Islamic Art Dome of the Rock Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2457 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

Dome of the Rock

The city Jerusalem is one of the most venerated holy locations in the world. The reason for this is that not only Christianity and Judaism, but also Islam has many venerable sites of worship within the city. All three major religions in the world are therefore focused upon this city in the religious meaning of their worship. As such, the Dome of the Rock is an edifice that carries specifically important meaning for the Islam religion. The building is also however the focus of many different interpretations in terms of both iconography and purpose. These are considered in the light of the building's history and mosaic decorations.

According to Martin Gray, the history of Jerusalem itself is strongly integrated with the Dome of the Rock. The city saw a brief period of Persian rule, after which it was captured by the Muslim Caliph Umar in 638. Wanting to establish Islam in the city, the ruler first built a small mosque on the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock, according to the author, was basically a reaction to the majesty of the Christian structure, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In constructing the more spectacular Dome of the Rock as a place of worship for Islam, Arab conquerors had a two-fold purpose in mind: first, to proclaim the supremacy of their religion, and secondly to discourage new Islam adherents from converting to Christianity. In other words, the builders wished to ensure that their manifestation of earthly wealth and majesty surpassed that of Christianity.

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An interesting cultural element of the building is its construction on the same site as a Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter, as well as two historical Jewish temples. The religious history of the site is therefore a mixture of Pagan, Jewish, and Muslim orientations. In keeping with the intention of its creator, the Dome of the Rock therefore replaces the previous historical orientations of the site.

Term Paper on Islamic Art Dome of the Rock Assignment

According to Gray, however, the choice of the site also has deeper philosophical religious connotations than the immediate need to replace and/or usurp other religions and their iconography. Indeed, the choice of site for the Dome of the Rock is also based upon religious scripture. In the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad is linked with the Temple Mount. The passage entitled "The Night Journey" relates the Prophet as being carried from one sacred temple to another. These temples are interpreted to refer to Mecca and Jerusalem. The symbolism of the night journey and the winged creatures, as well as angels, can be seen in the mosaic representations both within and at the outside of the Dome. This will be discussed in more detail later.

According to Gray, another reason for building the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was to discourage pilgrimages to Mecca. The reason for this is that Mecca was the capital of a rival caliphate headed by Abd Allah ibn Zubayr during 680-692. This Caliph was in control of vast areas within Arabia and Iraq. For this reason, the Caliph in Jerusalem wished more pilgrims to visit Jerusalem, and envisioned establishing the Dome of the Rock to re-establish his power over the religious sector. To substantiate this claim, Gray notes that the Dome was constructed not as a place of public worship, but as a mashhad, or a shrine for pilgrims, and that there was already a Mosque, the Al-Aqsa, adjacent to the Dome, where public worship and prayer could be conducted.

As further substantiation for the claim of using Jerusalem instead of Mecca for Muslim pilgrimages, Gray also notes that the site has historically been the primary sacred site for the Islam religion. The Koran appears to serve as further proof this, as it relates the words of the Prophet Muhammed, who instructed his followers to make Jerusalem the kiblah. However, after a quarrel with the Jews, the status of kiblah was transferred to Mecca.

It must be noted that there is considerable disagreement regarding the purpose of the Dome of Rock in terms of its capacity as a pilgrimage site. The authors MSM Saifullah and Muhammad Ghoniem for example strongly disagree with this view. In order to provide evidence for their view, the authors begin by citing Grabar, who has conducted extensive studies on the subject. According to Grabar, authors such as al-Ya'qubi and Eutychius are incorrect in their assessment of using the Dome of the Rock to discourage pilgrimage to Mecca. As a first indication of their error, Grabar cites that these authors are also inaccurate in other matters, such as relevant historical dates and names. Saifullah and Ghoniem also mention that these authors are "willful" in their distortions of fact, and that the indication of this is their biased opposition to the Umayyads.

More substantially, Grabar also holds that these two authors are more or less alone in their views on this issue. Indeed, more important and notably careful historians such as al-Tabari and Baladhuri, as well as the geographer al-Muqaddasi, make no mention of such a momentous change in the Muslim protocol.

Another strong argument against the change is the political consequences for Abd al-Malik: according to Saifullah and Ghoniem, such a momentous change would not only have been political suicide, but would also have branded the Caliph as an unbeliever. The location of the pilgrimage site at Mecca is seen as one of the clearest and most sacredly held elements of the Muslim faith. To change this, would not only have been disastrous, but would certainly have, as mentioned above, attracted much more historical attention than the case appears to be.

Indeed, other historical documents that are more reliable than those by al-Ya'qubi and Eutychius also clearly indicate that Mekka was still the pilgrimage capital during the time period under discussion. The text, written by Baladhuri, indicates that the Muslim forces involved in the fighting at Mecca during this time still went about their pilgrimage duties, even while the war was ongoing. The text also indicates a fairly constant stream of pilgrims still visiting the site at Mecca. Indeed, in respect for the pilgrimage duty, the different factional groups of Muslims temporarily ceased their fighting in order to complete their holy pilgrimage to Mecca, and not to Jerusalem.

In addition to religious and historical texts, Saifullah and Ghoniem also mention some practical considerations to substantiate Mecca rather than Jerusalem as a pilgrimage site. One such consideration is the fact that al-Hajjaj took considerable trouble to restore the Mecca structure, the Ka'bah, to its original shape, which indicates that it was still in use. Another practical matter is the dimensions of the Dome of the Rock. According to the authors, the Dome area is rather small when compared to the Mecca structure, which would make it difficult to carry out the complex pilgrimage ceremony of the tawaf. Finally, the authors estimate it more likely that 'Abd al-Malik would have used the same structure type of the one in Mecca, had he wanted to move the pilgrimage site to Jerusalem. This is something he clearly did not do, which also indicates that it never was his intention. Indeed, the structure of the Ka'bah in Mecca is inherent in both its practical use and its spiritual meaning. The structure, shape and decorations used for the Dome of Rock therefore indicates a far different purpose than that of the Ka'bah.

The authors therefore conclude that, based upon their cited evidence, it is not possible that the Dome of the Rock was ever used instead of Mecca for Muslim pilgrimages. The evidence is convincing: the only authors to indicate that the Dome might have been used for this purpose, are notoriously unreliable in their writings on other topics. Historians and religious writers who have proved themselves reliable do not mention that Mecca was ever replaced by Jerusalem as the pilgrimage destination of Islam, and the very structure of the Dome does not practically lend itself to pilgrimage rituals, nor does it relate physically to the structure of the site in Mecca. The greatest convincing factor relates to the politics of the time. It makes little sense that the Caliph would go directly against a rule instated by the prophet himself at a time during which religious scripture was taken in an absolutist and literal sense. Hence I tend to be more convinced by the argument for continued pilgrimage to Mecca than by the argument for a change to Jerusalem.

Iconography and Meaning

In term so of iconography and influence, the Dome of the Rock is a further source of disagreement and often individualistic interpretation. According to Martin Gray, for example, the Dome of the Rock is often incorrectly seen as an Islam work of architecture. Indeed, the author cites Dogan Kuban in saying that, while the Dome might be seen unique from the Islam architecture point-of-view, it is not so when applying the principles of Roman architecture. Specifically, the Dome of the Rock adheres to principles of the late Syrian tradition, and compares well… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Islamic Art Dome of the Rock" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Islamic Art Dome of the Rock.  (2007, November 16).  Retrieved January 15, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Islamic Art Dome of the Rock."  16 November 2007.  Web.  15 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Islamic Art Dome of the Rock."  November 16, 2007.  Accessed January 15, 2021.