The following article was a talk presented by Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi at the first meeting of American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ) in Washington, DC on April 17, 1999.
|Photo credit: Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times|
The city of Jerusalem is very sacred to Muslims. It is one of the three most sacred cities in Islam. Jerusalem is called al-Quds al-Sharif (the Noble Sacred Place). In order to understand the sacredness of this city in Islam, one has to understand the faith structure of Islam.
There are three basic principles of faith in Islam:
- Tawhid- Belief in the oneness of Allah
- Risalah- Belief in the divine guidance through His chosen prophets and Messengers
- Akhirah- Belief in life after death, divine judgment and heaven and hell
Jerusalem in the Islamic Faith
Islam recognizes all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. The Quran has mentioned many Prophets by name. Their stories and teachings are told at varying length throughout the Quran. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Zachariah, John, (Yahya) and Jesus are among the honored Prophets and Messengers of Allah according to Islam. Prophets David and Solomon are also recognized by Jews and Christians as great kings and patriarchs of ancient Isarel. However, in Islam they are honored as Allah’s great Prophets. The Quran not only narrated their stories, but also restored their honor by removing some of the charges and allegations there were made against their characters by earlier communities. In the Bible, Prophet David was accused of committing adultery (2 Samuel 11-12) and Prophet Solomon was accused of idolatry (1 King 11). The Quran absolved these prophets from all these charges (28:21-25; 38:30). This shows that David and Solomon 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 sacred city to Muslims. Islam considers itself a continuation of the same spiritual and ethical movement that was begun by the earlier Prophets. Historically and theologically, Islam believes itself to be the true inheritor of the earlier traditions of the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. It is for this reason that the Quran called Palestine- the land associated with the lives of many God’s Prophets- as al-ard al-muqaddasa (the Sacred Land, 5:21) and its surroundings barakna hawlaha (God’s Blessed Precincts 17:1).
The sacredness of the city of Jerusalem, according to Islam, is in its historically religious reality. This is the city that witness the life and works of greatest Prophets and Messengers of Allah. Here, divine grace touched the earth repeatedly. Allah’s great Prophets and Messengers lived and moved in its valleys and streets. Thus as Makkah and Medina are blessed cities in Islam because of their association with Prophets Abraham, Ishmael and Muhammad, in a similar way, Jerusalem is blessed and important in Islam because of its association with other prophets of Allah, namely David, Solomon an Jesus. Jews and Christians do not recognize Ishmael and Muhammad as God’s Prophets and Messengers, and do not consider Makkah and Medina as sacred cities to them. The Muslims’ belief in Prophets Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus, compel Muslims to recognize the sacredness and importance of Jerusalem.
|Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi - Chairman of Fiqh Council of North America|
Jerusalem in the Life of Prophet Muhammad
Due to its theological and religious status, Jerusalem had a very important place in the life of Prophet Muhammad. In the year 620 CE almost one and a half years before his Hijrah (migration) from Makkah to Medina, the well-known event of Isra and Miraj (Night Journey and Ascension) occurred. On this night, in a miraculous way, the prophet was taken on a momentous journey from Makkah to Jerusaelm and from there to the heavenly celestial abodes. The Night Journey was a great miracle that Muslims believe was give to Prophet Muhammas as an honor and as a confirmation of Makkah’s spiritual link with Jerusalem. The Night Journey from Makkah to Jerusalem is called al-Isra’ and the ascension from Jerusalem to the heaven is called al-Mi’raj. Both of these events took place on the same night. Angel Gabriel took prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Jerusalem. There it is reported that the Prophet stood at the Sacred Rock (al-Sakhrah al-Musharrafah), went to the heavens, and returned to Jerusalem where he met with many Prophets and Messengers and led them in prayers.
After these experiences the Prophet was brought back to Makkah. The story of Isra’ and Mi’raj is full of wonderful signs and symbols. It has been interpreted by Muslim thinkers, mystics and poets in deep and meaningful ways. The essential point is the Muslim’s deep devotion and spiritual connection with Jerusalem.
During the Mi’raj, the Prophet is reported to have received from Allah the command of five daily prayers (Salah) that al Muslims must perform. Upon his return to Makkah, the Prophet instituted these prayers. It is significant to note that he made Jerusalem the direction (al-Qiblah) which Muslims must face while during their prayers. Jerusalem is thus called Ula al-Qiblatain (the first Qiblah). The Prophet and the early community of Islam worshiped in the direction of Jerusalem during their stay in Makkah. After the Hijah Muslims in Medina also continued to use the direction of Jerusalem for almost seventeen months. Then came the command of Allah to change the direction from Jerusalem to Makkah (2:142-150).
Muslim commentators of the Quran and historians have explained the meaning and purpose of this change. Suffice it to say that the change of the Qiblah in no way diminished the status of Jerusalem in Islam. The Kabah in Makkah was meant to be the Qiblah from the beginning, because the Quran said that it was the First House (Awwal Bait 3:96) established for mankind to worship. The Kabah, however, was full of idols when Prophet Muhammad began preaching his message of Tawhid (the Oneness and Transcendence of Allah). A separation had to be made between the people and the former pagan worship they had done at the Kabah. 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 the Kabah’s position with Abraham with monotheism was made clear, the way was open to restore the Kabah as the original direction of prayers. There are many instances of this type of change (or abrogation, naskh, in Islamic legislation. Visiting the graves was forbidden in the beginning, but later was permitted because Muslims had learned the difference between visiting the grave sites and ancestor worship. In the beginning Prophet Muhammad forbade his people to write his own words except that which was the Word of Allah. Later, he gave them permission to write Hadith as well.
It is interesting to note that the Kabah 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 Kabah since the time of Adam. It was the Prophets Abraham and Ishmael who built the Kabah under Allah’s command and direction (2:125-127). The city of Jerusalem was established as a religious center for the Israelite people by Prophets David and Solomon around the year 900 BC. This was almost one thousand years after the time f Prophet Abraham and the building of the Kabah. Thus one can say that the Kabah had a historical primacy over Jerusalem. Furthermore, it is important to note that the bible says that the early Israelites in Jerusalem used to turn in the southern direction when making their most sacred prayers and offerings (Exodus 27:9ff; 40:24). The Kabah is in the southern direction of Jerusalem. Thus, we can say that the Kabah was also the Qiblah for the earlier Israelite communities as well.
Jerusalem in the Early History of Islam
Jerusalem came under Islamic rule during the time of the second Caliph Umar in the year 638. It was a peaceful conquest. The ruling patriarch of the city, Sophronius, offered the keys of the city to the Caliph himself.
Upon entering the blessed city, the Caliph asked about the site of the mosque of David (al-Masjid al-Aqsa) and the blessed Rock from where the Prophet ascended in Mi’raj which was a desolate place at the time. Romans had destroyed the so-called Temple in the year 70 CE and no non-Christian or Christian ruler after that ever tried to build any place of worship there. According to historians, it was a garbage dump, a dunghill for the people of Jerusalem. Umar, upon learning that was the site of the Masjid and the place where from the Mi’raj took place, cleaned the site with his own hands and put his forehead in prayer on the ground. The Masjid al-Aqsa was built in that area. Later, the Dome of the Rock and a more elaborate mosque were built there in 691 CE. Those were, perhaps, the first most expensive sacred monuments built in the history of Islam.
Jerusalem was always held in great esteem by Muslims. The Prophet said: “A journey should not be taken (with the intention of worship) except to three mosques: the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, my Mosque in Medina and Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.”
On the basis of this Hadith, Muslims always considered it as a religious obligation to visit the city of Jerusalem, its mosque and its sacred and blessed precincts. Often, pilgrims to Makkah made it a point to visit Jerusalem, as well, on their way to Makkah and Medina.
Muslim rulers and philanthropists built many hostels, schools, and other religious centers in and around the city. They purchased land and dedicated it as a waqf (endowment) for religious purposes. The entire city is virtually a waqf land which is non-salable and non-transferable.
Many Muslim scholars also migrated and settled in the city of Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa Masjid was a great seat of learning. Thousands of pious people and scholars made stipulations in their will to be buried in Jerusalem upon their death. There are thousands, perhaps millions of Muslims’ graves in the city of Jerusalem.
Muslims also recognize the rights of Christians and Jews who hold the city dear to their hearts and sacred in their faiths. Under Islamic rule they were allowed to visit the city and many of them were given permission to settle there. When Caliph Umar made the treaty with Patriarch Sophronius, it was agreed, at the request of the Christian patriarch that “No Jews will live with them in Aelia.” The Muslims relaxed this rule and Jews were again permitted by Muslims to return and live there. During their ninety-year rule (1099-1187), the Crusaders banned both Jews and Muslims from the city.
The city of Jerusalem is very important to Muslims. Muslims have a right to this city religiously, historically and legally. There are three important points to remember about Islam and Jerusalem:
- In the entire history of Jerusalem, from the time of Prophet David until the present, Muslims have ruled the city the longest.
- Muslims maintained the sacredness of the city in the full sense of the word.
- Muslims established and practiced the most tolerant multi-religious and multi-faith character of Jerusalem.