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Middle East Monica Dispatch

Under the Sacred Rock
January 15, 2000

                                  **    **
                                 **      **
                                  **    **
                                \   Dome  /
                                 \ of the /
                                  \ Rock/
                                   \ is  /
                                   to both
                                 and Islam.
                          To Jews, it is where
                    Abraham was called to sacrifice
                  his son, as a test of faith, before God
              stopped him and declared his covenant. To
             Muslims, the Prophet Mohammed rose to heaven,
            to sit beside Allah, from this Rock.   Two religions,
           one holy, holy site. It is sacred ground, but there is
         conflict, even here. The courtyard even has two names: in
        Arabic, the name is Haram ash-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.
       In Hebrew, it is called Har Habayit, the Temple Mount. Muslims
       believe it is the center of the world.  Last Friday, at midday,
      450,000 Muslims gathered here to pray; The Prophet's footprint
      is believed to be under the Dome of the Rock. Jews believe the
     ancient Temple of Solomon stood here,  3,000 years ago, before
     being destroyed in 586 BC.   Rebuilt as the Second Temple, and
     again destroyed again in 70 CE,   the Western Wall still stands,
     energizing those who visit to touch it,  or leave their prayers
    in its cracks. Young men and women celebrate their bar and bat
   mitzvahs here, in this synagogue.   But, patrolling the area are
   Palestinian police. Israeli Defense Force soldiers, also, guard the
   entrances..........Where is the holy peace??? Is it really, here???

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Click here for larger image
The dome of the rock glistens over Jerusalem
The Dome of the Rock itself is built in the center of the large courtyard, surrounded by nine gates. Non-Muslims, like Kavitha and Jasmine, must enter from one of two gates: the Bab al-Maghariba (Gate of the Moors), or the Bab as-Silsila (Chain Gate). The neon-green lit Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum lie nearby; from them you hear the call to prayer five times a day. To enter the mosques you must take off your shoes and leave your camera bag behind. Once inside, the pavement is flat, and the atmosphere of the courtyard is peaceful-it's easy to forget that you're in a part of the region that is the source of so much contention.

Click image for larger view
The Dome of the Rock glistens over Jerusalem
Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock in 688 CE, when the Arabs controlled Jerusalem. He decorated it with brilliant blue, tiled mosaics on the outside; scripts of Koranic verse adorn the walls with beautiful form and design. The Dome itself was first covered with pure gold. Nowadays it's just as bright, but made of aluminum. It shines in the setting sun as a strong symbol of Islam's place in Jerusalem.

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The mosaics tiles embrace the gold of the dome
Look at the Dome of the Rock today as an example of how the holy sites form a challenge to creating peace in the region. The Dome is located in Jerusalem, which as a holy city and a capital, is the subject of much controversial debate.

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The mosaic tiles surrounding the dome
Later that day I decided to find the US embassy. After looking around for a while, I realized there was only a consul. Most countries keep their embassies in Tel Aviv in an attempt to avoid recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.

The Dome of the Rock

When I arrived at the consular office I wasn't even allowed in at first! After I was searched, and my backpack checked thoroughly, I overheard one of the guards saying, "We have to be careful here: it's an emergency, it's been like this for 51 years." If you don't know history, you can't learn from the past.

covenant - promises made to man by God, as revealed in scriptures
synagogue - a Jewish house of worship
mosaic - decoration made of small pieces of inlaid stone, tile, or glass
secular - not religious

Here, the Dome of the Rock is central to the faiths of both Muslims and Jews. So who should own it? To whom does it belong? Should you base such a decision on how long someone has had control of the area? On how many believe a particular faith? Or are those not the right questions to be asked of something that is neither secular nor political, but religious in nature? Complex questions, aren't they? Continue to search more and learn more: some questions are very difficult to answer.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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