Alex Krzyston Dome of the Rock

About Alex Krzyston
Grabar believes that Dome of the Rock was “a sanctuary dedicated to the victorious faith” (57).   Grabar begins the article by looking to textual evidence for support first.  He uses only text s only earlier than the Crusades, but quickly dismisses the text as adequate support because it is incomplete.  Grabar then turns to the Dome of the Rock itself for evidence by examining three key features, its location, its decoration, and its inscriptions.  It is from these three features that he finds adequate support that Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock to affirm the superiority of Islam.   First, in selection the location of the Dome of the Rock to be on the Haram Malik appropriated a site that was highly sacred to the Jews as the site of the Jewish Temple.   By relating the rock to Abraham, the location was equally important to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  The next evidence Grabar points to in his analysis of the Dome of the Rock is its decorations.  These decorations consist mainly of crowns and jewels, motifs found in Byzantine art to symbolize royalty.  By placing these images in a religious space the Umayyads further emphasized the holiness of the structure.  In addition, because these motifs were taken from Sassanian and Byzantine art and placed in a Muslim structure they assert the power of Islam over conquered people.  Finally, Grabar’s third piece of evidence, the inscriptions, point to Islam as the true faith and serve as a warning and missionary message to Christians and Jews.  With these inscriptions the Dome of the Rock serves as a symbol that asserts the power and strength of Islam and the state based on it.  Basses on this evidence Grabar links the meaning of the Dome of the Rock to be linked to the “general practice of setting of a symbol of the conquering power or faith within the conquered land.”  (57)
Khoury believes the Dome of the Rock to be a mihrab.  In formulating this interpretation, he looks to three areas: the physical qualities and features of the Dome of the Rock, historical descriptions of it, and how these descriptions relate to the Umayyad perceptions, ambitions, and history.  One source he uses, Tha’alibi, compares the Dome of the Rock with Mary’s mihrab and Khoury goes further to mention a number of other mihrabs mentioned in the Quran and draws parallels between them and the Dome of the Rock.  By the inclusion of these mihrabs he is able to “define a general architectural type that often appears under the term mihrab” (59).  The parallels Khoury draws are that it is an elevate monument at a focal point upon a high platform, it is a monument with a larger history due to its location, it is only accessible to those how practice Islam, and  it is a source of striking visual impact which is emphasized by its colorful decoration and elevation.  He notes that the location of the Dome of the Rock was sacred to the Jews, having an important historical role in their faith, and states that mihrabs did have historical roles as well as being important structures.  Khoury also finds support by comparing the Domes of the Rock to two other monuments, Maharib Ghumdan and the Kaba.   Ghumdan shares physical and functional characteristics with the Dome of the Rock and the Kaba, descriptions of it focus on its exterior, it reaches grand heights, and it has a sense of permanence do to its building materials.  Other similarities he draws upon are that they “are externalized, restricted, elevated, visible, colorful, and opulent structures, and dynastic shrines with semi-mythologized histories and culturally sensitive roles.  They are prototypes of power and monumentality” (63). Khoury’s final point is that the Umayyads sought to emphasize their Arab identity and did so in a way familiar to their Arab enemies.  The inscription in the Domes of the Rock reference the Arab past ad designate the new Arab religion as Islam.  He also points to the representations of crowns and jewels in the mosaics which point to Arab imagery.
I think that Khoury’s argument is more convincing.  Khoury says that he wanted to “widen the scope of the [Dome of the Rock’s] conceptual and artistic inspirations and echoes” (57).  I think he accomplishes this by drawing on a larger range of evidence.  Khoury reference points made by Grabar in the location, decoration, and inscriptions found in the Dome of the Rock.  But he goes further to provide more evidence using text from the period as well as other monuments.  Both were, I believe, right in the notion that the Dome of the Rock was meant to be a display of the power and grandeur of the victorious Umayyad state and emphasize the strength of Islam.  I think this can be seen in the sheer size and visibility of the monument.  In addition, the lavish decoration of the interior in the mosaics conveys a sense of wealth and prosperity.

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