Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem Part III

By Daniel Pipes

3rd part of 4

VI. Israeli Rule

This neglect came to an abrupt end after June 1967, when the Old City came under Israeli control. Palestinians again made Jerusalem the centerpiece of their political program. The Dome of the Rock turned up in pictures everywhere, from Yasir Arafat's office to the corner grocery. Slogans about Jerusalem proliferated and the city quickly became the single most emotional issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The PLO made up for its 1964 oversight by specifically mentioning Jerusalem in its 1968 constitution as "the seat of the Palestine Liberation Organization."53

"As during the era of the Crusaders," Lazarus-Yafeh points out, Muslim leaders "began again to emphasize the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islamic tradition."54 In the process, they even relied on some of the same arguments (e.g., rejecting the occupying power's religious connections to the city) and some of the same hadiths to back up those allegations. Muslims began echoing the Jewish devotion to Jerusalem: Arafat declared that "Al-Quds is in the innermost of our feeling, the feeling of our people and the feeling of all Arabs, Muslims, and Christians in the world."55 Extravagant statements became the norm (Jerusalem was now said to be "comparable in holiness" to Mecca and Medina; or even "our most sacred place").56 Jerusalem turned up regularly in Arab League and United Nations resolutions. The Jordanian and Saudi governments now gave as munificently to the Jerusalem religious trust as they had been stingy before 1967.

Nor were Palestinians alone in this emphasis on Jerusalem: the city again served as a powerful vehicle for mobilizing Muslim opinion internationally. This became especially clear in September 1969, when King Faysal parlayed a fire at Al-Aqsa Mosque into the impetus to convene twenty-five Muslim heads of state and establish the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a United Nations-style institution for Muslims. In Lebanon, the fundamentalist group Hizbullah depicts the Dome of the Rock on everything from wall posters to scarves and under the picture often repeats its slogan: "We are advancing." Lebanon's leading Shi'i authority, Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, regularly exploits the theme of liberating Jerusalem from Israeli control to inspire his own people; he does so, explains his biographer Martin Kramer, not for pie-in-the-sky reasons but "to mobilize a movement to liberate Lebanon for Islam."57

Similarly, the Islamic Republic of Iran has made Jerusalem a central issue, following the dictate of its founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, who remarked that "Jerusalem is the property of Muslims and must return to them."58 Since shortly after the regime's founding, its 1-rial coin and 1000-rial banknote have featured the Dome of the Rock (though, embarrassingly, the latter initially was mislabeled "Al-Aqsa Mosque"). Iranian soldiers at war with Saddam Husayn's forces in the 1980s received simple maps showing their sweep through Iraq and onto Jerusalem. Ayatollah Khomeini decreed the last Friday of Ramadan as Jerusalem Day, and this commemoration has served as a major occasion for anti-Israel harangues in many countries, including Turkey, Tunisia, and Morocco. The Islamic Republic of Iran celebrates the holiday with stamps and posters featuring scenes of Jerusalem accompanied by exhortative slogans. In February 1997, a crowd of some 300,000 celebrated Jerusalem Day in the presence of dignitaries such as President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Jerusalem Day is celebrated (complete with a roster of speeches, an art exhibit, a folkloric show, and a youth program) as far off as Dearborn, Michigan.

As it has become common for Muslims to claim passionate attachment to Jerusalem, Muslim pilgrimages to the city have multiplied four-fold in recent years. A new "virtues of Jerusalem" literature has developed.59 So emotional has Jerusalem become to Muslims that they write books of poetry about it (especially in Western languages).60 And in the political realm, Jerusalem has become a uniquely unifying issue for Arabic-speakers. "Jerusalem is the only issue that seems to unite the Arabs. It is the rallying cry," a senior Arab diplomat noted in late 2000.61

The fervor for Jerusalem at times challenges even the centrality of Mecca. No less a personage than Crown Prince 'Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been said repeatedly to say that for him, "Jerusalem is just like the holy city of Mecca."62 Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah goes further yet, declaring in a major speech: "We won't give up on Palestine, all of Palestine, and Jerusalem will remain the place to which all jihad warriors will direct their prayers."63

Dubious Claims

Along with these high emotions, three historically dubious claims promoting the Islamic claim to Jerusalem have emerged.

The Islamic connection to Jerusalem is older than the Jewish. The Palestinian "minister" of religious endowments asserts that Jerusalem has "always" been under Muslim sovereignty.64 Likewise, Ghada Talhami, a polemicist, asserts that "There are other holy cities in Islam, but Jerusalem holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Muslims because its fate has always been intertwined with theirs."65 Always? Jerusalem's founding antedated Islam by about two millennia, so how can that be? Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations explains this anachronism: "the Muslim attachment to Jerusalem does not begin with the prophet Muhammad, it begins with the prophets Abraham, David, Solomon and Jesus, who are also prophets in Islam."66 In other words, the central figures of Judaism and Christianity were really proto-Muslims. This accounts for the Palestinian man-in-the-street declaring that "Jerusalem was Arab from the day of creation."67

The Qur'an mentions Jerusalem. So complete is the identification of the Night Journey with Jerusalem that it is found in many publications of the Qur'an, and especially in translations. Some state in a footnote that the "furthest mosque" "must" refer to Jerusalem.68 Others take the (blasphemous?) step of inserting Jerusalem right into the text after "furthest mosque." This is done in a variety of ways. The Sale translation69 uses italics:

from the sacred temple of Mecca to the farther temple of Jerusalem

the Asad translation70 relies on square brackets:

from the Inviolable House of Worship [at Mecca] to the Remote House of Worship [at Jerusalem]

and the Behbudi-Turner version71 places it right in the text without any distinction at all:

from the Holy Mosque in Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine.

If the Qur'an in translation now has Jerusalem in its text, it cannot be surprising to find that those who rely on those translations believe that Jerusalem "is mentioned in the Qur'an"; and this is precisely what a consortium of American Muslim institutions claimed in 2000.72 One of their number went yet further; according to Hooper , "the Koran refers to Jerusalem by its Islamic centerpiece, al-Aqsa Mosque."73 This error has practical consequences: for example, Ahmad 'Abd ar-Rahman, secretary-general of the PA "cabinet," rested his claim to Palestinian sovereignty on this basis: "Jerusalem is above tampering, it is inviolable, and nobody can tamper with it since it is a Qur'anic text."74

Muhammad actually visited Jerusalem. The Islamic biography of the Prophet Muhammad's life is very complete and it very clearly does not mention his leaving the Arabian Peninsula, much less voyaging to Jerusalem. Therefore, when Karen Armstrong, a specialist on Islam, writes that "Muslim texts make it clear that … the story of Muhammad's mystical Night Journey to Jerusalem … was not a physical experience but a visionary one," she is merely stating the obvious. Indeed, this phrase is contained in an article titled, "Islam's Stake: Why Jerusalem Was Central to Muhammad" which posits that "Jerusalem was central to the spiritual identity of Muslims from the very beginning of their faith."75 Not good enough. Armstrong found herself under attack for a "shameless misrepresentation" of Islam and claiming that "Muslims themselves do not believe the miracle of their own prophet."76

Jerusalem has no importance to Jews. The first step is to deny a Jewish connection to the Western (or Wailing) Wall, the only portion of the ancient Temple that still stands. In 1967, a top Islamic official of the Temple Mount portrayed Jewish attachment to the wall as an act of "aggression against al-Aqsa mosque."77 The late King Faysal of Saudi Arabia spoke on this subject with undisguised scorn: "The Wailing Wall is a structure they weep against, and they have no historic right to it. Another wall can be built for them to weep against."78 'Abd al-Malik Dahamsha, a Muslim member of Israel's parliament, has flatly stated that "the Western Wall is not associated with the remains of the Jewish Temple."79 The Palestinian Authority's website states about the Western Wall that "Some Orthodox religious Jews consider it as a holy place for them, and claim that the wall is part of their temple which all historic studies and archeological excavations have failed to find any proof for such a claim."80 The PA's mufti describes the Western Wall as "just a fence belonging to the Muslim holy site" and declares that "There is not a single stone in the Wailing-Wall relating to Jewish history."81 He also makes light of the Jewish connection, dismissively telling an Israeli interviewer, "I heard that your Temple was in Nablus or perhaps Bethlehem."82 Likewise, Arafat announced that Jews "consider Hebron to be holier than Jerusalem."83 There has even been some scholarship, from 'Ayn Shams University in Egypt, alleging to show that Al-Aqsa Mosque predates the Jewish antiquities in Jerusalem – by no less than two thousand years.84

In this spirit, Muslim institutions pressure the Western media to call the Temple Mount and the Western Wall by their Islamic names (Al-Haram ash-Sharif, Al-Buraq), and not their much older Jewish names. (Al-Haram ash-Sharif, for example, dates only from the Ottoman era.) When Western journalists do not comply, Arafat responds with outrage, with his news agency portraying this as part of a "constant conspiracy against our sanctities in Palestine" and his mufti deeming this contrary to Islamic law.85

The second step is to deny Jews access to the wall. "It's prohibited for Jews to pray at the Western Wall," asserts an Islamist leader living in Israel.86 The director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque asserts that "This is a place for Muslims, only Muslims. There is no temple here, only Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock."87 The Voice of Palestine radio station demands that Israeli politicians not be allowed even to touch the wall.88 'Ikrima Sabri, the Palestinian Authority's mufti, prohibits Jews from making repairs to the wall and extends Islamic claims further: "All the buildings surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque are an Islamic waqf."89

The third step is to reject any form of Jewish control in Jerusalem, as Arafat did in mid-2000: "I will not agree to any Israeli sovereign presence in Jerusalem."90 He was echoed by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, who stated that "There is nothing to negotiate about and compromise on when it comes to Jerusalem."91 Even Oman's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin 'Alawi bin 'Abdullah told the Israeli prime minister that sovereignty in Jerusalem should be exclusively Palestinian "to ensure security and stability."92

The final step is to deny Jews access to Jerusalem at all. Toward this end, a body of literature blossoms that insists on an exclusive Islamic claim to all of Jerusalem.93 School textbooks allude to the city's role in Christianity and Islam, but ignore Judaism. An American affiliate of Hamas claims Jerusalem as "an Arab, Palestinian and Islamic holy city."94 A banner carried in a street protest puts it succinctly: "Jerusalem is Arab."95 No place for Jews here.

Anti-Jerusalem Views

This Muslim love of Zion notwithstanding, Islam contains a recessive but persistent strain of anti-Jerusalem sentiment, premised on the idea that emphasizing Jerusalem is non-Islamic and can undermine the special sanctity of Mecca.

In the early period of Islam, the Princeton historian Bernard Lewis notes, "there was strong resistance among many theologians and jurists" to the notion of Jerusalem as a holy city. They viewed this as a "Judaizing error—as one more among many attempts by Jewish converts to infiltrate Jewish ideas into Islam."96 Anti-Jerusalem stalwarts circulated stories to show that the idea of Jerusalem's holiness is a Jewish practice. In the most important of them, a converted Jew named , Ka'b al-Ahbar, suggested to Caliph 'Umar that Al-Aqsa Mosque be built by the Dome of the Rock. The caliph responded by accusing him of reversion to his Jewish roots:

'Umar asked him: "Where do you think we should put the place of prayer?"

"By the [Temple Mount] rock," answered Ka'b.

By God, Ka'b," said 'Umar, "you are following after Judaism. I saw you take off your sandals [following Jewish practice]."

"I wanted to feel the touch of it with my bare feet," said Ka'b.

"I saw you," said 'Umar. "But no … Go along! We were not commanded concerning the Rock, but we were commanded concerning the Ka'ba [in Mecca]."97

Another version of this anecdote makes the Jewish content even more explicit: "in this one, Ka'b al-Ahbar tries to induce Caliph 'Umar to pray north of the Holy Rock, pointing out the advantage of this: "Then the entire Al-Quds, that is, Al-Masjid al-Haram will be before you."98 In other words, the convert from Judaism is saying, the Rock and Mecca will be in a straight line and Muslims can pray toward both of them at the same time.

That Muslims for almost a year and a half during Muhammad's lifetime directed prayers toward Jerusalem has had a permanently contradictory effect on that city's standing in Islam. The incident partially imbued Jerusalem with prestige and sanctity, but it also made the city a place uniquely rejected by God. Some early hadiths have Muslims expressing this rejection by purposefully praying with their back sides to Jerusalem,99 a custom that still survives in vestigial form; he who prays in Al-Aqsa Mosque not coincidentally turns his back precisely to the Temple area toward which Jews pray. Or, in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's sharp formulation: when a Muslim prays in Al-Aqsa, "his back is to it. Also some of his lower parts."100

Ibn Taymiya (1263-1328), one of Islam's strictest and most influential religious thinkers, is perhaps the outstanding spokesman of the anti-Jerusalem view. In his wide-ranging attempt to purify Islam of accretions and impieties, he dismissed the sacredness of Jerusalem as a notion deriving from Jews and Christians, and also from the long-ago Umayyad rivalry with Mecca. Ibn Taymiya's student, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya (1292-1350), went further and rejected hadiths about Jerusalem as false. More broadly, learned Muslims living after the Crusades knew that the great publicity given to hadiths extolling Jerusalem's sanctity resulted from the Countercrusade—from political exigency, that is—and therefore treated them warily.

There are other signs too of Jerusalem's relatively low standing in the ladder of sanctity: a historian of art finds that, "in contrast to representations of Mecca, Medina, and the Ka'ba, depictions of Jerusalem are scanty."101 The belief that the Last Judgment would take place in Jerusalem was said by some medieval authors to be a forgery to induce Muslims to visit the city.

Modern writers sometimes take exception to the envelope of piety that has surrounded Jerusalem. Muhammad Abu Zayd wrote a book in Egypt in 1930 that was so radical that it was withdrawn from circulation and is no longer even extant. In it, among many other points, he

dismissed the notion of the Prophet's heavenly journey via Jerusalem, claiming that the Qur'anic rendition actually refers to his Hijra from Mecca to Madina; "the more remote mosque" (al-masjid al-aqsa) thus had nothing to do with Jerusalem, but was in fact the mosque in Madina.102

That this viewpoint is banned shows the nearly complete victory in Islam of the pro-Jerusalem viewpoint. Still, an occasional expression still filters through. At a summit meeting of Arab leaders in March 2001, Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi made fun of his colleagues' obsession with Al-Aqsa Mosque. "The hell with it," delegates quoted him saying, "you solve it or you don't, it's just a mosque and I can pray anywhere."103

Daniel Pipes


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

No comments:

Post a Comment