Photography: Bashar Tabbah, Text: Robert Schick
AMAL Publishing, Amman, 2023, 328 pages, $85
Reviewed by Mahmoud Muna
The bookseller of Jerusalem, The Educational Bookshop
The Noble Sanctuary is a marvelous book—a photographic and historical journey through the inside of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s 144 dunums. Beautiful visuals are coupled with short and precise historical descriptions, offering readers a rewarding voyage into extensive history, delightful architecture, and inner spirituality in an eye-popping layout.
The book covers all the major buildings as well as the many minor monuments that are scattered around the holy esplanade. There are a total of 115 sites and structures that have been documented in this book. Bashar has excelled in using the exceptional practices of architectural photography to produce aesthetically pleasing and accurate photographs, giving representational justice as well as beauty to these sites. He has also included many drawings and illustrations to offer a fully comprehensive depiction of the holy sanctuary.
This coffee-table book is the joint project of an experienced photographer and an authoritative historian. Bashar Tabbah is a Jordanian-British photographer based in Amman, whose previous book on Jordan, A Map & A Lens: Jordan, Sights Unseen and Stories Untold, was well received. His second book about Jordan’s World Heritage Sites is the best on UNESCO sites in Jordan. Robert Schick is an archaeologist and a historian of the Byzantine and Islamic periods, with a special interest in the city of Jerusalem during the Islamic periods.
Both the photographer and the historian have worked diligently on this book. Given the sensitivity and the complexity of Al-Aqsa Mosque history, the book is fair, inclusive, and attentive to accuracy and well-sounded historical narratives. Academics, researchers, tourists, and worshipers will be pleased to have this resource available to them. It can be used as a quick reference, a detailed guide of the holy place, or simply as a beautiful gift or memorable reminder of their visit to Al-Quds. Local Palestinians can rest assured that the past history and current realities of this place are well presented. Their most iconic building, the center of gravity for Palestinian identity and faith, is well documented.
It is almost unbelievable that very few books on Al-Aqsa Mosque are actually available. Particularly at time when Islamic tourism is increasing and the demand for printed materials on the Islamic holy sites is mounting, this book is a welcome addition and will surely be a handy resource for tour guides who are keen to tell the true and authentic Islamic history of the place.
The book was printed in Jordan and produced by the photographer himself with the help of many individuals. To protect the independence of the project, the photographer avoided mainstream publishers and managed to implement a successful online crowdfunding campaign to raise advance funding that helped the project to materialize. This book is unique, pleasing to the eye, and very informative. Palestinians and their friends alike will enjoy placing a copy of it center-stage atop their coffee table.