Jerusalem History

The Posi­tion of Jerusalem and al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf in Islam

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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 (10991187), 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. Endmark

Cite Icon Cite This As : 
  1. 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)[]
  2. Ibn Maa­jah[]
  3. 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[]
  4. C. Glasse, Dome Of The Rock, The Con­cise Ency­clopae­dia Of Islam (1989), Stacey Inter­na­tion­al : Lon­don, p. 102[]
  5. Karen Arm­strong, Jerusalem : One City, Three Faiths, 1997, Bal­lan­tine Books : New York, p. 229[]
  6. Sa’id Nuseibah & Oleg Grabar, The Dome Of The Rock, 1996, Thames and Hud­son : Lon­don (UK), p. 35[]
  7. Philip K. Hit­ti, His­to­ry of the Arabs (10th Ed.), The Macmil­lan Press Ltd (1970), p. 639[]

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