The Dome of the Rock Essay

This essay has a total of 2319 words and 11 pages.

The Dome of the Rock

Essentially unchanged for more than thirteen centuries, the Dome of the Rock remains one
of the world's most beautiful and enduring architectural treasures. Adorned with its
magnificent gold dome and elaborate quranic inscriptions, the structure intimately
represents the world's second largest religion in a city historically associated with the
three Semitic faiths. Representation, however, is not the only effect of this site.
Despite its intended purpose, the Dome of the Rock inherently stands as the focal center
of a millennium-old religious controversy. Located on what is essentially the world's
holiest site (obviously a speculative assertion) and inscribed with proclamations of
Islamic religious superiority, the Dome symbolizes far more than Muhammad's ascension to
heaven.

Since the Dome's completion in 691 C.E., the building's image has consistently inspired
passionate debate, mass rioting, and even armed conflict among both practicing religious
groups and politically charged individuals. Perched atop Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the
image of the Dome has been interpreted in a variety of ways by a powerful assortment of
groups. Specifically, we find that the historic structure acquires most of its
significance in the eyes of practicing Jews and Muslims - as well as some Christian
fundamentalists. Muslims and Jews, however, are not the only groups who have also asserted
themselves in this historic arena of conflict. Over the centuries, political bodies have
also attempted to exert influence - both interpreting and manipulating its image in an
attempt to serve their own agenda. In the following text, I will analyze the ways in which
different religious groups (primarily Muslims and Jews) and political entities interpret
the image of the Dome. In doing so, I hope to uncover the significant factors of the image
that have historically maintained controversy and conflict within Jerusalem, as well as
abroad.

Before we begin to analyze the traditional and contemporary ways in which different
religious sects and political entities interpret the image of the Dome, we must first
objectively and systematically deconstruct its image. While the structure takes on
different meaning depending on one's personal religious or political slant, the Dome does
present a clear, objective message that was certainly intended by its creators. Built by
the 9th Caliph, Abd al-Malik, and set on a traditional holy site, the Dome of the Rock
physically dominates the urban landscape of Jerusalem. Although an Islamic site, Greek
architects were employed to erect the eight-story octagonal structure - its arches on
piers and columns, grilled windows, and intricate system of proportions, therefore, seem
to derive directly from Byzantine church architecture. The Dome's rotunda serves as "a
grandiose imitation of the one found on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - deliberately of
the same style, but far more extravagant." Similarly, we find that the muddled floor-plan
of the Church is also outdone by the scrupulously ordered design of the Dome's base. Later
Christian architects and artists would adopt the Dome's design and attempt to imitate the
aesthetically pleasing structure. Upon its completion, Christian and Jews entered the holy
city and witnessed this impressive Islamic structure before anything else became visible
in the city's landscape. Protruding from its octagonal base, the great dome, originally
embossed in brass gilt, marked the city from a distance as a site now dominated by those
dedicated to the "One True Faith."

Although sharing and incorporating preexisting Christian (and to some extent, Jewish)
architecture, the Dome of the Rock improved upon previous structures. The result, it would
seem, was that the Dome resembled many of the Christian buildings already built within the
city. Yet, because of its Temple Mount location and Islamic structural improvements, the
Dome dominated its rival neighbors. The symbolism of such progress and architectural
superiority inherently hints at the Muslim interpretation of both Judaism and Christianity
in relation to Islam. Cyril Glasse discusses such in her work:

"In the case of the Dome of the Rock, the symbolism of its Quranic forms echoes the
significance of the Temple Mount as the site of the Temple of Solomon. It is the
culmination of the revelations of Moses and Jesus in the restoration of the primordial
Abrahamic unity which is Islam…the calligraphic inscriptions recall the relationship
between Jerusalem and Jesus, and the apocalypse to come."


In addition to the structure's architectural composition, elaborate Quranic inscriptions
further elaborate this message of religious superiority. Carole Hillenbrand alludes to
such:

"The Dome of the Rock, which had been built in 72/691 as a triumphant statement of the
superiority of Islam over other faiths, especially Christianity, displays a careful
selection of Quranic inscriptions which tilt at the Trinity and the Incarnation. Islam's
uncompromising monotheism is emphasized in a long band of inscriptions measuring around
240 metres in length: the message is unambiguous: ‘There is no god but the One God and
He has no partner.'"


Artfully constructed and etched in Quranic verse, the Dome sits upon its ominous perch and
serves as the center of Jerusalem. Regardless of one's religious or political slant, the
sheer magnificence of the building cannot be ignored - nor can its intrinsic message. From
an uninfluenced perspective, one cannot help but observe the Dome as an attempt to
establish a new faith above the history of older traditions within the city. As Jacob
Massine poignantly concludes, "The Dome of the Rock tangibly asserts Islam's completion or
finalization of the earlier religions of Judaism and Christianity."

Although the Dome inherently depicts an image of religious superiority, the structure's
presence is not always interpreted as such. As we turn to the general Jewish community
(including its several fundamentalist sects, international Jewish presence, and primary
Israeli base) and their perceptions of the Islamic edifice, we tend to find a much
different meaning within the image. Considering its fixed location atop the most holy
Jewish site, conventional wisdom may lead one to believe that the Jewish community
observes the Dome as the most egregious spiritual travesty. As Hillenbrand describes, the
loss of a sacred site can serve to severely demoralize a people:

"Building new monuments in the name of one's own religion…was always an exceedingly
humiliating and painful experience for the conquered. The appropriation of the sacred
monuments of another faith which are still in daily use, and their transformation, with
the visible signs of one's own religion, is an even greater humiliation. It is more than
military occupation - it is an invasion and desecration of religious sanctity, trespassing
on sacred monumental symbols of a faith."


To some extent, there is still a degree of humiliation and pain in contemporary Jewish
attitude. Many Israelis oppose the continued Arab presence on the Temple Mount. When we
look at certain fundamentalist groups (most notably, The Temple Mount and Land of Israel
Faithful Movement), the image of the Dome evokes significant pain and frustration. The
Temple Mount Movement, arguably one of Israel's most extreme militant wing, announced its
primary long-term objective as the following:

"Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the
Al-Aqsa mosque were placed on the Jewish or Biblical holy site as a specific sign of
Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the name of
G-D without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed,
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