The Islamic Perspective of Jerusalem
The city of Jerusalem is very sacred to Muslims. It is one of the three most sacred places in Islam. Jerusalem is called Al-Quds Ash-Sharif (the Noble Sacred Place). In order to understand the sacredness of this city in Islam, one has to understand the structure of faith in Islam.
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The city of Jerusalem is very sacred to Muslims. It is one of the three most sacred places in Islam. Jerusalem is called Al-Quds Ash-Sharif (the Noble Sacred Place). In order to understand the sacredness of this city in Islam, one has to understand the structure of faith in Islam. There are three basic principles:
2. Belief in the divine guidance through His chosen prophets and messengers (risalah)
3. Belief in the life after death (Wkhirah), divine judgment and Heaven and Hell
It is the second principle of faith in Islam that is directly related to our love and devotion to Jerusalem.
Islam recognizes all the prophets and messengers of Allah. The Qur’an has mentioned many by name. Their stories and teachings are told at varying length throughout the Qur’an. According to Islam, Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), Zakariyah (Zachariah), Yahya (John the Baptist) and `Isa (Jesus)—peace be upon them all—are among the honored prophets and messengers of Allah.
Jews and Christians also recognize prophets Dawud and Sulayman as great kings and patriarchs of ancient Israel.
In Islam, they are honored as Allah’s great prophets. The Qur’an not only narrates their stories, but also restores their honor by removing some of the charges and allegations that were made against them by earlier communities.
Prophet Dawud (peace be upon him) was accused in the Bible of committing adultery (2 Samuel: 11-12) and Prophet Sulayman (peace be upon him) was accused of idolatry (1 Kings :11). The Qur’an absolves them from all these charges (Al-Qasas: 21-25; Saad: 30). This shows that Dawud and Sulayman (peace be upon them) are more revered and respected in Islam than in Jewish and Christian traditions.
Since the city of Jerusalem is historically associated with these prophets of Allah, it naturally becomes a city that is sacred to Muslims.
Islam considers itself a continuation of the same spiritual and ethical movement that began with the earlier prophets.
Historically and theologically, Islam is the true inheritor of the earlier traditions of the prophets and messengers of Allah. It is for this reason that the Qur’an calls for Palestine—the land associated with the lives of many of Allah’s prophets—“Al-Ard Al-Muqaddasah” (the Sacred Land) (Al-Ma’idah: 21) and calls its surroundings “Barakna Hawlaha” (Allah’s Blessed Precincts) (Al-Israa’: 1).
The sacredness of the city of Jerusalem, according to Islam, is in its historical religious reality. This is the city that witnessed the life and works of the greatest prophets and messengers of Allah. Here the divine grace touched the earth repeatedly. Allah’s great prophets and messengers lived and moved in its valleys and streets. Makkah and Madinah are blessed cities in Islam because of their association with Prophets Ibrahim, Isma`il (Ishmael), and Muhammad. In a similar way Jerusalem is blessed and important in Islam because of its association with other prophets of Allah, namely Dawud, Sulayman, and `Isa.
Jews and Christians do not recognize Isma`il and Muhammad as Allah’s prophets and messengers, so they do not consider Makkah and Madinah as sacred cities.
However, Muslims believe in Prophets Musa, Dawud, Sulayman, and `Isa, and so they must recognize the sacredness and importance of Jerusalem in Islam
Jerusalem in the Life of Prophet Muhammad
Due to its theological and religious status, Jerusalem had a very important place in the life of the Prophet Muhammad himself.
In the year 620, almost one and a half years before his Hijrah (emigration) from Makkah to Madinah, the famous event of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj (Night Journey and Ascension) occurred. One night, in a miraculous way, the Prophet was taken on a momentous journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and from there to the heavenly celestial abodes.
The Night Journey was a great miracle that Muslims believe was granted to Prophet Muhammad as an honor and confirmation of Makkah’s spiritual link with Jerusalem.
Both of these events took place on the same night. The Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) took the Prophet from Makkah to Jerusalem. It is reported that the Prophet stood at the Sacred Rock (As-Sakhrah Al-Musharrafah), went to the heavens, returned to Jerusalem, and met with many prophets and messengers who were gathered together for him on that occasion, and he led them in Prayers.
After these experiences the Prophet was taken back to Makkah. The story of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj is full of wonderful signs and symbols. Muslim thinkers, mystics, and poets have interpreted it in deep and meaningful ways. However, there is one essential point and that is it serves as an example of every Muslim’s deep devotion and spiritual connection with Jerusalem.
During Al-Mi`raj, the Prophet is reported to have received from Allah the command to perform five daily Prayers that all Muslims must perform. Upon his return to Makkah, the Prophet instituted these Prayers. It is significant to note that he made Jerusalem the direction (qiblah) which Muslims must face while performing their Prayers. Jerusalem is thus called ‘Ula Al-Qiblatain (The First of Two Qiblahs).
The Prophet and the early community of Muslims worshiped toward the direction of Jerusalem during their stay in Makkah. After the Hijrah, Muslims in Madinah also continued to pray facing Jerusalem for almost 17 months. Then came Allah’s command to change the direction of Prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah (Al-Baqarah: 142-150).
Muslim commentators of the Qur’an and historians have explained the meaning and purpose of this change.
It is a lengthy subject that we cannot discuss in detail here. Suffice it to say that the change of the qiblah in no way diminished the status of Jerusalem in Islam.
The Ka`bah in Makkah was meant to be the qiblah from the beginning because the Qur’an said that it was the First House (Awwal Bait) (Aal `Imran: 96) established for mankind to worship the One God.
However, the Ka`bah was full of idols when Prophet Muhammad began preaching his message of the oneness and transcendence of Allah.
A separation had to be made between the people and the pagan worship that they used to perform at the Ka`bah. Jerusalem served that purpose very well by distancing the people from their pagan and idolatrous associations.
Once monotheism was fully established in the minds and hearts of the believers and once the Ka`bah’s position with Ibrahim and with monotheism was made clear, the way was open to restore the Ka`bah as the direction of Prayers.
There are many instances of this type of change or abrogation (naskh) in Islamic Law. As one example, visiting graves was forbidden in the beginning of Muhammad’s prophethood. Later it was permitted because Muslims had learned the difference between a visit to a grave and ancestor worship. At first, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade his people to write down his words except when he told them that what he was saying was revelation—the Qur’an, the Word of Allah. Later when people learned the difference between the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings and deeds of the Prophet), he gave them permission to write down Hadith as well.
It is interesting to note that the Ka`bah in Makkah was the original direction of Prayers for all the prophets of Allah.
According to a hadith, the Black Stone (Al-Hajar Al-Aswad) had been in Makkah at the place of the Ka`bah since the time of Adam. It was Prophets Ibrahim and Isma`il who built the Ka`bah under Allah’s command and direction (Al-Baqarah: 125-127).
The city of Jerusalem was established as a religious center for the Israelite people by Prophets Dawud and Sulayman around the year 900 BC.
This was almost 1,000 years after the time of Prophet Ibrahim and the building of the Ka`bah. Thus one can say that the Ka`bah had a historical primacy over Jerusalem.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the Bible says that the early Israelites in Jerusalem used to face the direction of the south when offering their most sacred prayers and offerings (Exodus: 40). The Ka`bah is to the south of Jerusalem. Thus we can say that the Ka`bah was also a qiblah for the earlier Israelite communities.
Jerusalem in the Early History of Islam
Jerusalem came under Islamic rule during the reign of the second caliph, `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), in the year 638 CE. It was a peaceful conquest. The ruling patriarch of the city, whose name was Sophronius, offered the keys of the city to the caliph himself. Upon entering the blessed city, the caliph asked about the location of the Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa and the blessed rock from where the Prophet went on Al-Mi`raj.
It was a desolate place at that time. The Romans had destroyed the so-called Second Temple in the year 70 CE, and no non-Christian or Christian ruler of that city after that ever tried to build any place of worship there.
According to historians, it was a garbage dump and a dunghill for the people of Jerusalem. `Umar, upon learning that this was the site of the masjid of Jerusalem and the place from where the Al-Mi`raj took place, cleaned the place with his own hands and prostrated in Prayer on that ground.
In 691 CE the Dome of the Rock and a more elaborate mosque were constructed. Those were the first expensive and expansive sacred monuments built in the history of Islam.
Jerusalem was always held in great esteem by Muslims. The Prophet said: “Journeys should not be taken (with the intention of worship) except to three mosques: the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, my mosque in Madinah and Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.” [Reported by Al Bukhari]
Muslim rulers and philanthropists built many hospitals, schools, and religious centers in and around the city. They purchased land in and around the city and dedicated it as a waqf (endowment) for religious purposes. The whole city is virtually waqf land that is not to be sold or transferred.
Many Muslim scholars also immigrated to and settled in the city. Masjid Al-Aqsa was a great seat of learning. Thousands of pious people and scholars included provisions in their wills that they be buried in Jerusalem. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of Muslims’ graves in the city of Jerusalem.
Muslims also recognized the rights of Christians and Jews who hold the city dear to their hearts and sacred in their faiths.
Under Islamic rule they were given permission to settle there. When Caliph `Umar made the treaty with the Christian Patriarch Sophronius, it was agreed, at the request of the Christian patriarch, that, “No Jews will live with them in Aelia (Jerusalem).”
However, later, due to Muslim tolerance, this rule was relaxed and Jews were allowed to come and settle in the city.
After the re-conquest of Jerusalem by Salahuddin in the time of the Crusades, Jews were again permitted by Muslims to return and live in the city. The Crusaders during their 90-year-rule (1099–1187) had banned both Jews and Muslims from the city.
The city of Jerusalem is very important to Muslims, who have a right to this city religiously, historically, and legally. I have only mentioned the religious aspects. There are three important points to remember about Islam and the city of Jerusalem:
1. In the whole history of Jerusalem, from the time of Prophet Dawud until now, the longest rule of this city was by Muslims.
2. Muslims maintained the sacredness of this city in the fullest sense of the word.
3. Muslims established and practiced the most tolerant multi-religious and multi-faith character of Jerusalem.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America.
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