The purpose of this article is to explain the significance of Jerusalem, or also known to Muslims as Bayt al-Maqdis (The Holy House) or simply al-Quds (The Holy); and al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf (The Noble Sanctuary) area from the viewpoint of Islam and Muslims. At the same time, we also seek to look at the common objections of the Zionists and Christian missionaries against the claim of Islam over Jerusalem as its third most holiest site and see whether it stands up to the scrutiny.
Jerusalem In the Qur’an
“Glory to [God] Who did take His Servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless — in order that We might show him some of Our Signs : for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).” (Qur’an 17:1)
In Islam, the only place whereby the Farthest Mosque (Masjid Al-Aqsa) is located is in the city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, the surrounding land around the Mosque has also been described by the Qur’an as being holy :
“[Moses said] O my people ! Enter the holy land [Palestine] which God has assigned to you…” (Qur’an 5:21)
The above verse in Qur’an 17:1 has also described the mosque to be located in surroundings which “… We [i.e. God] did bless”. It is interesting to note that that the location which “… We [i.e. God] did bless” is generally used in the Qur’an for Palestine1. The Bible too has referred to Palestine as a land blessed by God. Addressing the Israelites, Moses(P) is reported to have said about it :
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:7?10)
During the Mi’raj, the Prophet(P) is reported to have received from God the command of five daily prayers (salah) that all Muslims must perform. Upon his return to Mecca, the Prophet instituted these prayers. It is significant to note that he made Jerusalem the direction (al-Qiblah) which Muslims must face while doing their prayers (narrated by al-Bukhari, 41 and by Muslim, 525). Jerusalem is thus called Ula al-Qiblatain (the first qiblah). The Prophet(P) and the early community of Islam worshipped towards the direction of Jerusalem during their stay in Mecca. After the Hijra’ (migration), Muslims in Medina also continued to pray facing Jerusalem for almost seventeen months until God commanded the Muslims to change their direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca (Qur’an 2:142 – 150).
These established facts above clearly signifies the importance of Jerusalem in Islam. Furthermore, the Prophet(P)is reported to have said that :
You should not travel toward any other place for the purpose of worship and veneration except the three mosques : The Masjid al-Haraam [i.e. the Ka‘abah]; the Masjid al-Aqsaa and this mosque [at Madinah]2
Objections of Zionists and Christian Missionaries
We wish to examine two of the most often-repeated objections of the Zionists and the Christian missionaries to the claim of Jerusalem as the third-most holiest site in Islam. The first is as follows :
…the Koran says nothing about Jerusalem. It mentions Mecca hundreds of times. It mentions Medina countless times. It never mentions Jerusalem. With good reason. There is no historical evidence to suggest Mohammed ever visited Jerusalem.
However, this claim is baseless. The reason they find difficulty in acknowledging the position of Jerusalem and al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf in Islam is because of the general tendency of studying Islam in seclusion of the traditions of the Prophets of God preceding Muhammad(P). Islam is not a new religion. It has never claimed to be so. The Qur’an has clearly stated that Islam was the religion taught by all the prophets of God. The Islamic tradition is thus a continuation of the correct traditions of Judaism. If those in opposition to the Muslim claim over Jerusalem were to actually look at Islam, in the light of the foregoing principle, he/she would not find any problem in acknowledging that the position of Jerusalem in Islam is the same as it is in Judaism, merely on the grounds that Islam is actually in continuation of the true traditions of the prophets of God — including Moses(P), David(P), Solomon(P), John the Baptist(P) and Jesus(P) — even though the name of Jerusalem is not even mentioned once in the Qur’an.
The second objection commonly perpetuated by the Zionists is as follows :
… Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity. In fact, it was a backwater for most of Arab history. Jerusalem never served as a provincial capital under Muslim rule nor was it ever a Muslim cultural center.
To claim that Jerusalem is “unimportant” because it never served as a political capital for Muslims is hilarious in its absurdity and shows how desperate the Zionists are to deny the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims. The two holiest cities in Islam apart from Jerusalem — Mecca and Medina — had never become a political capital for an Islamic state. Medina was merely a city-state which the Prophet Muhammad had ruled, not a capital of a State. After the death of the Prophet(P), the Islamic capitals were subsequently located in (not in particular order) Baghdad, Damascus, Kufah, Cairo and Constantinople (Istanbul). The holy cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem has never diminished in their status as the three most holiest sites in Islam, even though the Islamic capital were located and relocated somewhere else. If the Zionists want to deny Muslims the city of Jerusalem on the basis that it was never a “political capital”, then what about the cities of Mecca and Medina which was never a “political capital” during Islamic rule ?
Jerusalem in Muslim History
We have seen in history of Jerusalem how Muslims had not only dedicated the site of al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf for worship to The One True God countless times, they had also sacrificed their lives for it.
Jerusalem was liberated by the Muslims in the first half of the seventh century C.E., when Muslims entered the holy city in 14 A.H./A.D. 638 during the reign of the second Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab(R). According to historical sources, the Caliph ‘Umar(R) came personally and specially to take over the city from its patriarch at that time, Sophronius, who refused to capitulate the city to anyone except ‘Umar(R). The sources also indicate that the Caliph declared a special Sulh (‘Ahd) to the Christians living in the city ; its text developed in time to be known as the Covenant of ‘Umar. In this covenant, the Caliph guaranteed further religious freedom, safety of churches and secured the lives, fortunes and properties of the people living in the city (Mujir al-Din Vol. 1, 1973 : 254)3.
The Muslims were horrified when they first discovered that that the area of al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf was abandoned and used as the city’s garbage dump. It was the Muslims who then cleaned and purified the place to its pristine form. We read that :
When the Arabs conquered Jerusalem they found the Temple Mount abandoned and filled with refuse. The abandonment of the Temple site was in accordance with with Jesus’ prophecy that not a stone would be left standing on another. ‘Umar ordered it cleaned and performed a prayer there.4
So we see that the Temple area had been abandoned some 600 years before the Muslims entered it. But who was using the holy site as a garbage dump ?
Ever since the Persian occupation, when the Jews had resumed worship on the platform, the Christians had used the place as the city rubbish dump. When ‘Umar reached the old ruined gates of the Temple, says the Muslim historian Muj?r al‑D?n, he was horrified to see the filth, “which was then all about the holy sanctuary, had settled on the steps of the gates so that it even came out into the streets in which the gate opened, and it had accumulated so greatly as almost to reach up the ceiling of the gateway.” The only way to get up to the platform was to crawl on hands and knees. Sophronius went first and the Muslims struggled up behind. When they arrived at the top, the Muslims must have gazed appalled at the vast and desolate expanse of Herod’s platform, still covered with piles of fallen masonry and garbage.5
So it was the Christians ! The Christian attitude towards Jerusalem can be understood by reading the New Testament. Paul’s Epistles and the Book of Revelation may have defined a theological framework for the attitude towards Jerusalem, but the two synoptic gospels of Luke (19:42 – 44) and Matthew did more than that. They also provided guidelines for political or quaispolitical actions after Christianity became the officially established religion of the Roman Empire. The gospels relate how Jesus(P) rebuked his disciples when they admired the Temple’s beauty from the Mount of Olives :
His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not ? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left any stone upon another.’ (Matthew 24:1 – 2).
Art historians such as Nuseibah and Grabar have reached a similar conclusion concerning the Christian attitude towards the Temple Mount :
More importantly, not only was the Haram left barren, but that very barrenness was given the Christian significance of fulfilling Christ’s prophecy, “There will not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). The ruins of the Jewish Temple and whatever else had been there were to remains as signs of the triumph of Christianity.6
And as expected, the Temple Mount was left in the state of pile of fallen masonry and rubbish, until the Muslims arrive and cleaned the place.
On July 15, 1099 Jerusalem was taken from the Muslims by the Crusaders from Europe. The Crusaders slaughtered the inhabitants of Jerusalem in an unjustified carnage. Philip K. Hitti records that :
A month’s siege proved more effective. On July 15 the besiegers stormed the city and perpetrated an indiscriminate massacre involving all ages and both sexes. “Heaps of heads and hands and feet were to be seen throughout the streets and squares of the city”.7
The Dome of the Rock was converted into a Christian church called the templum domini - “Temple of our Lord.” The Dome of the Rock was used as a headquarters for the Knights of the Templar who officiated the Temple compound, while Masjid al-Aqsa was used as a stable for their horses. It was a Muslim leader, Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayubbi (Saladin) who fought for the liberation of Jerusalem from the Crusaders and finally succeeded in liberating the city. After ninety years of Crusader control (1099−1187), Jerusalem surrendered to Saladin’s army on October 2, 1187. In contrast to the brutality of the Crusaders, Saladin treated the defeated Crusaders with kindness and mercy.
To those who object to the significance of Jerusalem in Islam, we can ask them a simple rhetorical question : if Jerusalem has no importance in Islam, why did the city had consistently played a significant role in rallying Muslims ? Why did the Caliph ‘Umar(R) and Saladin respectively wasted their time and resources to take the trouble to liberate Jerusalem from those who defile al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf ? The answer is obvious, Muslims do hold Jerusalem as a holy city and the city does hold an important position in Islam.
We have seen the evidence of the claim of Islam over Jerusalem, where Masjid al-Aqsa is located. The city of Jerusalem is very important to Muslims and they have a right to this city religiously, historically and legally. Muslims have always viewed Jerusalem as a holy place which must be defended because it is similar to Makkah in its holiness and has been so for more than 14 centuries. These places must be protected given that Abraham(P), the Father of all Prophets(P), had built the Ka‘abah in Mecca and thereafter moved to Palestine where he passed away and was buried in Hebron near Jerusalem.
Muslims will never forget that they used to pray toward Jerusalem in the early stages of Islam before God ordered it to be changed to the Holy Shrine in Makkah. There is a mosque in Madinah that still has the two directions (one pointing toward Jerusalem and one towards Makkah), namely Masjid al-Qiblatain, as real evidence for this intimate connection between Jerusalem and Makkah. Muslims had also several times sacrificed their lives for the holy city, and sanctified al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf when it was defiled twice — after liberating the city from Byzantium rule and the Crusaders respectively. It was Islam that had continuously and consistently restored the sanctity of the Temple Mount, and made it a place of prostration and prayer.
And only God knows best.
- For examples see : Al-Aa‘raaf 7 : 137, Al-Anbiyaa 21 : 71 and Al-Anbiyaa 21 : 81. The Qur’an has several times referred to Palestine as al-ard al-muqaddasah (the sacred land ; Qur’an 5:21) and called its surroundings barakna hawlaha (God’s blessed precincts ; Qur’an 17:1)
- Ibn Maajah
- Dr. Marwan Abu Khalaf, The Religious Factors in Settlement Patterns in Jerusalem in the Early Islamic Period [Online Document, archived], Ministry of Information, Palestine National Authority
- C. Glasse, Dome Of The Rock, The Concise Encyclopaedia Of Islam (1989), Stacey International : London, p. 102
- Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem : One City, Three Faiths, 1997, Ballantine Books : New York, p. 229
- Sa’id Nuseibah & Oleg Grabar, The Dome Of The Rock, 1996, Thames and Hudson : London (UK), p. 35
- Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (10th Ed.), The Macmillan Press Ltd (1970), p. 639