Total Pageviews

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Religious Significance of Jerusalem to Islam

Nadene Goldfoot
When Mohammed lived(570 CE-632 CE) , there was no mosque in Jerusalem.  The Koran tells only that Mohammed in a single night was taken to heaven by Buraq, a horse with wings, a woman's face and a peacock's tail.  He was first taken to a place the Koran called the "uttermost mosque": --il masjad al aksa.
أقصى مسجد.  
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the story at all.  After his death, the tradition was that the "uttermost mosque" must have been the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.  The 1st Temple was built by King Solomon (961 BCE-920 BCE)  of the Jews.  It held the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred vessels and offerings and had a court for worshipers.  The makeup of it was a hall, shrine and inner sanctum for the holy of holies. Then it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE and was rebuilt in 538-515 BCE by the Jews and called the 2nd Temple.  This time it included the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall).

The Western Wall is part of the wall enclosing Herod's Temple still standing in the Old city of Jerusalem. Herod lived from 73 BCE to 4 CE and was the King of Judea who had been appointed governor of Galilee by his father, then was appointed king by the Romans.   The wall  is very close to the Holy of Holies which was at the western end of the temple.  It's regarded as sacred.  Regular services had been held before it.  Though Jordan had taken over this part of Jerusalem in 1948, a paragraph in the Israel-Jordan  1949 Armistice Agreement  affirmed the Jewish right of access to it which Jordan denied to them anyway.  It wasn't until 1967 that Jews could again go to the Wall.  It's the first place Jewish tourists go to when they visit Jerusalem today.  The tradition is to place a prayer  written on a little piece of paper into the niches of the wall.   One good thing about Herod is that he had rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem on a magnificent scale.

The Temple Mount was the existing sacredness of the place that had been holy to Jews for nearly 2,000 years before Mohammad.  This must be why Mohammed's followers chose it as being the fitting and awesome place for Mohammed's ascent.  A mosque is the Arabic name for a temple, a building used for public worship by the Muslims.

The Moslems called the site, Buraq, which has become a memorial to Islam's recognition of the Jewishness of the Holy Place.  It's why the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque were built on the Mount.  They called this Haram-A-Sharif, and it became the 3rd holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina, which are in Arabia.  Nobody knows if Mohammed ever came to Jerusalem or not.  There is no proof.

What is known is that Mohammed was establishing Islam in Arabia and hoped that both Jews and Christians would adopt the new religion.  He called on them to accept him as the successor of both Moses and Jesus.  First he ordered that when praying, the Moslem should copy the Jewish custom of turning his face towards Jerusalem, which was at that time under Christian rule.  When neither Jews or Christians were converting to his new religion, he got angry and 18 months later after his decree changed it and they were to turn their faces towards Mecca.

In fact, when directing the needs to build a mosque, it was then built so that the worshippers could face Mecca for prayer and they built in a prayer niche.  Most mosques built during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods have been destroyed.  Ones remaining are one in Damascus and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.   The Dome is the golden shrine on the Mosque of Omar.  The intentions of the builders was to outdo other religious buildings.  It was constructed from 689 CE-691 CE in the Muslim conquest of Syria of 637 CE by the Rashidun Caliphate.

Mohammed  and his followers knew that Jerusalem was a Holy City to the Jews and then to the Christians.  In following in the tradition to its holiness,  they made Jerusalem's Temple Area the site of his ascent to their 7th heaven.  It was not Mohammed's dream that made the Temple Mount holy to Islam.  It was the existing sanctity of the place.

In the siege of Jerusalem during the Roman war, the 2nd Temple served as a center of military activity and then was destroyed by the Romans soldiers with only the wall remaining.  In 70 CE Jerusalem fell to the Romans.  A Roman temple was later built on the site.

In the Moslem Period, the Mosque of Omar had been built over the Temple area.  This is the only claim to Jerusalem that the Moslems have.  Jerusalem was never a holy city to Islam.  Palestine has no significance in the Moslem religion.  It never existed as a country under Arab or any of the other Moslem administration.  The city of Jerusalem as such has no significance in Islam.  It was just that they were able to take over a site that had been holy to both previous religions of Judaism and Christianity.  That was a feather in the cap for Islam.

Resource: Battleground, fact and fantasy in Palestine by Samuel Katz
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Middle East Past & Present by Armajani and Ricks

No comments: