The Elevation in Sanctity of al-Aqsa and al-Quds (Book chapter)

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The title is the second chapter of the book “Jerusalem and Its Role in Islamic Solidarity” by Yitzhak Reiter published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2008. The following is the chapter.[1]


The existing research literature in the field of religion and in related disciplines points to a historical and contemporary process ofsanctification of places, but in almost no instance does the literature address the conditions in which a holy site's status is elevated to a higher position on the scale of sanctity, as has occurred with Jerusalem. Emile Durkheim made a dichotomous distinction between "sacred" and "profane" in religious life in general. He maintained that "if religious life is to develop, a sacred place must be prepared for it, one from which profane life is excluded... [the] institution of temples and sanctuaries arise from this."1 Perhaps, Durkheim's contribution to the question of what is a sacred place is based on his approach to the sacred as something that comes from the human and from society and is superimposed on specific geographical properties.2 However, a study by Dawn Mari Hayes of medieval churches in Europe found that mundane and profane life was an integral reality of Christian sacred places. 3 Mircea Eliade has discussed the role of man (as opposed to divine revelation) in determining the sanctity and status of a particular site. In his book The Sacred and the Profane (1959), Eliade explores how profane space can be converted into sacred space and suggests that this symbolic process reflects the spiritual characteristics associated with both the physical features and the deeper, abstract implications of delineating a particular site as sacred. Designation of a site as sacred is generally a response to two types of events. Some events (hierophanic) involve a direct manifestation on earth of a deity, whereas in other (theophanic) events somebody receives a message from the deity and interprets it for others.4 However, Eliade was referring mainly to the heavenly significance of the sanctification of places, rather than to the earthly aspects of the phenomenon. 5

Harold Turner (1979) developed the phenomenological approach to holy places, particularly those sites that serve as places of worship. He stressed their function as "the center of the world" and as peoples' meeting places in addition to their function as "houses of God." In addition, he highlighted their role as representing a microcosm of the heavenly realm and as an immanent-transcendent presence of God everywhere. 6

The phenomenological approach was criticized by subsequent scholars who called for an empirical approach. In his study of holy cities, Gerard Weigers (2004) distinguishes between "profane" urban spaces containing one or more important holy places (such as Jerusalem) and "holy" urban spaces in which holy places or sanctuaries may be found (such as Mecca, al-Madina for Muslims and Varanasi for Hindus).7 In the latter, the entire city is holy-not simply specific sites within that city.

Chidester and Linenthal, in their book American Sacred Space, develop ideas that were earlier raised by Dutch theologian Gerardus Van der Leeuw in his 1933 work in which he addresses the politics of sacred space. Van der Leeuw states that the very definition of a place as sacred is a political act whose meaning is the "conquest of the space." Sacred places are, indeed, characterized by a politics of ownership and possession. From the time that a site is defined as sacred it undergoes expropriation and a change of ownership. The sacred space is also a religious symbol that is mobilized for purposes of political authority. Another political aspect of the holy site is its exclusivity. That is, whoever is outside of its boundaries is excluded from it. And finally, the sacred space is also connected to the politics of exile-that is, the loss of the sacred space or the nostalgia for it on the part of those who were connected to it in the distant past and are now, in the modern era, severed from it.9

In contrast to Eliade, Chidester and Linenthal emphasize the secular forces that are active and that come into play at the holy site. A sacred space exists not merely in the heavenly dimension but also on the planes of reality, hierarchical power relations between ruler and ruled, exclusion and inclusion, ownership and the loss of ownership. Chidester and Linenthal adopt Michel Foucault's theory of power in order to explain the various functions that are exerted upon a holy site. A sacred space is, first and foremost, a venue for ritual activity. It is a place that radiates meaning to man. It is the focus of an unavoidable competition or struggle over ownership, legitimacy and sacred symbols. Because the sacred space is also a place over which ownership or possession may be claimed and that may be used by human beings seeking to further specific ends, it is also an arena in which various players engage in a power struggle. The authors also write that a holy place is usually considered most sacred by those who perceive it as a site in danger of secularization by economic, social, and political forces on the part of those who had originally sanctified it, or as a site in danger of being taken over by some other entity that is liable to defile it. It takes on greater sanctity when people are willing to fight and die for it. People are willing to die in struggles over holy places, because the holy place is an inexhaustible source of meaning."

The meanings that Chidester and Linenthal attach to the sacred place based on research conducted in Hawaii and on the American mainland are all the more true ofJerusalem. Jerusalem's status in the eyes of the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths is elevated due to the very fact of its being at the center of a political conflict. Jerusalem, and particularly al-Aqsa site, is a striking example of the dramatic change that may occur in a site's sacred status when that change is driven by political motives.

2.1 Dynamic Sanctity

Emmanuel Sivan devotes a major portion of his book Arab Political Myths to the Arab-Muslim myth ofJerusalem as both a religious and a national myth. Sivan points out the relatively late development of the idea of Jerusalem's holiness within Islam after the Prophet Muhammad changed the direction of prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to Mecca.11 Two other Israeli scholars challenged this claim. Amikam Elad argued in his book devoted to al-Haram al-Sharif that Jerusalem had been sanctified during the seventh century CE under the Umayyad Caliphate against the background of another political challenge, and the magnificent Dome of the Rock is a unique testament to this.12 Recently, Uri Rubin (who produced a Hebrew translation of the Qur'an) argued that since its early days Islam had two foci of sanctification-Jerusalem and Mecca, with both being on an equal footing of sacredness with a priority to Mecca as the place where the Qur'an was revealed and the Ka'ba as being built before al-Aqsa.' Rubin based his argument on analyses of Qur'an verses and early Islamic traditions. In chapter 3, I will come back to the debate between Israeli scholars regarding the authenticity of Jerusalem's importance in Islam. At this point, I would like to stress that Rubin's argument regarding early beliefs does not contradict Sivan's manifestations on the political reality since the seventh century. Sivan mentions two challenges that led to a change in Jerusalem's status over the course of history: one was the Crusader conquest and the second was the Zionist challenge to Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the most prominent leader of the Arab population in Palestine during the 1920s and the 1930s. Sivan adds that the century-long holy war against the Crusaders "led to a qualitative change in the status of the Jerusalem idea."14 Al-Husseini's attempt to upgrade Jerusalem's status in order to "spread Arab nationalism to the conservative classes which were suspicious of the modern nationalist idea"15 is presented by him as a myth. One could conclude from Sivan's book that Jerusalem was neglected in Islam over three centuries from the seventh to the early twelfth century and again for seven centuries from the post-Crusader era until the 1920s. Where the hierarchy of sacred places in Islam remains stable, Jerusalem, according to Sivan, was and remains third in line after Mecca and al-Madina, and this was the situation for a generation following 1967. I will discuss this argument in chapter 3. Sivan refers to the difference in status between hajj (the required pilgrimage to Mecca, which customarily ends with a visit to al-Madina, as a religious obligation) and ziyara (a visit that, unlike the hajj, is not a basic duty but rather a recommendation attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) as an indication ofJerusalem's inferior status.

In the following section, I seek to show how the sanctification of al-Quds has recently changed it from a forgotten or at least noncentral sacred city into a central element of Arab-Muslim reality, and that Jerusalem's status, both religious and political, has undergone a process of elevation. The ritual hierarchy existing between the three holy cities has not changed, but new religious-political rituals have appeared in the Muslim world alongside the traditional system of ritual and worship of God: conferences, parades, and public events of various kinds (speeches, sermons, quizzes, competitions, and a public discourse) in which al-Quds occupies center stage. Mecca, al-Madina and other cities in the Muslim world also play a role in the modern system of ritual observance in which faith and politics are intertwined, but these cities are not currently at the forefront of the public consciousness and discourse as Jerusalem is. It is true that a visit to Jerusalem does not have the status of hajj and that, indeed, important contemporary Islamic religious adjudicators have forbidden Muslims from outside Israel from making religiously motivated visits to Jerusalem, due to its being under Jewish control. However, my claim is that Jerusalem's status in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim communities has undergone a gradual change over the forty years since June 1967. The efforts that Muslim political and religious entities have invested in upgrading the city's status have borne fruit, and in the Muslim consciousness al-Aqsa and al-Quds now hold a place of honor alongside Mecca and al-Madina and they are no longer ranked below it. The al-Aqsa Mosque, as will be seen, is often mentioned today (as was in the very early days of Islam) in the context of its connection to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, via frequent emphasis on, and reference to, the Quranic verse (17:1) that tells of the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey "from the Sacred Sanctuary to the Farthest Sanctuary"-al-Aqsa.

A site's holiness is not static, and the hierarchy of sanctity as defined during Islam's formative period need not be regarded as the final word. Political and social challenges are capable of altering perceptions of a site's degree of holiness. The Umayyads were first Muslim rulers who upgraded Jerusalem in the second half of the seventh century at the expense of Mecca, which was already "taken" by their political rivals. Three hundred years later the Ayubbids strengthened awareness ofJerusalem's importance while mobilizing Muslims for the holy war against the Crusaders. Following the British conquest ofJerusalem and Palestine in World War I, Hajj Amin al-Husseini elevated the importance of the al-Aqsa Mosque and of Jerusalem during the Mandate period, against the background of the struggle against the Jewish entity in Palestine; since 1967, a similar process has been taking place, for the fourth time in the region's history, due to the challenge posed by Israeli occupation followed by its annexation of East Jerusalem-particularly of the Old City with its sacred shrines.16

A sacred space that is caught in the crossfire of a conflict between two religious communities will tend to be upgraded and elevated in the eyes of the opposing parties. The main mechanism for Jerusalem's Islamic religious elevation during this period has been the al-Aqsa Mosque, located on what Jews call Har Habayit-the Temple Mount site. The Palestinians have developed new myths regarding al-Aqsa that have added additional layers to the Islamic Jerusalem construct. These myths have been generated through the retrieval from oblivion of long-forgotten Islamic traditions and by the development and mass dissemination of these traditions. Many traditions, interpretations, and beliefs concerning al-Aqsa have undergone a process of development and reformulation aimed at strengthening their status within the Muslim world, at inflaming the Muslim religious imagination and at underscoring the importance of restoring Islamic-Arabic sovereignty to East Jerusalem and to the holy places.

An interesting phenomenon is that both sides of the conflict have sought to place more emphasis on the importance of Jerusalem. Following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Mount Zion in Jerusalem came to represent all of the land of Israel in Jewish tradition and liturgy known as "love of Zion." More recently after the Balfour declaration of 1917, the Western Wall as an Herodianbuilt remnant of the outer wall of the Second Temple became a central national symbol for Jews. Similarly, in many cases al-Aqsa also serves Arabs and Muslims as a national symbol for all of Palestine and an Arab-Muslim (historical and religious) patrimony.

As for the religious importance ofJerusalem in general and al-Haram al-Sharif in particular for Muslims, the term "al-Aqsa" mosque is a Quranic term, mentioned in the sura (chapter) of the Quran called al-Isr'"the Night Journey." According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad, at an early stage of his prophecy, was taken on a miraculous Night Journey from Mecca to the a place called al-Masjid al-Aqsa (literally, the farthest mosque) (Qur'an, 17:1): "Glory to Allah Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth all things." A later tradition (hadith) attributed to Muhammad that he mentioned al-Aqsa Mosque as the third holiest place to Islam (thalith al-haramayn) after Mecca and al-Madina: "The saddles should be tied only to three mosques: the sacred mosque (of Mecca) this mosque of mine (al-Madina), and al-Aqsa Mosque." Jerusalem is also ula al-qiblatayn (first direction of prayer) since, as noted above, during the first year of Muhammad's activity in al-Madina, the Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem. Another tradition continues the Isra' verse by telling that the Prophet who was riding on the winged steed al-Buraq to the Farthest Mosque ascended to heaven (mi'raj) from Jerusalem. Thus, since the late seventh century, al-Aqsa is identified with Jerusalem. Use is also made of other traditions from the Muslim literature in praise of Jerusalem (fada'il Bayt-al-Maqdis). According to these traditions, a single prayer at al-Aqsa is regarded as the equivalent of 500 prayers (in another tradition, 1,000 prayers) at other mosques and inferior in value only to prayer at the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and at the Mosque of the Prophet in al-Madina. Another tradition tells that if one sets out on hajj from al-Aqsa then he will go to paradise and Allah will forgive all ofhis sins. One tradition relates that on Judgment Day the Angel Israfil will stand on the Rock of the Sanctuary and call all beings together.

The hadith literature-the traditions connected with the Prophet Muhammad in particular and historical traditions in generalconstitutes a huge reservoir of texts in which one may find multiple and conflicting versions of the same matter. The hadiths were composed for varying purposes and frequently reflect beliefs that had popular credibility at the time in which they were written. The Muslim ulema of classical period did not attach the same degree of importance to all of the traditions. Hadiths whose chain of transmission could be authenticated via biographical literature (isnad-the names of those by whom the tradition was transmitted orally, the first of whom has to be the Prophet or one of his Companions) and whose transmission from generation to generation could also be deemed plausible were considered to be more reliable than other hadiths and were included in "canonic" collections.18 However, other hadiths, even if they were not included in these collections, still enjoy a status of authenticity in cases where no "canonical" hadiths exist to contradict them. The multiplicity of versions in the description of historical events-versions that usually contradict each other in their details and in the historical claims that they embody-reflect Muslim culture that chooses to accept differing narratives without adjudicating between them. This is one reason why it is relatively easy to invent a myth of early Islamic history in Muslim society. All that is needed is to find a tradition that supports the political or religious aim in question and to place it at the forefront of public discourse.

The dispute within Islam over Jerusalem's sanctity ended with the victory of those who identified al-Quds as sacred and third in importance after the holy places of Mecca and al-Madina, although there were long periods in which Jerusalem was relatively neglected or at least noncentral both in religious and political aspects (compared to the cities that various Muslim dynasties chose as their political capitals: Baghdad, Cairo, and Istanbul, to mention a few). The Fada'il al-Quds literature (literature in praise ofJerusalem) and the traditions that were developed and disseminated by the Umayyads were preserved within the stock of obscure Islamic texts. Those currently seeking to resurrect Jerusalem's importance in Islam and to elevate its level of sanctity are scouring this huge sea of texts and delving into forgotten traditions from it, redeeming them from oblivion and placing them at the center of the public consciousness and discourse, in order to restore al-Quds within Muslim tradition to its former glory.

Those involved in upgradingJerusalem's sanctity within Islam have to contend with, among other things, the writings of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Hanbali legal scholar Taqi al-Din ibn-Taymiyya. He ruled that the rock in Jerusalem upon which the Dome of the Rock was built is a qibla mansukha, that is, a direction of prayer that was cancelled (in order to distinguish Muslims from Jews) and whose sanctity was thus revoked.19 The attempt to sanctify the rock, according to Ibn-Taymiyya, stemmed from the fact that Caliph Abd al-Malik wished to divert the hajj from Mecca to Jerusalem. He argued that if Jerusalem was to be sanctified, then the more important spot would be that in which the Second Caliph, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab (Umar I), prayed [according to various traditions, the Mosque of Umar next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Y.R.]. Ibn-Taymiyya condemned the traditions claiming that Umar Ibn al-Khattab, or members of the Prophet's generation, visited Jerusalem because, according to him, al-Quds was not considered to be holy."

Nearly all of the Muslim publications that I have seen on the subject ofJerusalem avoid mentioning Ibn-Taymiyya, despite the fact that this Muslim legal authority is an important source of inspiration for fundamentalist Muslim thinkers and that Islamist movements make use of other texts of his. The reason, as was described by one author of a book on al-Aqsa, is that "there is a debate regarding the status of al-Aqsa whether it is a haram or not ... I do not think that I should discuss the legal controversy at a time when al-Aqsa is endangered.?' However, Muhammad Shurab, a Saudi historian (and most probably also a Hanbali like Ibn-Taymiyya) whose book on the history of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque is sold in Jerusalem in stores near the al-Aqsa site (Maktabat al-Sadaqat, for example), is one of the only authors who dares to cite Ibn-Taymiyya's opinion and to dispute his assertions. In his opinion, the Rock was not the first direction of prayer in Islam, but rather al-Aqsa Mosque, and he maintains that there is no proof that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Rock or that the Jews prayed in its direction. Shurab derives support for his point of view from the fact that the Jews currently pray at the Western Wall (the Kotel-south of the Rock) and not in the direction of the Dome of the Rock.

In the current Islamic discourse, a lone, dissenting voice is that of Abdul Hadi Palazzi, who draws on Ibn-Taymiyya's opinion and believes that Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound does not have the status of haram (a special sacred status-see below), that the city of al-Madina is ten times holier than Jerusalem, and Mecca one hundred times holier (based on one of the traditions in praise of the cities). Despite the fact that Palazzi is one of the leaders of the Italian Muslim community and a figure of high religious and academic standing, I have found no other Muslim figures who have publicly agreed with his opinions.

In the past, al-Quds was considered sacred to Islam mainly due to its having been the first direction ofprayer (qibla) and to its identification with the site to which the Prophet Muhammad was transported, as described in Qur'an 17:1. Leading figures in contemporary Islam point to a number of other important factors in the city's holiness. For example, in a lecture that former Palestinian Authority (PA) mufti Sheikh Ikrima Sabri delivered in Jordan in April 1998 at the Zarqa Private University conference on Jerusalem, he mentioned 12 foundations for al-Quds' sanctity in Islam: (1) the Prophet Muhammad's NightJourney and ascent to heaven from al-Aqsa (al-Isra' and al-Mi'raj); (2) The Muslim worship that actually takes place in the city; (3) The status of al-Quds as the first direction of prayer in Islam before the Ka'ba in Mecca; (4) The tradition that prayer at al-Aqsa is valued five-hundred-fold over prayer at any other mosque; (5) The tradition according to which the Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to visit al-Aqsa (the shadd al-rihal tradition, see below); (6) The tradition whereby one who resides in Jerusalem bears the status of murabitprotector of the territorial boundaries of Islam; (7) The cultural connection-the magnificent Islamic buildings that exist in the city; (8) The Islamic endowments (waqf) that were established throughout the city during the years in which it was under Islamic sovereignty; (9) The existence of dozens of mosques and hundreds of seminaries (madaris) and other buildings used for religious purposes in the city; (10) The political connection-the tradition regarding the "pact" that was enacted between the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab and the Christian Patriarch ofJerusalem; (11) The continuous Muslim sovereignty over the city from the time of its conquest during the days of Umar ibn al-Khattab; (12) The historical connection-the fact that, according to Muslim tradition, the city had been inhabited by the Jebusites, "an ancient Arab tribe which adopted the belief in one God and later converted to Islam."24 In these dozen justifications cited by Sabri, one finds political-historical claims alongside well-known religious traditions that are currently enjoying renewed popularity. We will start by discussing Jerusalem's elevation in religious sanctity as expressed in contemporary Islamic discourse.

2.2 From al-Haram al-Sharif back to al-Aqsa

In 1984, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was surprised to read in interviews granted by Sheikh Sad al-Din al-Ami, the West Bank's leading Palestinian-Muslim religious figure, that the Israeli flag was being flown within the al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-'Almi called upon King Fahd to act to have the Israeli flag removed. King Fahd, who knew that the Muslim Waqf was in charge of the mosque, asked al-Ami for clarification; the latter explained that the flag in question was situated at the police station in al-Haram al-Sharif's northern plaza and that the entire al-Haram al-Sharif courtyard is considered to be al-Aqsa Mosque.'? Al-'Almi appears to have taken this line in response to claims made by Jewish extremist groups seeking to resume Jewish worship on the Haram/Temple Mount. According to them, the Temple Mount site itself is not holy to Muslims, but rather only the "mosques" (the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque), inasmuch as the site had also been used in the past for secular activities such as family picnics and soccer games (by the pupils of the al-Aqsa School for Boys located at the site). Calling the entire Temple Mount complex by the name of "al-Asa" or the "Aqsa Mosque" turned the entire area (including the Western Wall as being regarded as al-Aqsa's western wall) into a mosque possessing a high degree of sanctity, even if the removal of shoes as an expression of respect for sacredness takes place only at the entrance to the two main prayer monuments. Government sources said that Ehud Barak's decision in September 2000 to permit Ariel Sharon and other Likud Knesset members to visit the Temple Mount was based on, among other things, the assessments ofJibril Rajoub and Tawfiq Tirawi, Palestinian security and intelligence officials, that "no disturbances would take place if the visit were conducted during the early morning hours and if the entourage refrained from entering the mosques" [italics not in the original]. Rajoub later refuted that he gave such an assurance. Whether this evaluation was a Palestinian or an Israeli one, it is now clear that it reflected an incorrect understanding of the entire site's status.

It was an Israeli challenge to the 1967 conquest that led to the declaration of the entire Haram/Temple Mount compound as al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Abd al-Hamid al-Sa'ih, a senior West Bank Muslim religious leader in June 1967 who was expelled by Israel to Jordan and later appointed the Jordanian minister for Islamic endowments (Ministry of Waqf) (he also served as chair of the Palestinian National Council). In his book The Importance ef Jerusalem in Islam, al-Sa'ih relates that, a week after the halakhic ruling issued by Israel's Chief Military Rabbi Shlomo Goren (who with his entourage conducted a Jewish public prayer service on the Haram/Temple Mount on August 15, 1967), he signed in Cairo, along with 38 West Bank religious leaders, a fatwa according to which the entire Haram compound is regarded as al-Aqsa Mosque, and any attempt to harm this site must be regarded as a violation of the Mosque's sanctity. According to al-Sa'ih, this fatwa influenced the Israeli government to prevent Rabbi Goren from realizing his intentions."

The placing of al-Aqsa at the center of the political-religious debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reflected in the historical and the religious interpretive literature that deals with some basic questions: Who built the Mosque? What was the nature and status of al-Aqsa during Islam's formative period? As a Muslim site, al-Aqsa is currently dated from the pre-Islamic period as part of an attempt to "Islamize" the era that preceded the Prophet Muhammad's Islamic message and to Arabize Jerusalem and Palestine. The Islamization and Arabization process (to be discussed in chapter 4.1) is motivated by the need to claim historical Arab and Islamic rights over the sacred ground in question, prior to the appearance upon it of the Israelites-the ancient Jews-and Christians.

The issue of al-Aqsa Mosque's location has been subject to much debate within Islam, and even today there are those who believe that it is not in Jerusalem at all (as I shall discuss in chapter 3), according to one claim, the text was meant to refer to the Mosque of the Prophet in al-Madina27 or in a place close to al-Madina.28 Another perception is that of the Jafari Shiites, who interpret that al-Aqsa is a mosque in heaven.29 This interpretation reflect the Shiite anti-Umayyad emotions in an attempted to play down the sacredness of Umayyad Jerusalem and to minimize the sanctity ofJerusalem by detaching the Qur'anic al-Masjid al-Aqsa from the Temple Mount, thus asserting that the Prophet never came to that city, but rather ascended to the heavenly al-Aqsa Mosque without ever stopping in Bayt al-Maqdis. Apart from depriving Jerusalem of its major attraction for pilgrims, the Shiite traditions offer alternative pilgrimage attractions such as the Shiite holy city of Kufa, as well as Mecca."" However, the traditions about Muhammad's Night Journey to Jerusalem were never suppressed. They were exploited by the Umayyads and continued to be quoted in the tafsir (Qur'an interpretation) collections. The interpretation dating from the Umayyad and Crusader eras, according to which al-Aqsa is in Jerusalem, is the one that prevailed. During the Middle Ages, when the issue ofJerusalem's status was a point of controversy, the supporters ofJerusalem's importance (apparently after its liberation from Crusader control) succeeded in attributing to al-Quds or to Bayt-al-Maqdis (the Arabic names for Jerusalem) the status of haram that had been accorded to the sacred compound.34 The site was thus called al-Haram al-Sharif, or al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif. Haram, from an Arabic root meaning "prohibition," is a place characterized by a particularly high level of sanctity-a protected place in which blood may not be shed, trees may not be felled, and animals may not be hunted. The status of haram was given in the past to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and to the Mosque of the Prophet in al-Madina (and some also accorded this status to the Valley of Wajj in Ta'if on the Arabian Peninsula"). Thus, al-Masjid al-Aqsa became al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) in order to emphasize its exalted status alongside the two other Muslim sanctuaries. Although, as noted before, Ibn-Taymiyya refuted the haram status of the Jerusalem mosque, al-Aqsa's upgrading to haram status was successful and has prevailed. It became a commonly accepted idea and one referred to in international forums and documents. It was, therefore, surprising that during the 1980s the Palestinians gradually abandoned the name that had been given to the Haram/Temple Mount compound in apparent honor of Jerusalem's status as third in sanctity-al-Haram al-Sharif-in favor of its more traditional name-al-Aqsa. An examination of relevant religious texts clarifies the situation: since the name al-Aqsa appears in the Qur'an, all Muslims around the world should be familiar with it; thus it is easier to market the al-Aqsa brand-name. An additional factor leading to a return to the Qur'anic name is an Israeli demand to establish a Jewish prayer space inside the open court of the compound.

The increased use of the name al-Aqsa is particularly striking against the background of what is written on the Web site of the Jerusalem Waqf, under the leadership of (former) Palestinian mufti Sheikh Ikrima Sabri. There it is asserted that "al Masjid al-Aqsa was erroneously called by the name al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif," and that the site's correct name is al-Aqsa. This statement was written in the context of a fatwa in response to a question addressed to the Web site's scholars regarding the correct interpretation of the Isra' verse in the Qur'an (17:1), which tells of the Prophet Muhammad's miraculous Night Journey from the "Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque"-al-Aqsa. In proof of this, Sabri quotes Ibn-Taymiyya, who denied the existence of haram in Jerusalem, a claim that actually serves those seeking to undermine the city's sacred status. Sabri also states that Arab historians such as Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali, author of the famed fifteenth-century work onJerusalem, do not make use of the term "haram in connection with the al-Aqsa site.38 Both Ibn-Taymiyya and Mujir al-Din were affiliated with the Hanbali School of law-the relatively more puritan stream in Islam that prevailed in Saudi Arabia. The Hanbalies rejected innovations, such as the idea of a third haram. One cannot exclude the possibility that the Saudis, who during the 1980s and 1990s donated significant funds to Islamic institutions in Jerusalem, exerted pressure on Palestinian-Muslim figures to abandon the term "haram" in favor of "al-Aqsa."

The "al-Aqsa" brand-name has thus become popular and prevalent. Al-Haram al-Sharif is still used by official bodies (the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC], the Arab League), in contrast to religious entities. The public currently uses the two names interchangeably. During the last generation, increasing use has been made of the term "al-Aqsa" as a symbol and as the name of various institutions and organizations. Thus, for example, the Jordanian military periodical that has been published since the early 1970s is called al-Aqsa; the Palestinian police unit established by the PA in Jericho is called the Al-Aqsa Division; the Fatah's armed organization is called the Al-Aqsa Brigades; the Palestinian Police camp in Jericho is called the Al-Aqsa Camp; the Web sites of the southern and northern branches of the Islamic movement in Israel and the associations that they have established are called al-Aqsa; the Intifada that broke out in September 2000 is called the al-Aqsa Intifada and the Arab summit that was held in the wake of the Intifada's outbreak was called the al-Aqsa Summit. These are only a few examples of a growing phenomenon."

2.3 Al-Aqsa's Antiquity

Modern scholarship regards the Dome of the Rock's construction as the work of the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (685--705) and attributes the building of the first structure within the al-Aqsa Mosque complex to Muawiyya ibn Abu Sufyan while Jerusalem was under his governorship in 640." However, according to various versions, the Islamic narrative that prevailed in Muslim historiography attributed the building of al-Aqsa Mosque to Caliph Umar I, in whose time Jerusalem was captured in 636.41 Attribution of the Mosque's construction to the person perceived as having been Jerusalem's Muslim conqueror is intended to emphasize its importance. This narrative does not appear to satisfy those Muslims who currently seek Jerusalem's liberation. Islamic traditions that attribute the construction of al-Aqsa-as well as of the Ka'ba Mosque in Mecca-to the Creator of the Universe (to Adam) and to Abraham had already been composed during Islam's formative period, in the seventh century, but they remained a dead letter in the hadith collections. Now they are returning to center stage and are finding their place in the contemporary historical literature dealing with Jerusalem, in Muslim religious rulings and in the official discourse on Jerusalem. The widespread use of these traditions is turning the phenomenon into a myth that has prevailed over another myth, one that attributes the building of al-Aqsa to Umar I. Here are several examples of the current use that is being made of these old traditions: A well-known tradition from early Islam says that, of Islam's three important mosques, al-Aqsa Mosque was built by Adam 40 years after the construction of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca.42 This tradition accords greater importance to Jerusalem than to the Mosque of the Prophet in al-Madina, since it is referred to as thani an-masjidayn (the second of the mosques [in sanctity]). In 1995 the then Jordanian waqf minister, Abd al-Salam al-'Abadi, used this tradition in a work composed in expression ofhis concern over Hashemite control over the Jerusalem holy sites.43

A tendency to attribute greater sanctity to al-Aqsa than to al-Madina mosque also appears in statements made by one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement in Israel. The former PA mufti Sheikh Ikrima Sabri also made use of this tradition in a religious legal ruling that he issued in 2002, in which he attributes the building ofthe Sacred Mosque in Mecca and of the al-Aqsa compound to Adam, while Abraham is credited with renewing the construction of the Ka'ba and Solomon with renewing the construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Abraham and Solomon appear in his commentary as early Islamic figures, exemplars of the ancient monotheistic faith from which, according to Islam, the Jews and Christians deviated and which the Muslims alone carried on. Sabri relies on this tradition in order to make the additional claim that Solomon did not build the Jewish Temple, but rather the al-Aqsa compound that is a Muslim mosque.45 Saudi historian Mohammad Shurab has also written that al-Aqsa was built by Adam, adding that the holiness of the site upon which the al-Aqsa Mosque was built is not connected with a particular prophet or people, but rather stems from God Himself who chose the site as a place of worship for believers in the One God.46

Another Saudi historian, Abd al-Fattah Abu-Aliya, wrote that the al-Aqsa Mosque existed before Moses and Jesus [who represent in this context Judaism and Christianity]. He claims that there is a Muslim religious opinion according to which it was Adam who built al-Aqsa, as well as a tradition originating with 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (the Prophet Muhammad's cousin) that the angels built both the Sacred Mosque and the al-Aqsa Mosque, before Adam. Adam and the prophets (including Abraham) later conducted an encircling ritual (tawaf) around it.47 The author adds that what was built at the time was not the mosque structure that exists today, but rather an open courtyard that was at the level of the Rock and surrounded by a sustaining wall." Ahmad al-Qasim, a Palestinian who compiled a kind of encyclopedia of questions and answers about Jerusalem, wrote that the al-Aqsa Mosque at the time of the Isra' (the era of the Prophet Muhammad) was not a mosque but rather a series of courtyards surrounded by a wall and several gates. The name "al-Aqsa Mosque" was given to the entire area (ground-level) of al-Haram al-Sharif, which was surrounded by a wall."

According to another tradition, one cited by some contemporary Muslim authors, al-Aqsa was built by Abraham. The tradition" relates that Abraham (Ibrahim) built al-Aqsa 40 years after he built the Ka'ba together with his son Ishmael. This narrative is, for example, the preferred one for the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which writes in its Web site that "the Prophet Sulayman"-Solomonenlarged the area of the mosque that was built by Abraham 4,000 years ago.51 Al-Aqsa's antiquity is also alluded to in an article written by the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Ra'id Salah.52

It should be noted that traditions regarding the antiquity of sacred cities appear in the hadith literature as a motif intended to glorify them. Thus, for example, one tradition is attributed to Aisha, wife of the Prophet, according to which the three holy cities-Mecca, al-Madina, and Jerusalem-were built by Allah 1,000 years before the creation of the world. Interestingly, I found no contemporary writings that have made use of this tradition.3

The modern attempt to balance and reconcile the various traditions regarding Islam's antiquity and the narratives of Islam's beginnings with the Prophet Muhammad thus presents the following picture: Adam built the Ka'ba and al-Aqsa as demarcated areas containing no actual structures, or as primitive structures. Abraham, the founder of monotheism (and the "pre-Muhammad Islam"), also renewed or renovated the Ka'ba and al-Aqsa, and Solomon, another representative of monotheism, renewed or renovated the al-Aqsa compound, that is, the walls that surround the grounds of the site and not the buildings that were constructed on it. Later, the Caliph 'Umar I built the al-Aqsa Mosque structure (as noted above, the first written evidence of the existence of a mosque dates from a later period-around 670), while Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock and began building the al-Aqsa Mosque structure (which was completed during the reign ofhis son, al-Walid).

The connection made by Muslim scholars between the ancient al-Aqsa complex, the level demarcated by supporting walls on all four sides, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built after Jerusalem's conquest by the Muslims, is intended to reconcile Islamic traditions regarding the site's antiquity prior to the appearance of Muhammedan Islam-traditions that associate the site with Jewish figures and with traditions rooted in Judaism and early Christianity-and Muslim history subsequent to the Islamic conquest ofJerusalem. In these efforts at reconciling the conflicting traditions, contemporary Muslim authors are turning a collection of ancient traditions into a myth, one intended to accord Jerusalem and the sacred Islamic site within it special historical and Islamic primordial depth.

The myth of al-Aqsa's pre-Israelite antiquity merges with a broader myth that is connected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (discussed in greater detail in chapter 4)-the Arab claim regarding the Arabs' primacy in Palestine and their historical right to the land, which preceded the arrival of the ancient Hebrews.

Jerusalem's sanctity within Islam is based first and foremost on its having been the first direction of prayer (qibla) before Muhammad adopted the Kaba as qibla. Thus, it is referred to as "the first of the two directions of prayer" (ula al-qiblatayn). The accepted Islamic position, which is also the official approach taken by the Jerusalem Waqf, is that Jerusalem was the first direction of prayer for only 17 months. However, those seeking to elevate Jerusalem in importance include in their calculation the time that they claim had passed since the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journeythe Isr'. One interpretation intended to enhance Jerusalem's status claims that Jerusalem served as the qibla for about four years and four months. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of Islam's leading contemporary religious figures,55 in a television interview conducted jointly with Ikrima Sabri, stated, in response to the question "Why is Jerusalem important to Islam," that the first qibla served Prophet Muhammad and his followers for three years before the Prophet Muhammad's emigration (hijra) from Mecca to al-Madina (the hijra marks the beginning oflslam and of the Muslim calendar) and that a testament to this exists in al-Madina, namely the Masjid al-Qiblatayn (the Mosque of the Two Directions of Prayer) from which prayers were offered up in the direction of al-Aqsa.56 A similar version is related by Shaqaldi-another author who writes that Jerusalem was the first qibla for a period of three years, from 27 Rajab one and a half years before the hijra. The Palestinian-Jordanian historian Kamil Jamil al-Asali went even further by claiming that Jerusalem served as Islam's first direction of prayer for 13.5 years-from the beginning of the Prophet Muhammad's prophetic activity in 610. The motivation to formulate interpretations that advance the dating of the Isra' and that lengthen the period of the first qibla stems from the assumption that the longer Jerusalem may be shown to have served as the first direction of prayer, the more important its status will be. This is what may be inferred from al-Asali's text, where he goes on to state that "Islam honored Jerusalem in a way that no other religion had before it."58

2.5 The Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension to Heaven

The Quranic verse that describes the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey (the Isra') on the winged steed Buraq from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque is connected to the tradition regarding his miraculous ascension (the Mi'raj)" from al-Aqsa to the heavens (according to tradition, the Prophet tied al-Buraq to al-Aqsa's entrance; varying opinions exist regarding the exact location: was it on the western side or on a different side?). This event's importance in Islam stems from the tradition connecting the Prophet with this place, both in the Night Journey to al-Aqsa and in the ascension from al-Aqsa (according to various traditions, from the Rock that lies under al-Aqsa) heavenward. The Isra' verse and the Mi'raj tradition are important as the basis of the story according to which Muhammad visited al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and from there ascended to heaven even before Islam had conquered the al-Sham region (which includes Palestine).61 In this context, contemporary Islamic glorifiers ofJerusalem also mention the fact that a verse of the Qur'an-44:43- "descended" (revealed to the Prophet) in Jerusalem.

Among those who identify the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey to al-Aqsa with Jerusalem, there are differences of opinion regarding the time of the Journey and of the ascension to heaven-in as much as Jerusalem was conquered after the Prophet's death. One author, Baydun, believes that the event took place about a year before the Prophet's hijra, that is, in 621 CE.62 Another author, Shurab, believes that it occurred in the fifth year of Muhammad's prophetic activity, around the year 615 CE, when the city was under Persian control. He bases his interpretation on the fact that Hadija, Muhammad's wife, who died in 620 CE, is mentioned in the tradition connected with the Isr'a.

The contemporary interpretation stresses the fact that the Isra' connected the two sacred mosques in Mecca and Jerusalem, in order to underscore Jerusalem's high status. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has stated that the Qur'an connected the two mosques in order to indicate al-Aqsa's importance, that is to say that "whoever belittles the al-Aqsa Mosque also belittles al-Masjid al-Haram (the Ka'ba) in Mecca."64 On October 20, 2005, when the Islamist Web forums marked the third Al-Quds [Jerusalem] International Day on the Internet, Qaradawi said: "Allah created this inseparable connection between the two mosques ... it is amazing that Allah described the holy mosque [of Mecca] as al-haram (the sacred) only whereas on the al-Aqsa Mosque he added 'which We blessed its precincts.' By this he aimed to show to the Muslim Umma the high importance of this mosque, in order that it would not be neglected in the future. This link between the two mosques conveys the message that whoever abandons the al-Aqsa Mosque will soon also abandon the sacred mosque of Mecca." It is especially interesting that King Abdallah, at the time the crown prince ofSaudi Arabia, has been known to say repeatedly that for him "Jerusalem is just like the holy city of Mecca.""66

One writer of a book on al-Aqsa enumerated no less than 30 matters connecting the two shrines of Mecca and Jerusalem: he claimed that they were the first and second mosques to be built; Adam built the two of them; Ibrahim hightened the walls of both; Ibrahim called upon God at both; both Ibrahim and Muhammad are connected to the two shrines; Arabs were the first inhabitants of both Mecca and Jerusalem; both shrines were chosen as a direction of prayer; the shrine of Mecca is the beginning of a number of events ending in al-Aqsa, such as the Prophet's Night Journey; the Prophet led other prophets in a prayer at both sites; both shrines are mentioned in one verse of the Quran; both were blessed by God; both hosted the angels; the Prophet called upon God in both places; a single prayer at both is equivalent to many prayers in other mosques; any harm to one of them is much more injurious than a malaction in any other mosque; sins are to be forgiven at both shrines; a pilgrimage to Mecca beginning at al-Aqsa is favored; both are pilgrimage destinations (the shadd al-rihal tradition); both are destinations of encouraged emigration as conquered by Islam and serve to defend its territory; both are protected from the antichrist (Dajjal); both were favored by the prophet; both are located in a noncultivated topographic area; both are neighboring fertile agricultural areas; both have holy springs (Zamzam and Silwan); both have a rock that was blessed by God; both were conquered by jihad (holy war); the Prophet's muezzine called to pray at both mosques; both have to be respected by attendees' manners; both have many names.67

This message is also given currency by the former PA waqf minister Sheikh Yusuf Salama, who has written, "Allah connected the Sacred Mosque [in Mecca] with al-Aqsa so that Muslims would not make a distinction between the two mosques or belittle either of them, since if one is belittled then the other is belittled as well."68 This statement bears a political message: Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world will also be hurt if aid is not extended to the Palestinians in their struggle for Jerusalem. Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, Syria's former grand mufti, has also stated that "the Qur'an connected al-Aqsa with the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, and this is proof that both mosques existed prior to Islam."69

A similar political context appears in the work of another Palestinian commentator (one who, based on his writing style, belongs to an Islamist stream) who claims in his 1993 book on Jerusalem that the Isra' was intended to connect all of Palestine with Dar al-Islam (the territory under Islamic control) even before it was conquered by the Muslims.7° One visual expression of the elevation of al-Aqsa's and Jerusalem's importance in the contemporary Muslim consciousness is an illustration that appears on Islamic Web sites, one that presents the two holy sites next to the Isra' verse, with the Dome of the Rock building, representing al-Aqsa, standing taller than the Kaba Mosque in Mecca.71

This illustration accompanied Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi's sermon marking al-Isra' and al-Mi'raj Day in September 2004, in which he stated, among other things, that this event symbolizes the duty to recognize "the greatest problem faced by Muslims today-the problem of Jerusalem and the problem of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the problem of Palestine as a whole."7 This contrasts with other Muslim illustrations since the Middle Ages in which the Isr' is depicted with the Prophet, riding on al-Buraq, hovering over the Ka'ba, with no visual reference to the al-Aqsa Mosque.73 Another pictorial expression from the realm of folk art are the murals in the homes of Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca-a popular custom dictates that the neighbors and friends of one who has earned the title "Hajj" draw over the entrance to his house, on the external wall, the Ka'ba in Mecca, accompanied by verses related to the duty of hajj and the reward given to the hajj (the pilgrim). Since 1967, murals of this kind in Palestine frequently include the Dome of the Rock alongside the Ka'ba Mosque.

The Isra' and the Mi'raj were quite "dormant" concepts in the Islamic consciousness up until the 1920s, but al-Isra' and al-Mi'raj Day, which traditionally takes place on 27 Rajab according to the Muslim calendar, became a central festival of Palestinian nationalism after the 1929 Arab Riots (or "Revolt," in Palestinian terminology), when the religious and national elements were incorporated into it. Prominent religious and political figures take part in the main ceremony conducted each year, delivering sermons on the necessity of preserving the city's Islamic and Arab character." After 1948, it was the Jordanians who imparted an official character to this holiday as a special day ofprayer." During its period of control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Jordanian government turned the day into an official holiday and enabled Palestinians to organize special sermons and parades in commemoration of the event. The Palestinians upgraded these festivities even further during the first Intifada and after it. Thus, for example, the East Jerusalem newspaper Al-Quds reported in November 1997 on the preaching that takes place in the mosques on al-Isra' and al-Mi'raj Day, in which the Islamic and Arab character of Jerusalem is stressed.78 After 1967 the Palestinians began holding special festive prayer services on the night of27 Rajab in the alAqsa compound, at the end of which the worshippers bless each other." During this period, the Isra' became a popular concept and a popular name for the publications of Palestinian Islamic movements. Two examples of this are the journal published by the Islamic Movement's northern branch's research center in Umm al-Fahm, entitled al-Isra', and the journal published by the Ifta' (issuing of legal opinions) departmentthe body presided over by the former Palestinian mufti Sheikh Ikrima Sabri. Nevertheless, Sabri himself appears to have been responsible for an October 2002 fatwa that forbade the celebration of al-Isra' Day as a holiday, since there was no such holiday during the Prophet Muhammad's time and thus such celebrations constitute an undesirable innovation (bid 'a); the fatwa calls for limiting the marking of the occasion to prayers on the night of 27 Rajab, when the event took place according to tradition." Sabri thereby makes a distinction between the Palestinians and the Jordanians, who turned al-Isra' Day into an official holiday.

Al-Isra' and al-Mi'raj Day ceremonies were adopted by Muslim Brotherhood groups in Egypt and Jordan and, through them, from the 1980s on, the consciousness of these events and their connection to Jerusalem began to permeate the surrounding Muslim world. The Isra' is also commemorated by special prayers conducted by Muslim communities in Arab and Western countries. Thus, one finds that the Berlin Muslim community's choir made a recording of songs devoted to the event in a special Isra' and Mi'raj evening gala.81

Al-Isra' Day prayer services and ceremonies began to enter the general Islamic consciousness as part of the campaign to mobilize Muslim support for the Palestinian struggle against Israel. For example, Dr. Johnny Mansour, an Israeli-Arab, wrote in a book on holidays in Arab culture that "in our time the holiday takes on political significance due to the problem ofJerusalem and the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. The author, an Israeli Christian Arab, points to the holiday's national/religious connotation. One may form an impression of the psychological and political influence of Isra' and Mi'raj awareness from an article written by Jordanian publicist Muhammad Naji Amaira, entitled "Commemorating the Isra' and the Mi'raj." In this article, Amaira makes a connection between the Isra' and the Mi'raj and the need for jihad in order to restore the land and to liberate Jerusalem from Israeli occupation.83

After the Isra' verse in the Qur'an, most Muslims seeking to elevate Jerusalem's holy status also refer to the shadd al-rihal tradition mentioned above, according to which the Prophet recommended the visit to three mosques of which the third after Mecca and al-Madina is al-Aqsa.84

This tradition developed against the background of the competition between Mecca and al-Madina, as well as in the attempt to deny the sanctity of other cities that were competing for precedence in Islam;85 in modern times, however, it plays a different role-that of glorifying Jerusalem's status. Al-Aqsa is, nevertheless, thalith al-haramayn: the third most important holy site after the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in al-Madina. This tradition is mentioned frequently in publications dealing with Jerusalem and has a prominent place in contemporary Islamic discourse.

Use is also made of other traditions from the Muslim literature in praise ofJerusalem (fada'il Bayt-al-Maqdis). According to these traditions, a single prayer at al-Aqsa is regarded as the equivalent of 500 prayers (in another tradition, 1,000 prayers)at other mosques and inferior in value only to prayer at the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and at the Mosque of the Prophet in al-Madina. Nevertheless, since the 1980s, the Palestinians have been waging a vigorous media campaign aimed at halting Muslim religious tourism to al-Aqsa. This campaign is in response to the activity of a company named Ziyara owned by Yaacov Nimrodi (an ex Mosad officer and then a senior businessman) that brought tourists from Islamic countries to al-Aqsa and to Israel in general. As a result, leading muftis published rulings prohibiting visits to al-Aqsa as long as it remains under Israeli occupation. Their assertion was that Israel uses this kind of tourism to strengthen its hold on Jerusalem, to promote normalization, and to claim that the Jerusalem question is not a political issue but rather one of only providing Muslims with access to their holy places. One leading mufti, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has stated that the religious prohibition on tourism and pilgrimage to al-Aqsa by Muslims from outside Palestine is intended, among other things, to mobilize the Muslim world for the struggle to liberate al-Aqsa.89

2.7 Jerusalem-Cradle of the Prophets

Another explanation given by contemporary commentators for Jerusalem's importance to Islam is its having been the arena of activity of many prophets whom Muslims venerate and appropriate to "early Islam" beginning with Abraham and his progeny, through to the kings, judges, and prophets of Israel, Jesus and other Christian figures, and ending with the Prophet Muhammad himself, who reached al-Aqsa in his Journey. This interpretation is associated with various other traditions regarding al-Isra' and al-Mi'raj, according to which Muhammad brought with him in his ascent to heaven the prophets who preceded him and in which they prayed together with him on the Rock at the al-Aqsa site prior to the Ascension.91 This tradition is mentioned in, for instance, a fatwa published on the Jerusalem Wa@f's Web site.

2.8 Jerusalem-Islam's Defensive Stronghold

Jerusalem's importance, according to those seeking to elevate its status, is also rooted in significant historical Islamic events that took place in or near it. From the point of view of the religious figures who make use of them, the question of whether these narratives have a factual historical basis is a meaningless one. The current prevailing narrative is that Jerusalem was the scene of battle for a holy war in which Muslims defended the city against the Jews, a war in which many martyrs gave their lives for this exalted purpose. Here we have another myth connected with Jerusalem (and with Palestine as well), that of its being "Islam's Defensive Stronghold" (ard al-ribat). The term "ribat" was used to designate frontier cities, such as coastal cities in Palestine that were considered to be strongholds against invasion from the sea. However, during the Middle Ages, a tradition developed that connected sacred cities with the original ribat cities-the coastal cities-and the tradition ofJerusalem as a city of ribat and jihad is one of them.94 The modern use of the term in relation to Jerusalem seeks to connect the medieval Islamic wars and the conquest of Palestine during the seventh century with the Arab and Palestinian struggle of the last century. Two main wars are mentioned in this context: the Muslim conquest ofJerusalem attributed to the Caliph Umar I in 636,95 and the city's liberation from the Crusaders by Saladin in 1187.

Jerusalem as "Islam's Defensive Stronghold" appears in various contexts intended to accentuate its importance to Islam. Thus, for example, the claim is made that the Prophet Muhammad's Companions (sahaba) fought in Jerusalem or served and were buried there or in its environs, and that Jerusalem is, therefore, sanctified as the repository of the bones of such personages as Abu 'Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah, Ubada ibn al-Samit, Shaddad ibn Aws, and Tamim al-Dari." Another Muslim scholar, Dr. Mustafa Rushwan from Egypt, writes that the land of Palestine is saturated with the blood of the Prophet's Companions, and of the following generation (tabi in), who have developed a level of saintly status in Islam, and with the blood of many Muslim martyrs, and that every drop of blood attests to Palestine's Islamic character.97 Rushwan repeats the claim that appeared in Amin al-Husseini's 1935 fatwa.98 Still, the historicalemotional claim is not the only reason given for Jerusalem's status as Islam's defensive stronghold. An official document of the OIC comprising 57 Muslim countries-gives this defensive mission an (apparently) firm foundation with its declaration that "Jerusalem is the key to the Ka'ba [in Mecca] and to the Tomb of the Prophet [in al-Madina], inasmuch as its topographic structure makes it imperative that it be under [Muslim] control, in order to ensure that Mecca and al-Madina will be protected.

2.9 Eschatological and Apocalyptic Traditions of Jerusalem

The leader of the Israeli Islamic Movement's northern branch, Sheikh Ra'id Salah, presents eschatological doctrines as motivating factors behind the campaign that he is waging under the banner of "al-Aqsa is in danger." In an article that Salah published in his movement's journal, entitled "Because It Is al-Aqsa the Blessed," Sheikh Ra'id lists Jerusalem's merits. Among them is the fact that it was the place in which Jesus prophesied; that if one prays in al-Aqsa then one's prayer is worth a thousand regular prayers; and that if one sets out on hajj from al-Aqsa then he will go to paradise and Allah will forgive all of his sins. Sheikh Ra'id goes on to say that Jerusalem is the place in which the dead will be resurrected and to which the Messiah-the Mahdi-will soon come; the Mahdi will turn Jerusalem into the capital of the world and the seat of the future Supreme Islamic Caliphate. Al-Aqsa, according to this doctrine, is the "eternal liberation plan in the life of the Islamic nation, the Arab world and the Palestinian people."100

Eschatological traditions regarding Jerusalem are cited in many other sources as well; their current tendency is to drive home for the believing Muslim the importance ofMuslim control ofJerusalem. One tradition relates that on Judgment Day the Angel Israfil will stand on the Rock of the Sanctuary and call all beings together. This will be the last blowing of the ram's horn."" According to another tradition (mentioned in the introduction), on that day the Ka'ba will be transported to Jerusalem as a bride, along with all of the pilgrims who have visited it. The entire human race will then rise up on the Mount of Olives and from there a bridge will extend to the Temple Mount-the place of judgment."? Some of the apocalyptic traditions also bear anti-Semitic messages." Thus, for example, Islamists frequently mention the story of the Antichrist-al-Dajjal. According to one version of this tradition, at the end ofdays, the Messiah will lay siege to Jerusalem and from there he will pursue the non-Muslims to the city ofLod and kill the Jews at the gates of the place called Bir al-Yazbak, between Lod and Ramla.I+ A Malaysian sheikh by the name of Muhammad Yassin Owadally even identifies the precise spot on which they will be struck: "the airport of the Zionist state."l5 Stories of al-Dajjal in a contemporary political context appeared in Arab writings even prior to 1948. There are also those who describe Jerusalem as the capital of the Muslim caliphate destined to arise in anticipation of the Day ofJudgment."

To conclude, a review of the abundant Arabic and Islamic literature onJerusalem reveals an increasing general Islamic awareness ofal-Aqsa's and al-Quds's sacred status. Although it has not become a religious obligation at the level of hajj to visit Jerusalem, and although current political circumstances have actually led to the ruling that Muslims from other countries may not visit the city, nevertheless, a new discourse has developed within the Islamic and Arab world that bestows a higher religious and political status upon Jerusalem within the public consciousness. The ethos ofJerusalem that has emerged since 1967 stresses various elements that have elevated the importance of al-Aqsa and al-Quds: its antiquity and its association with monotheism in its primordial sense; the historical "seniority" of the Arabs and Muslims, who are identified with the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem before the Israelites; the strong connection to Islamic history and to important figures and events in Islam, such as the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey, which linked al-Aqsa with the Ka'ba Mosque in Mecca; the 'Umar ibn al-Khattab's conquest of the city and its later liberation from the Crusaders by Saladin; other prophets and personages in Islamic history; the city's function as the scene ofbattle and defense ofDar al-Islam; traditions that emphasize Jerusalem's religious function: its status as the first direction of prayer, the greater value placed on prayer at al-Aqsa over prayer at other mosques, the duty to visit al-Aqsa in which the site is included in the holy triangle of the Mecca and al-Madina sites, and, finally, Jerusalem's association with eschatological and apocalyptic traditions.

The various elements involved in the process ofJerusalem's elevation in sanctity are not new. The traditions in question developed during the Middle Ages and appear in the extant fada'il al-Quds literature and in the hadith literature. Four main innovations in content can, however, be identified: the abandonment of the term "al-Haram al-Sharif" in favor of the Qur'anic name "al-Aqsa; the emphasis on the site's antiquity; the designation ofJerusalem as the defensive stronghold oflslamic territory; and the call to jihad to liberate Jerusalem. The remaining items mentioned in this chapter are expressions of the activities aimed at renewing, emphasizing, and marketing to the masses the various traditions that existed in medieval Islamic literature. The most significant innovation that characterizes the current Islamic campaign for Jerusalem is the introduction of these traditions into the forefront of public discourse, and the extent and intensity of their use.


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