We often hear the Muslim claim that Jerusalem is their "third holiest city", after Mecca and Medina; and specifically, that this is because our Temple Mount is mentioned in the Koran.
As a result, Muslims are allowed sole control over our Temple Mount - to visit it whenever they choose, to destroy priceless archaeological relics while building additional mosques, etc. - while Jews are only occasionally allowed to visit, and never allowed to utter a prayer there. (Like in the old joke that ends "...but don't let me catch you praying." Except this isn't a joke.)
This situation has always amazed me. Even if Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were truly the "third holiest place" for Muslims, why should that give them more rights than Jews, for whom the Temple Mount is our first holiest place?
But in fact, even the claim of being the "third holiest place" is not true. It cannot possibly be true, for several very logical reasons.
First, the claim of being "the third holiest place" is based on a dream described in the Koran. That's right, not an actual event, just a dream. In the dream, Mohammed "visited" a place referred to as masjid el-aksa, which means "the farthest mosque".
The Arabs claim that this refers to their mosque of that name, located on the Temple Mount.
But the El Aksa Mosque was built about a hundred years after Mohammed. In Mohammed's time, Jerusalem was ruled by the Byzantine Christians, and there were no mosques at all in Jerusalem, not on the Temple Mount or anywhere else. So obviously, Mohammed couldn't have dreamed about a mosque that didn't exist.
Moreover, the very name "El-Aksa" for the imaginary place mentioned in Mohammed's dream proves that the reference could not possibly be to Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem would never be referred to as "the farthest place".
Jerusalem is centrally located. Within the Land of Israel, it is located on the mountain ridge between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. On a larger scale, it is located at the junction point of three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa. We see this shown in ancient maps, such as the Medeba map.
In Mohammed's time (or earlier), "the farthest place" would never refer to Jerusalem. It would refer either to a coastal city, such as Jaffa, Acre or Haifa, or it would refer to the end of the Mediterranean Sea – Spain, Gibraltar or Morocco. We see this in the book of Jonah, where the prophet attempts to flee to the end of the earth by going to Jaffa and catching a boat headed for "Tarshish" (usually considered to be Spain).
So, how did the tradition arise of Jerusalem's "holiness" to Muslims?
It's very simple. It has always been a Muslim policy, when conquering any area, to take over the holy places of the local people and to turn them into mosques. It is a way of putting down the conquered people – to show them that Islam will take away the most important thing to them, and there's nothing they can do about it.
They have done this not only in the Land of Israel, regarding both Jewish and Christian holy places, but also in India (regarding Hindu holy places), in Afghanistan (regarding Buddhist holy places), etc.
So, when the Muslims conquered the Land of Israel in the 7th century, they looked for the holiest place around, and found a Byzantine church that was built on the Jewish Temple Mount. So here we have a no-brainer – an opportunity to take away a holy place from both Jews and Christians at the same time!
In addition, the Muslim ruler of the Land of Israel wasn't happy with the fact that he was stuck with a backwater province. So, to make it more attractive to tourists, he named the new mosque "El-Aksa", and told all the tourists that it was the very same one mentioned in the Koran. Voila! The birth of a "tradition".
It would be the equivalent of Christians believing that the founder of their religion was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, or that he grew up in Nazareth, Texas. Obviously, these places are simply named after the original Bethlehem and Nazareth; just as El-Aksa Mosque was named after the imaginary place described in Mohammed's dream.
It's time that more people were aware of the simple facts and logic involved. Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are not holy to Muslims, and never have been, except as an attempt to take them away from the Jews.