Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?

The Moslem Direction

[Jerusalem's lack of importance over Moslem history]

By Moshe Kohn
From the Jerusalem Post "In Jerusalem" supplement, June 2, 2000

MOHAMMED and the first Moslems faced north, toward Jerusalem, from their home in what is today Saudi Arabia. This was not because the Jewish people's political and religious capital had any particular religious significance for them. Establishing Jerusalem as their kibla - the direction Moslems were to face when praying - was for Mohammed a purely political act. It was one of several acts by him aimed at pleasing the then-important Jewish population of Medina to the new faith he was establishing and to his side against his enemies in his native Mecca, from which he had fled for his life.

Here is what the Koran (Sura 2, verses 136-141) tells us about the kibla: "What has turned [Moslems] from the holy kibla [Jerusalem] they always used?...We [Allah] set the kibla that you originally faced only so We might distinguish between those who follow the Apostle [Mohammed] and those who turn on their heels...but We will turn you toward a kibla that will please you, and you shall turn your face toward the sacred Mosque [the Kaaba in Mecca], and wherever you are that is the direction you shall face.... Even if you should bring every kind of sign to those [the Jews] who have received the Book [the Tanach], still they will not adopt your kibla, nor are you to adopt theirs... Those to whom We gave the Book know him [Mohammed]...but one sector of them conceal the truth despite the fact that they know it."

Indeed, Prof. Bernard Lewis, probably the world's leading expert on Islam and Arabism, reports that early Moslem theologians opposed assigning any sanctity to Jerusalem, some of them even characterizing the idea as "a judaizing error - as one more among many attempts by Jewish converts [to Islam] to infiltrate Jewish ideas into Islam." (See Lewis's The Jews of Islam, Princeton University Press Paperback, 1987.)

The 13th-century Arab biographer and geographer Yakut noted: "Mecca is holy to Moslems, and Jerusalem to the Jews." Lewis cites a story told by the late-ninth-early-tenth-century Arab historian Mohammed ibn al-Tabari about a visit of Caliph Omar to Jerusalem, just conquered by the invaders from Arabia: "When Omar came to Ilya (Jerusalem)," al-Tabari wrote, "he ordered his servants to summon Kab al-Ahbar, a prominent Jewish convert to Islam. When he arrived, Omar asked him: 'Where do you think we should put the place of prayer?'"

Al-Ahbar replied: "By the Rock" - that is, the so-called Even Hashetiah/Rock of the Foundation, believed to mark the site of the altar Patriarch Abraham built on which to sacrifice his son Isaac, later the site of the Temples Holy of Holies, and eventually the site of the Arab-Moslem Dome of the Rock, which is erroneously called Mosque of Omar.

According to al-Tabari, Omar said to Al-Ahbar: "By God, you are still following Judaism! I saw you take off your sandals [in accordance with Jewish practice and later Moslem practice at this site]... But we were not commanded concerning the Rock, but we were commanded concerning the Kaaba."

The same al-Tabari wrote that Mohammed "chose the Holy House in Jerusalem in order that the People of the Book would be conciliated."

But as noted, the Jews rejected Mohammed's overtures and rejected Islam. Consequently, the rejected self-proclaimed Apostle had bitter feelings towards them, writing (Koran Sura 2:83): "The curse of God is on the infidels whom God gave a Book [the Koran] confirming what they [the Jews] had already received [in the Torah], but which they turned their back on." As for the Moslem tradition concerning Mohammed's vision of a night journey to Jerusalem on his horse Burak, reported in the Koran, Sura 17, without any mention of Jerusalem - the 230-meter Arabic inscription around the Dome of the Rock, supposedly built to celebrate Mohammed's alleged ascent to Heaven from that Rock of the Foundation, makes no mention of that alleged journey.

And as for Jerusalem's being an Arab capital - the closest it ever came to that status was during the caliphate of of Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan (685-705). During his reign, while the anti-caliph Abdullah Ibn Zubayr briefly controlled Mecca, Ibn Marwan forbade Moslem pilgrims to go to Mecca, declared the Rock of the Foundation to have been Mohammed's takeoff point on his flight to Heaven, built the Dome of the Rock over it, and made Jerusalem his seat till Ibn Zubayr was defeated in 692.

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