb no less than Jews and Christians, considering themselves descendants of Abraham through his son Ishmael who, together with Isaac, buried Abraham. It was therefore natural that Muslims would want to pray at his tomb. They converted the church into a mosque, naming it after Abraham. Muslim veneration of Abraham also provided the Arabic name for Hebron: El Khalil, or the Friend, for the Quran cites the biblical reference to Abraham as the friend of God.
Crusaders wrested control of the Holy Land from Muslims at the end of the 11th century and, a few decades later, they rebuilt the Byzantine church-turned-mosque over the tomb of Abraham. The Crusaders, in fashioning a late Romanesque church, used Herods stonework for its walls. Massive pillars built around earlier columns supported a complex system of groin vaults. The roof of the church thus spanned walls that were 1,000 years older. To this day, this building stands intact, another millennium later, over a tomb dating back four millennia.
The Crusaders enjoyed a brief era of control of the Holy Land; the Muslim leader Saladin overwhelmed a Crusader army in 1187 and took control of the shrine. Saladin turned the church into a mosque, carving a mihrab (niche) into the south wall to indicate the direction of Mecca, and flanking it with an ornate minbar (pulpit). He added minarets at the four corners of the Herodian enclosure; two of them still stand. At various points during the Islamic era the cenotaphs were rebuilt. The cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebekah are faced with alternating rows of red and white stonework, a distinguishing feature of the Mamluk dynasty, who ruled the area from the mid-13th to the 16th centuries.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs remained under Muslim control until Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. Since then, areas have been set aside for Jewish prayer. The Crusader church, containing the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebekah, remains a mosque, with times reserved for Muslim prayer.
Thus Jews, Christians and Muslims have each taken their turns as custodians of the shrine whoever controlled the area controlled the tomb.
There have been eras of tolerance when the site has been open to all faiths. A pilgrim who visited the site around 565 A.D. noted that Christians entered the church from one side and Jews from the other, burning much frankincense. A century later the tomb had come under Muslim control, but Bishop Arculf from Gaul was able to visit it during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Bethlehem, only 14 miles away, the south transept of the Church of the Nativity was made available to Muslims for prayer from the seventh through the 10th centuries. Both Jews and Christians were allowed to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs during Saladins rule.
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Tags: Christianity Unity Muslim Pilgrimage/pilgrims Jews