Editor’s Note: This article was first published in October 3, 2014 and updated on April 26, 2022 following the destruction of several stained-glass windows during Israeli raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the preceding weeks.
Occupied East Jerusalem – Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, the two mosques inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, are some of the most memorable Islamic landmarks in the world, places for solemn prayer and a refuge for those seeking respite. On any given afternoon, the sun shines through their stained-glass windows, casting vibrantly coloured shadows onto small groups of Quran reciters by the colonnades of the religious sites.
The Dome of the Rock, one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture, is made of marble and glazed tilework on the outside, and in constant need of care.
However, in the weeks since Ramadan started on April 2, Israeli forces have damaged or destroyed several of the windows in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as they raided the compound, leaving hundreds of Palestinians injured.
Videos have emerged since the latest outbreak of violence showing what Palestinians have said are Israeli forces deliberately smashing windows, raising the ire of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Israeli authorities claim that Palestinian youth were behind the damage.
Israeli forces damaging the historical stained glass of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the greatest architectural monuments of the Arab-Islamic worlds. Only a snapshot of the active Israeli attempt at destroying Palestinian architecture and history.
— Nadi Abusaada (@NadiSaadeh) April 24, 2022
It will take months for these windows to be repaired, said Bassam Hallak, a 67-year-old Jerusalemite, who has been heading the committee in charge of renovating and replacing the windows and roof for both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock for more than 40 years.
This delicate job falls solely on the shoulders of this small department – the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock Restoration Committee – which generally works with tile, marble and mosaics, and for the windows specifically, sculpt gypsum, wood, plaster [stucco] and stained-glass.
“The stucco stained glass is used in qamariyyahs [skylights] and shamsiyyahs [windows],” Hallak said.
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 in1969 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.
“We hope that people will know the work we do, such as repairing gypsum, windows and so on in Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Whenever a repair is needed, we will do it for Al- Aqsa,” said Ala’a Al-Mohtaseb, one of the craftsmen at the mosque.
Bashir Muwaswis, who was 62 when Al Jazeera interviewed him in 2014 and has since retired, used to make and restore the windows of both religious sites. For more than 30 years, Muwaswis took care of the interior aesthetics of both sites, having taken over the craft after his father retired. He mostly worked alone in a run-down workshop adjoining the Al-Aqsa mosque.
“Every square metre of a window requires between 140 and 150 hours of work, or approximately 25 days,” Muwaswis said at the time. “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.”