A Holy City of Islam
To say Jerusalem is unimportant to Muslims is to ignore Islam's sense of being the culmination of the Abrahamic tradition
BY: Rashid Khalidi
The core Islamic connection to the city of Jerusalem lies in the story of theisra'
the night journey of the Prophet Muhammad (described in the first verse of the 17th sura of the Qur'an) and his subsequent ascent into heaven.
During this night journey, the Prophet was taken from the Sacred Mosque of Mecca to "the farthest mosque," the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (the same site as the Temple of Jerusalem). Because of this night journey in the Qur'an, Jerusalem became the first direction (the firstqibla
) in which Muslims were to pray--it would only later be replaced by Mecca--and the third of Islam's holy places.
This connection is in turn predicated on a vision of Islam as the culmination of the Abrahamic tradition, whereby Muhammad is the last of a series of prophets, including the Jewish prophets and Jesus--a vision whose focal point is Jerusalem, described in that same verse of the Qur'an as "blessed." To describe Jerusalem as unimportant to Islam is to misunderstand this central element of the Islamic faith.
It has also been argued--wrongly--that it was only at moments of crisis that Islam considered Jerusalem significant. While there have been changes in how Muslims have regarded Jerusalem over time, Muslim rulers have frequently shown their reverence for the city by their building projects there, as can be seen from the Islamic-Arab aspect of the entire Old City.
In the earliest days of Islam, Muslims regarded the city with veneration. The second caliph, `Umar ibn al-Khattab, received the city's surrender in 638, and soon afterward the earliest incarnation of the al-Aqsa mosque, holding several thousand worshippers, was erected in the Haram al-Sharif.
Jerusalem was a central focal point for the Umayyads, several of whose caliphs, including the founder of the dynasty, first received the allegiance of their followers there. The importance of the city is evidenced by the two monumental structures they erected in the Haram al-Sharif: the Dome of the Rock, perhaps the most distinctive and beautiful of all Islamic structures, constructed by `Abd al-Malik in 691-92; and a much larger and more magnificent al-Aqsa mosque, rebuilt by his son al-Walid in 715.
It is attested further by the massive Umayyad-era palace-administrative complex immediately to the south of the Haram, only recently fully unearthed and identified. The buildings in the Haram continued to be a focus of devotion for Muslims everywhere, and were carefully repaired and further adorned by the Abbasids caliphs, several of whom visited the city. Thereafter, the Fatimid rulers of Egypt undertook extensive programs of construction and renovation in Jerusalem.