Jerusalem and Islam
Summer – 2006
This article will be historical in nature rather than biblical since the biblical perspective has been laid out clearly in pervious articles. Today in our newspapers and on the evening news two words have been used almost inseparably, Jerusalem and Islam. We have seen in previous articles in Israel’s Messenger that Jerusalem, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people are the focal point of human history. Does Islam have a claim to Jerusalem? They dogmatically say that they do.
Here is what we do understand today. The Jewish nation has the right to the land and to the city of Jerusalem by means of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Bible, history, prophecy and archaeology will clearly bear this out. Everything points in one direction, which is towards the Jewish people. The final denominator is political, and Islam says that they have legitimate grounds to say that Jerusalem belongs to them. Here are several points given by Dr Muzammil H Siddiqi, President of the Islamic Society of North America which he presented during a talk in Washington D.C. in 1999.
1. Islam recognizes all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. Islam recognizes the Jewish prophets: Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Zechariah, John the Baptist and Jesus who are all honored prophets in Islam.
2. They state that the Qur’an restored their honor by removing some of the charges and allegations that were made against their characters by earlier communities. Their state, for example, that David’s character was attacked because he was accused of committing adultery in the Bible, and because Solomon was accused of Idolatry their integrity had to be restored. The reasoning continues by stating that David and Solomon are more revered and respected in Islam than in Jewish and Christian traditions because of the restoration of their character.
3. Since the city of Jerusalem is historically associated with these Prophets of Allah, it naturally becomes a city sacred to Muslims.
4. Islam considers itself a continuation of the same spiritual and ethical movement that began with the earlier prophets.
5. Historically and theologically it believes itself to be the true inheritor of the earlier traditions of the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. It is for this reason that the Qur’an called for Palestine – the land associated with the lives of many of God’s Prophets – al-ard al-Muqaddasah or the Sacred Land.
6. It has theological importance in Islam because Jerusalem is the proposed location that Mohammad was miraculously taken from Mecca to Jerusalem and then from on top of the old temple mount and then from there to the heavenly celestial abodes. This great miracle Muslims believe was given to Mohammad as an honor and as a confirmation of Mecca’s spiritual link with Jerusalem.
7. Also when Islam first started they worshipped towards the direction of Jerusalem, with other practices friendly to Jews – a Yom Kippur-like fast, a synagogue-like place of prayer, and kosher food. However, after about 17 months the Jews did not accept Mohammad, so Allah commanded Mohammad to pray towards Mecca.
8. Jerusalem is the third most holy site in Islam.
I wish that I could respond to each of these statements separately, but space for this article will not permit me to do so. However, here are some attested facts brought out by Daniel Pipes in the Middle East Quarterly (Sept 2001). For 3,000 years Jerusalem has been in the hearts and on the lips of Jewish people. Jerusalem is prayed for constantly in Jewish prayers, at the close of Passover service, a special day of mourning for the temple, a glass smashed during the wedding ceremony. Jerusalem has been the only capital of the Jewish state.
In reference to Jerusalem being the third most holy site in Islam, it is not mentioned once by name in Muslim prayers. No important Islamic events or dates surface with Jerusalem. Jerusalem never served as capital of a sovereign Muslim state. It never became a cultural or scholarly center and was of little political importance by Muslims was initiated there. In fact, generally speaking, Jerusalem, throughout the Muslim period, was of little importance, and it was even used as a bargaining chip by the Muslims to the Crusaders in the Fifth Crusade.
If you compare the Hebrew Bible with the Qur’an, Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times whereas in the Qur’an it is not mentioned once. The Dome of the Rock was built in 692 CE, yet it rarely had any religious importance to Islam. I have seen pictures of the Dome of the Rock taken in the 1880’s where it is in total disuse, totally un-kept and uncared for.
Let us briefly sketch the History of Jerusalem through the Islamic period. There are six Islamic periods which are a follows:
1. The Prophet Muhammad or early period:
Muhammad dies in 632. Jerusalem is not conquered till 638. Because there was a rivalry between Mecca and the Umayyad of Damascus, the Umayyad worked at building up Jerusalem so as to be a city of status and importance.
Islam advances the teaching from the Qur’an that Muhammad was taken by Allah by night from the Sacred Mosque to the furthest mosque. It was not until after 691 and the completion of the Dome of the Rock that the teaching began to use Jerusalem as the furthest mosque. The problem is that the reading in the Quran did not appear until 621, and Jerusalem was not yet conquered. In fact, there were no mosques in Palestine at all until 691. This much is sure, the Sacred Mosque already existed in Mecca. In contrast, the “furthest mosque” was not a real place. Some early Muslims understood it as metaphorical or as a place in heaven. And if the “furthest mosque” did exist on earth, Palestine would seem an unlikely location for many reasons. Some of those reasons are:
· In the Qur’an (30:1), Palestine is called the “closest land.”
· Palestine had not yet been conquered by the Muslims and contained not a single mosque.
· The “furthest mosque” was apparently identified with places inside Arabia: either Medina or a town called Ji’rana. About 10 miles from Mecca, which the Prophet visited in 630.
· The earliest Muslim accounts of Jerusalem, such as the description of Caliph “Umar’s reported visit to the city just after the Muslims conquest in 638, nowhere identify the Temple Mount with the “furthest mosque” of the Qur’an.
· The Qur’anic inscriptions that make up a 240-meter mosaic frieze inside the Dome of the Rock do not include Qur’an 17:1 and the story of the Night Journey, suggesting that as late as 692 the idea of Jerusalem as the lift-off for the Night Journey had not yet been established. Actually the first inscriptions of Qur’an 17:1 in Jerusalem date from the 11th century.
· Lastly, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya (638-700) a close relative of the Mohammad, is quoted denigrating the notion that the prophet ever set foot on the Rock in Jerusalem; “these … Syrians,” by which he means the Umayyads, “pretend that God put His foot on the Rock in Jerusalem, though [only] one person ever put his foot on the rock, namely Abraham.”
What comes out very strongly is that Jerusalem is not the most holy site that Islam purports it to be. The facts surrounding the statement from Qur’an 17:1 just do not point to Jerusalem.
2. Umayyads of Damascus (661-750).
· In 691 the Dome of the Rock is built by Caliph Abd al-Malik, followed by the completion of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 715 by al-Walid al-Malik.
· Muslim scholars agree that the Umayyads’ motivation to assert a Muslim presence in the sacred city had a strictly utilitarian purpose. The Iraqi historian Abdul Aziz Duri finds “political reasons” behind their actions.
· What does appear is that a politically-inspired Umayyad building program led to the Islamic sanctification of Jerusalem, not the Qur’an.
3. Abbasid rule from Baghdad (751-1099)
· With the demise of the Umayyad rule and the rise of Abbasid rule became dominant the seat of power moved from Damascus to Baghdad and Jerusalem fell into near obscurity.
· The Dome of the Rock collapsed in 1016; the gold was stripped off the dome to pay for repair work to Al-Aqsa Mosque. The city walls collapsed as the city declined to the point of becoming shambles.
· The net result, besides the building of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem fell into disuse and disinterest among the Muslim leadership and Muslim adherents in general.
4. Crusader Period and Ayyubids Dynasty of Egypt (1099-1250)
· The crusaders captured Jerusalem only to lose it to Saladin in 1187 and his descendants were known as the Ayyubid Dynasty of Egypt.
· During the Fifth Crusade which attacked Egypt, a grandson of Saladin named al-Mu’azzam decided to raze the walls around Jerusalem. Later another grandson of Saladin offered to trade Jerusalem to the Crusaders if they would leave Egypt in 1229, to Emperor Friedrich II.
· The city of Jerusalem went back and forth between the crusaders and Muslims until 1244 when it stayed under Muslim control for 7 centuries.
5. Mumluk from Egypt 1250-1516)
· With rise of the Mumluk from Egypt, Jerusalem once again fell into obscurity.
· During this period many of the grand buildings, including the Temple Mount sanctuaries, were abandoned and became dilapidated as the city became depopulated.
· It was estimated that at this time the population of Jerusalem fell to a mere 4,000 souls.
6. Ottomans rule from Turkey (1517-1917)
· Once the Ottomans took over there is a flurry of activity for the first couple of decades. Suleyman the Magnificent rebuilt the city walls in 1737-41 and lavished money in Jerusalem. But then things would return to normal and Jerusalem would fall into obscurity until the Jewish people began to return to the land.
This became the attitude and practice of the Muslim powers that surrounded Jerusalem. Jerusalem was an out of the way, unimportant city except for a few years of building activity in Jerusalem. However, that all changed in the 20th century with the arrival of Jewish people in the land. All of a sudden Jerusalem became the focus of religious and political Muslim activity. Because the Jewish people want the land and Jerusalem, it now becomes top priority in the minds of the Muslim leadership and people. Even between the years of 1949-67 the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan took little interest in the city of Jerusalem. They were more interested in their capital city Ammon than in Jerusalem.
During the 20th century the Muslim leaders began again to emphasize the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islamic tradition. They began to compare the holiness of Jerusalem with that of Mecca and Medina. The Muslim Palestinians put their emphasis on Jerusalem, and the city served well as a powerful vehicle for mobilizing Muslim opinion internationally.
Now in the modern period when you look at the history as it relates to the Muslim countries which ruled over it, it appears that Jerusalem is not an Islamic holy city, but it becomes holy when they don’t possess it. The rhetoric coming from Muslim leaders, Palestinians, and liberal news networks when speaking about Jerusalem, very few of them have any knowledge of the Muslim history of Jerusalem nor perhaps care to understand that Jerusalem has only thrived when the Jewish people are in it and control it. Islam is a Johnny come lastly, and has no significant importance in the life of times of the city of Jerusalem.