by Daniel Pipes
1st part of 4
The Camp David II summit and the "Aqsa intifada" that followed have confirmed what everyone had long known:
In part, the problem is practical: the Palestinians insist that the capital of
Comparing Religious Claims
The Jewish connection to
What about Muslims? Where does
One comparison makes this point most clearly:
The city being of such evidently minor religious importance, why does it now loom so large for Muslims, to the point that a Muslim Zionism seems to be in the making across the Muslim world? Why do Palestinian demonstrators take to the streets shouting "We will sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Jerusalem"3 and their brethren in Jordan yell "We sacrifice our blood and soul for Al-Aqsa"?4 Why does King Fahd of Saudi Arabia call on Muslim states to protect "the holy city [that] belongs to all Muslims across the world"?5 Why did two surveys of American Muslims find Jerusalem their most pressing foreign policy issue?6
Because of politics. An historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when
I. The Prophet Muhammad
According to the Arabic-literary sources, Muhammad in a.d. 622 fled his home town of
This, the first qibla (direction of prayer) of Islam, did not last long. The Jews criticized the new faith and rejected the friendly Islamic gestures; not long after, the Qur'an broke with them, probably in early 624. The explanation of this change comes in a Qur'anic verse instructing the faithful no longer to pray toward
The Fools among the people will say: "What has turned them [the Muslims] from the qibla to which they were always used?"
God then provides the answer:
We appointed the qibla that to which you was used, only to test those who followed the Messenger [Muhammad] from those who would turn on their heels [on Islam].
In other words, the new qibla served as a way to distinguish Muslims from Jews. From now on,
now shall we turn you to a qibla that shall please you. Then turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque [in
The Qur'an then reiterates the point about no longer paying attention to Jews:
Even if you were to bring all the signs to the people of the Book [i.e., Jews], they would not follow your qibla.
Muslims subsequently accepted the point implicit to the Qur'anic explanation, that the adoption of
After the Qur'an repudiated Jerusalem, so did the Muslims: the first description of the town under Muslim rule comes from the visiting Bishop Arculf, a Gallic pilgrim, in 680, who reported seeing "an oblong house of prayer, which they [the Muslims] pieced together with upright plans and large beams over some ruined remains."9 Not for the last time, safely under Muslim control,
This episode set the mold that would be repeated many times over succeeding centuries: Muslims take interest religiously in
The second round of interest in
The first Umayyad ruler, Mu'awiya, chose Jerusalem as the place where he ascended to the caliphate; he and his successors engaged in a construction program – religious edifices, a palace, and roads – in the city. The Umayyads possibly had plans to make
The next Umayyad step was subtle and complex, and requires a pause to note a passage of the Qur'an (17:1) describing the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey to heaven (isra'):
Glory to He who took His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the furthest mosque. (Subhana allathina asra bi-'abdihi laylatan min al-masjidi al-harami ila al-masjidi al-aqsa.)
When this Qur'anic passage was first revealed, in about 621, a place called the Sacred Mosque already existed in
Elsewhere in the Qur'an (30:1),
The "furthest mosque" was apparently identified with places inside Arabia: either Medina15 or a town called Ji'rana, about ten miles from
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
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya (638-700), a close relative of the Prophet Muhammad, is quoted denigrating the notion that the prophet ever set foot on the Rock in
Then, in 715, to build up the prestige of their dominions, the Umayyads did a most clever thing: they built a second mosque in
Despite all logic (how can a mosque built nearly a century after the Qur'an was received establish what the Qur'an meant?), building an actual Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Palestinian historian A. L. Tibawi writes, "gave reality to the figurative name used in the Koran."19 It also had the hugely important effect of inserting
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.23 Hasson concurs:
The construction of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque, the rituals instituted by the Umayyads on the Temple Mount and the dissemination of Islamic-oriented Traditions regarding the sanctity of the site, all point to the political motives which underlay the glorification of Jerusalem among the Muslims.24
Thus did a politically-inspired Umayyad building program lead to the Islamic sanctification of
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