Originally published in Al Jazeera
East Jerusalem – The Dome of the Rock is one of the most memorable Islamic landmarks in the world, a place for solemn prayer and a refuge for those seeking respite. On any given afternoon, the sun shines through its stained-glass windows, casting vibrantly coloured shadows onto small groups of Quran reciters by the colonnades of this religious site.
One of the oldest works of Islamic architecture, the octagonal building, made of marble and glazed tilework on the outside, is in constant need of care. This delicate job falls solely on the shoulders of a small department – the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock Restoration Committee – which is in charge of renovating and replacing the windows and roof for both sites.
Generally, the committee works with tile, marble and mosaics, but the windows specifically are made of wood, plaster [stucco] and stained-glass. “The stucco stained glass is used in qamariyyahs [skylights] and shamsiyyahs [windows],” said Bassam Hallak, a 59-year-old Jerusalemite, who has been heading the restoration committee for 34 years.
Differently shaped windows are inscribed – some with phrases from the Quran, others with arabesque motifs – and decorated with vegetal, floral and geometric shapes. The replacement windows are hand-made using simple tools, a process that can take between nine and 12 months.
“The process starts with casting then carving at a 45-degree [angle] of deflection,” Hallak explained. “Two sets of windows are made, one on the interior and one on the exterior, to help prevent damage from direct sunlight. The final stage includes mounting the window onto the required slot.”
The restoration committee dates back to 1956, when most of its engineers hailed from Egypt. When the 1967 war erupted, they were forced to leave, and the committee started to work in an official capacity after the al-Aqsa mosque was set on fire in 1969 by an Australian visitor.
The committee currently works under the patronage and support of the Jordanian government, and includes members from both Jerusalem and Amman.
Bashir Muwaswis, 62, makes and restores the windows of both religious sites. For 32 years, Muwaswis has been taking care of the interior aesthetics of both sites, having taken over the craft after his father retired. He mostly works alone in a run-down workshop adjoining the al-Aqsa mosque, on the al-Haram al-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] compound.
“Every square metre of a window requires between 140 and 150 hours of work, or approximately 25 days,” Muwaswis said. “Before manufacturing the actual window, I go back to the original drawings and spend a lot of time on colour harmony. I particularly like the combination of blue, yellow, green, and red.”
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