Regard Jerusalem as a holy city
(Christians do too, of course.) It would be difficult to overstate the central importance for Judaism of the city of Jerusalem. The capital of Israel today and one of the world’s oldest cities, Jerusalem was originally established (according to biblical tradition) by King David as his capital city approximately three thousand years ago (circa 1000 B.C.). David’s son, King Solomon, established the first Temple there, making Jerusalem the religious center of the Jewish universe — a status which the ancient city continues to enjoy today, despite the Temple having been destroyed twice (the First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians; the rebuilt Second Temple was subsequently destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D). Even though the Temple remains a long-vanished thing of the past, Jerusalem today remains a city of profound religious history and meaning for Judaism. The Temple Mount (the original site of both Temples), with its famous Western or “Wailing” Wall (the ancient remains of a Temple courtyard wall) continues to attract pilgrims by the thousands, who come to pray — as they have for centuries — in the presence of what Jews still regard as the holiest place on Earth.
The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia is, of course, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, and also the locus of the well-known Hajj or annual pilgrimage to Mecca (as one of the “Five Pillars” of Islam, it is religiously incumbent upon every Muslim who is able to do so to make the formal pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime). It should therefore come as no surprise that, in Islam, Mecca is regarded as the holiest city. The nearby city of Medina, home to Muhammad’s tomb and a refuge to which Muhammad and his companions were forced to flee due to increasing persecution in Mecca — a watershed event in the birth of Islam, referred to as the Hijra (“flight,” “migration”) — is an optional addition to the Hajj which many Muslim pilgrims also undertake. Medina is therefore understandably revered as the second holiest city in Islam.
For Muslims, Jerusalem is also a sacred site; in fact, it ranks as Islam’s third holiest city, right after Mecca and Medina. Islam recognizes the validity of previous revelations from God to previous prophets throughout history, including biblical history, and Jerusalem figured prominently as a holy city to those earlier prophets.
Jerusalem also figures prominently in the story of Muhammad’s miraculous night journey and ascension, according to which the archangel Jibril (Gabriel) transported Muhammad first from Mecca to Jerusalem (for prayer), and then from Jerusalem to heaven (where he met and spoke with some of those previous prophets), all in a single night. Jerusalem was also the first qibla (“direction”) that Muslims were instructed to face during their prayers, until a later divine revelation received by Muhammad subsequently resulted in changing the direction faced for Islamic prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca. Today, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the sacred site not only of the Western (“Wailing”) Wall — the sole remaining remnant of Judaism’s Second Temple — but also of Islam’s al-Aqsa mosque, as well as its Dome of the Rock shrine.
Built upon the site of the long-vanished Jewish Temple — the “rock” of the shrine’s name being the Temple’s actual Foundation Stone (which Jews believe marks the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies or inner sanctum, making it the holiest site in Judaism) — the Dome of the Rock is believed by Muslims to mark the spot in Jerusalem to which Muhammad had been transported during his miraculous night flight, and from which he subsequently ascended to heaven for a brief visit, as described previously. The nearby al-Aqsa mosque is Islam’s third holiest house of worship, after Mecca’s Grand Mosque (home of the Kaaba and focus of the Hajj pilgrimage) and Medina’s Mosque of the Prophet (home of Muhammad’s tomb).
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