The Dome of the Rock

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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...
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