Al Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron is the world’s oldest sacred building still in use today in a practically continuous manner. It is believed to hold the remains of God’s prophet Abraham, his wife Sarah, their son Isaac and grandson Jacob, and their wives Rebecca and Leah. The sanctity of the site has contributed to the cultural endurance of Hebron.
It has made the town renowned the world over, giving its name to other places around the world, in the United Kingdom and the United States. It is not certain when the site became sacred. History books do not cover its history much before the Roman era. It is not known when the burial site of the Patriarchs was defined and when its sanctity started to spread. Its sacred status could go back to several centuries BC, with an enormous historical gap remaining between Abraham’s time on earth in the 17th Century BC and the Roman era, i.e. a gap of more than a thousand years. No one can know what happened during that time, especially as the ruins shed no light on the events that took place there.
The current structure is composed of a large enclosure built around a double-chamber cave. There are doubts shrouding even the origin of the enclosure. The Roman historian Josephus (approx. 37 – 100 AD) had listed all structures built by King Herod (rexit: 37–4 BC). However, the site was not on his list and nothing in his writings linked the structure to Herod. Nevertheless, the enclosure’s architecture is undoubtedly Herodian. The structure features the use of large stone blocks the length of which can exceed many meters (7.5 m for the longest), with a height of over one meter (1.4 m for the tallest). A number of archeologists (such as Conder, Betzinger, Robinson, Warren and Heidet) even maintain that the enclosure was built long before Herod’s reign. It should be noted that, despite the structure’s scale and exceptional longevity – in excess of 2000 years, and despite the many powerful earthquakes experienced by the region, it has not lost it stability and has never sustained damage that required restoration. Its stones are finely hewn, with a 10-cm-wide margin surrounding each of them. The original enclosure is a 16m-high southeast-oriented roofless rectangular structure (59.28 m x 33.97 m). Walls are 2.68-meter thick. Each wall consists of two parts. The lower courses are made of normal large and tall stone blocks, while the upper part features a total of 48 protruding square columns (16 on each of the long walls and 8 on each of the short walls), as well as smaller recessed areas between them near the corners. These pilasters increase the structure’s strength and add to it an aesthetic touch that contrasts with the monotony of the lower section’s flat surface. On top of each wall, several clay-plastered courses were added at later times (probably under the Ottomans). This section of the wall was stripped during the last renovation effort and the edges of its stones were lined.
For more details read "Old Hebron, The Charm of a Historical City and Architecture"
Al Ibrahimi mosque has suffered from the Occupation which began in 1967, with a gradual meddling in the mosque’s affairs. Attempts to control it started by weakening the Moslem control over the site, then allowing Jews to pray there, before gradually reserving Jewish prayer areas and prohibiting access to Moslems on Jewish holidays and festivities. The site is now subject to extensive restrictions, proposed by the Shamgar Committee, following the Ibrahimi mosque massacre
Today, as a result of the carnage caused by Goldstein in 1994, the Ibrahimi mosque is partitioned and resembles a military outpost. Worshippers have to go through more than one search before being able to perform their prayers. This partitioning has also transformed the site into an arena of repeated clashes and tension. These measures have stripped the mosque of much of its sanctity, with Jewish worshippers and soldiers entering the site in their shoes, thus desecrating the shrine from an Islamic perspective, to say nothing of the wine brought into the mosque for use in Jewish rituals.
Recently, and in collaboration with the Islamic Endowments Department, HRC has fully renovated the mosque, revealing its delicate features and restoring interior colours to their past splendour.
In one of the most sacred Muslim sanctuaries, and on the morning of the 15th day of the holy month of Ramadan in the year 1414 of the Hegira –the 25th of February 1994-, a despicable massacre was committed in the Holy Sanctuary in Hebron. This unspeakably evil butchery took place in a supposedly sacred house of prayer for Jews as well, when, early in the morning, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler, IDF reservist and doctor went on a rampage inside Al Ibrahimi Mosque, the burial site of Prophet Isaac and his wife.
After the guards allowed him in with his weapon, Goldstein entered the Mosque and positioned himself behind a pillar to the rear of the Muslim worshippers. He waited until they were in the Sujood position, then opened his hateful fire on them, killing 29 worshippers and injuring tens of others. Had he not been eventually overwhelmed and killed by survivors, the number of casualties would have been much higher.
Following the massacre, Israeli occupation soldiers present in the Holy Sanctuary and its vicinity closed down the gates of the Mosque, preventing survivors from leaving and help from reaching the wounded and evacuating the victims. During the long closure, violent clashes erupted around the Mosque between Palestinians and Israeli forces in which four other Palestinians were killed and many wounded. Once news of the massacre spread out, angry Palestinians began rioting throughout Hebron, and the number of martyrs reached 50.
Again, the victims paid the price. The world stood and watched while Israel closed down The Holy Sanctuary for long months, then seized more than half its area and transformed it into a Jewish Synagogue. Muslim worshippers were prevented from reaching the Mosque, while more and more checkpoints mushroomed around it, making access to it very difficult.
Despite all these measures, Muslim worshippers continue to come in large numbers to pray at Al Ibrahimi Mosque, regardless of Israeli checkpoints and continuous settler crimes.