In this course-work, I will be examining the significance of Jerusalem to the current followers of the three main religions. In order for me to do so, I must examine Jerusalem’s history and its significance to the three monotheistic faiths. I will also be discussing whether Jerusalem’s importance is due to religious or political reasons, and whether the Middle East conflict arises from spiritual or political differences. Jerusalem is the ancient city, which has great significance to the three religions of the Book- Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
For many years, Jerusalem, the Scared, or the Holy city has peacefully accommodated Christian, Jewish, and Muslim people. Jerusalem has been numerously occupied, around twenty times. There are four main influential periods, which Jerusalem has witnessed. Christians dominated the Holy land for the least period of time, around 427 years, followed by the second shortest time, which saw the Ancient city being dominated by the Jews for 543 years, it is believed that the Pagan’s dominated Jerusalem for around 800 years, leaving the Muslims to reign over Jerusalem for the longest period of time, 1193 years1.
But there are some common beliefs, which the three religions share when it comes to Jerusalem. That is that Jerusalem is often referred to as ‘the Holy land, and the Ancient land’, in the Bible, Torah, and Quran. Jerusalem is believed to have witnessed numerous prophets (which are recognised by the three religions) who lived, preached, died, and were buried in and around Jerusalem. All three religions share the belief that their Messiah or saviour will come from Jerusalem and save them from any harm which they may have been suffering.
The three monotheistic faiths also belief that on the Final day, God will gather all of humanity on the Holy land of Jerusalem. To Christians, Jerusalem is the place, which witnessed most of Jesus’ upbringing, preaching, crucifixion, and also where he was said to have been resurrected. A majority of significant Christian sites nowadays, in and around Jerusalem are to do with the whereabouts of his final days. The last place he slept in, had his meal, preached, was caught by the Romans, crucified, buried, and resurrected.
Jerusalem was also the first place, which Christianity was primarily preached, and after Jesus’ death, it was the capital of the new religion. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town five miles South from Jerusalem, where it is believed that he was circumcised and presented as a newborn “at the Temple in Jerusalem. “2 It is thought that Jesus made frequent visits to the Temple and would go “for the Passover feast,”3 where he would find many supporters awaiting him.
According to Jesus’ disciples, he would frequently go to the Temple of Jerusalem to preach and spread the message of God, and sometimes perform extraordinary miracles. He was considered as a great threat to the government around him, not only because he was preaching a new message, and was starting to gain admiration, but because he “was accused of saying things that amounted to blasphemy. “4 All of this ended in Jesus’ much awaited arrest in a small “valley outside Jerusalem (at night)”5 In addition to this, Jesus was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was established on what Joseph of Arimathea thought was Jesus’ grave. Although numerous pilgrims head every year on Easter to the church to visit and remember Jesus, there wasn’t any historical proof of a connection between Christians and Jerusalem until the fourth century, which was when the record of Christian pilgrimage was recorded. 6 Jerusalem was the core of Christianity, until its obliteration by the Romans at around 70 AD, after this, Christianity branched out to neighbouring towns and cities.
Jerusalem is the third sacred place to Muslims worldwide, after Mecca and Medina. It is thought that prophet Muhammad ascended from Masjidal Aqsa (Jerusalem) to heaven to receive God or ‘Allah’s’ orders and commands, concerning the five daily prayers. Muhammad stated that he travelled from Mecca, with angel Gabriel via the Buraq7, to Jerusalem, where he led the prayer (followed by the rest of the prophets), at Masjidal Aqsa. He then travelled up to the seventh heaven where he took Allah’s commands.
This journey is referred to in Arabic as Isra’ and Mi’raj. Isra’ “refers specifically to the journey which the prophet took from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to the Furthest mosque in Jerusalem… (Mi’raj) means the ascension of the prophet to the heavens. “8 The Holy land was the first ‘kiblah’ or the first place, which Allah ordered the Muslims to face while they prayed to Him. According to Islamic ‘Hadiths’ or the prophet Muhammad’s sayings, all of humanity will be gathered in Jerusalem for the resurrection or The Day of Judgement.
Angel Israfil, will blow the trumpet at the end of time, at Jerusalem, gathering humankind, and marking the start of the Judgement. Also, according to ‘Hadiths’, prophet Adam, first built Masjidal Aqsa, forty years after he completed the construction of the Ka’ba in Mecca, making it the second mosque on earth. It was then restored by prophets Ya’qi?? b (Jacob), Dawi?? d (David), and finally completed by Sulaimi?? n (Solomon). Contrary to Jewish belief, the Babylon king, Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC, didn’t destroy the Jewish Temple; rather, he destroyed Masjidal Aqsa after taking over the city.
The Jews then called Masjidal Aqsa their Temple and decided on re-building it in 167 BC, but were exiled after it was destroyed in 70 AD. Surprisingly, the ‘Holy City’ was then used as a rubbish tip for approximately four hundred years, until Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab9 recaptured it in 637-8 AD, and laid the foundations and reconstructed the mosque. It was Abd al Malik Ibn Marawan, an Umayyad Caliph who built the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe that the Jews are trying to confuse people by implying that the Dome of the Rock and Masjidal Aqsa are the same thing, which they aren’t.
As I have mentioned above, Masjidal Aqsa is where prophet Muhammad led the prayers, while the rock, the centre piece in the Dome of the Rock is where he made his miraculous journey to heaven. Muslims also deny any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, particularly to the fact that the ruins of their Temples are buried under Masjidal Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. The Western Wall seems to share importance to Muslims, as well as the Jews. People such as “`Abd al- Malik Dahamshe, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament”,10 argue that the Western wall has absolutely no importance or connection to the Jews.
According to Islamic belief, prophet Muhammad tied the Buraq to the Wailing Wall, and in Arabic, the wall is referred to as Thawrat al-Buraq. Jews believe that the Dome of the Rock and Masjidal Aqsa were established on the ruins of their First and Second Temples, the first, Solomon’s Temple and the second, a reconstructed one. At around 1010 B. C. E, David captured Jerusalem, for the Jews, from its previous occupiers, the Jebusites and declared that the leading religion in Jerusalem would be Judaism.
He decided that the official name for the new Jewish city would be ‘David’s city. ‘ King David had intended on building a Temple as a show of his gratefulness to God and as an eternal site for the Ark of the Covenant. 11 But, according to Jewish tradition, David was prohibited from building a Temple “because he had been a warrior. “12 It was then up to David’s son, Solomon to construct this Temple on Mount Moriah. It was referred to as ‘the First Temple’, until 586 BCE-its destruction, by the Babylonian king, who also forced its inhabitants into exile.
Cyrus, the Persian king who defeated the Babylons’ at around 560 B. C. E allowed the exiled Jews to return to their homeland and re-built their Temple, which was completed at 216 B. C. E. The first century B. C. E witnessed the rein of King Herod, of Judah who was appointed this position by the Romans and although he was known for his oppression and injustice, under his orders, the Temple Mount was reconstructed and enlarged. But the year 70 C. E saw the destruction of the Second Temple due to the Roman’s invasion, and this was the start of the Jewish spiritual division.
Jerusalem’s significance to modern Jews may be demonstrated by their actions, as they tend to “pray in its direction, mention its name constantly in prayers, close the Passover service with the wistful statement ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ and recall the city in the blessing at the end of meals. “13 Until present time, there is no solid, historical proof, of any Jewish ruins in Israel, apart from Jewish belief, although all Jews strongly assert that the ‘Western wall’ or the ‘Wailing wall’, or as it’s referred to in Hebrew, ‘Kotel’ is the last surviving proof of their Second Temple.
In 1967, after the Jews re-entered Jerusalem, they immediately started excavating under the Dome of the Rock. Their aim was to find any ruins of their First and Second Temple, and to weaken the foundations, causing the Dome of the Rock to collapse ‘naturally’, thus continuing their search for Jewish ruins more freely, resulting in the creation of a new Temple. Problems in the Middle East mainly arise from differences between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Israelis claim that it is now their rightful turn to return to the land of their ancestors, reconstructing a third Temple, and establishing the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital. The Israeli and Palestinian government have managed to sit around the same table, and divide Palestine between them, but the mere mention of ‘Jerusalem’, causes them to postpone all discussions. Both parties want control over Jerusalem, declaring that the Holy city is a significant, historical symbol of their religion.
The real argument is about who controls the land, which the Dome of Rock and Masjidal Aqsa are built on. Israel wants it because they believe that the ruins of their Temples are buried under the Muslim’s current mosques, and argue that the Muslims already have Mecca and Medina as the centre of their faith, while the Muslims argue that Masjidal Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are as important to them as Mecca and Medina.
Since Jerusalem is an important city to all three religions, we can see that the actual conflict is not only between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and about who gets to live in and control Jerusalem, rather, between every Christian, Jew, and Muslim in the world, due to each religion claiming Jerusalem’s importance to its religion and history. ‘Zionism’ originated form the term ‘Zion’,14 and ‘Zionists’ is the term used to call Jews who argue for the establishment for a Jewish state in Palestine, and Jerusalem as its capital.
Although some might think that the Zionist movement started towards the end of the nineteenth century, it actually started at around 1621 CE. A Jewish man called Henry Fish wrote a book called ‘The great Revival of the World’, in which he addressed every Jew in Diaspora (exile) to return to their rightful homeland, Palestine, and to establish a state, which will be one of the most powerful ones in the world. Rabbi Zeimy Hersh Calisher also aided Fish’s idea, and published his book, ‘The search for Zion’; where he emphasized that, all Jews should return to The Holy Land to create a state.
The famous Moses Hess published his book, ‘Rome and Jerusalem’ (1862), where he discussed that as long as the Jews were separated, they would be powerless, and have a bleak future, unless they moved to Palestine, where they would become united, start their own independent state and re-gain some pride. But perhaps the most famous figure in Jewish philosophy was Theodor Herzl, who wrote the book, ‘The Jewish State’ in 1896, and asked Jews to cooperate to re-establish the state of Israel. According to Dr. Hassan Sayed Suleiman’s article,15 there are two types of Zionism, which must be noted.
Theological Zionism’, which is to do with “spiritual side of Zionism” and demonstrates the vision of the Jews returning and living peacefully on their Holy Land. The other type is known as “political Zionism,” which uses the spiritual idea of Zionism to gain encouragement for the formation of Israel. Zionists have four main aims, they are, “the gathering of Jews from all over the world to Palestine, the preserving of the pillars of the Zionist State, as well as its security, the expanding regionally, via settlements, to establish Greater Israel and its capital in Jerusalem, the controlling of the Middle East region.
Two steps had to be taken by the Jews to attain their objective. These were internal and external migration to Palestine. The first was to be accomplished by obtaining land, and building settlements, then bringing in Jewish immigrants. The second was to be done by gaining international support from and by convincing leaders that Palestine was for them. But contrary to what one might believe, there are a minority of Jews who argue that the State of Israel is an illegal one, and that no Jew can or has the right to argue that the Torah asks them to do this.
Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Freimann,16 claims that the Torah considers Zionism a sin, and notes that Grand Rabbi Sholem Dov Ber Schneersohn, and numerous other Rabbis fought a war against all Jews who wanted to establish a Jewish state. He argued that Zionist leaders such as Herzl were not religious at all; on the contrary, he disregarded the Torah’s teachings, and went to the Holy City on Sabbath. Schneersohn also argues that Zionists are replacing the religious side by the national side, and are weakening, and even destroying Jewish belief.
But nevertheless, a majority of Jews believe that they will never live in peace, unless they work on establishing a state, a building their Temple. America decided to try ‘helping out’ and as a publicity stunt (to win more supporters for Bill Clinton’s future election). A Beijing journalist argues that America’s aim from the Middle East conflict is to “strengthen its dominance in the region. “17 Camp David talks took place between 11-24th July 2000, and were between the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak,18 the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the American president, Bill Clinton.
Although the main aim of the talks was to establish peace between the two conflicting nations, the talks ended in a negative way, because neither party could agree on Jerusalem, when one option suited the Jews, it didn’t seem to suit the Palestinians, and vice versa. One of Clinton’s suggestions was that Jerusalem could be split into three quarters, Christian, Islamic and Jewish. The Jews would be able to have full control over the Western wall, while the Palestinians would control Masjidal Aqsa, but neither party was allowed to excavate behind or around their allocated sites.
Clinton was still willing to make offers towards the two sides, particularly before he left office. Another one of Clinton’s suggestions was to allow the Palestinians to control everything above ground level, while the Israelis would govern everything below. Throughout the talks, Barak stated that he was open minded, when the talks failed; it was obvious that because Barak was willing to think about proposals, and Arafat didn’t commit to anything, that he was to blame for the talks’ failure.
Both governments are constantly trying to win international support; each leader would travel, meet Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Kings to convince them that Jerusalem is meant for them and not the opposition. Arafat travels to Arab countries, requesting their support, while the Israeli Prime Minister would travel to America and Europe. Numerous ‘Arab summits’ have been held in Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates to try resolving and gaining support, but no one is supporting either government whole-heartedly.
Everyone wants to appear as righteous in order not to upset America, or their nation, which typically demonstrates politics at work, rather than religion. As I have previously noted, the Jews believe that Masjidal Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are built on the remains of their Temples. In Lambert Dolphin and Michael Kollen’s paper, 19 they note that if Tuvia Sagiv’s theory is correct, then the Temple Mount was not constructed on the Dome of the Rock and Masjidal Aqsa, but rather, more South of the Islamic shrines, and precisely beneath the tress between the Dome of the Rock and Masjidal Aqsa.
This theory cannot be a hundred percent correct due to the Jews unable to officially excavate where they think they’ll find their temples, because the Islamic Waqf has complete control over the Islamic shrines. They note numerous arguments in favour of this theory, one of their arguments is that King Herod’s palace (Jaffa Gate) gave a clear view of religious practices at the alter in the Second Temple, causing the Jews to build a high wall to prevent anyone form watching them performing sacrifices.
If the Temple Mount was where the Dome of the Rock stands today, the wall built would have to have had to be 75 meters to block the view. But there has never been a record of such a high building in Jerusalem, suggesting that the Temple Mount was more South of the Islamic shrines, in order to block people’s view. Muslims used to pray facing Jerusalem, but after Allah ordered them to face Mecca, they now give the Holy City their back-is that how important it is to them? As Daniel Pipes points out in his article20, Muslims never mention Jerusalem in their prayer, nor has it been the capital of any Islamic state.
Muslims believe that the Quran contains the words of Allah, which haven’t changed since it was revealed to prophet Muhammad, but Pipes accuses Muslims of reinterpreting “the Quran to make room for Jerusalem,”21 he argues that when the Quran mentions Muhammad’s night journey, it uses the term the ‘Furthest mosque’. Pipes disputes that early Muslim interpreters thought that this term was a metaphorical one, or that it’s a place in heaven, and that the Quran is basically contradicting its self by previously noting that Palestine is the closest land.
If one translates the Arabic term, ‘Masjidal Aqsa’, one will find that it has the meaning of ‘the furthest mosque’. At the time of Isra and Mi’raj, the only two originally built mosques on earth were the Ka’ba in Mecca, and Masjidal Aqsa in Jerusalem. Thus, if Muhammad was at Mecca, the place of the first mosque, then Masjidal Aqsa in Jerusalem must be the mosque refereed to in the Quran, as it is the only other mosque. Therefore, Pipes’ argument isn’t valid. Pipes seems confused when it comes to the establishment of Masjidal Aqsa and the Quran.
Pipes follows the theory that Masjidal Aqsa was built a century after the Quran, and he quotes Hooper saying that; “the Koran refers to Jerusalem by its Islamic centrepiece, al-Aqsa Mosque. ” If Pipes was to look into Islamic history, he would know that Islamically, Adam built Masjidal Aqsa, after the Ka’ba, thus, making it the second mosque, while the Quran was revealed to prophet Muhammad thousands of years later. So, Masjidal Aqsa was not built “a century after the Quran. ” Again, his argument seems void.
Non-Zionist Jews believe that Herzl’s real aim was to establish a state anywhere in the world, somewhere that would simply gather the Jewish population, and together, they could make it a powerful one, both in a military and political sense. As long as there was a ‘spare place’ to house the Jews, and was under Western rule, then it was acceptable. Countries such as Argentina, Cyprus, Sinai, and Uganda were considered as a permanent home for the Jews. After Herzl’s death, the World Zionist organisation22 decided on Palestine. If Jerusalem was so significant to the Jews, why wasn’t it picked first?
Rather than going through numerous options of countries, which have absolutely no ties to Judaism? Furthermore, anyone would think that famous Zionist leaders and politicians would prefer to live in Jerusalem, the place where they’ve fought for so much, but it didn’t seem to be the case, they would live in cities such as Tel Aviv, only using the term ‘Jerusalem’ for political statements. In conclusion, Jerusalem is extremely significant for the three leading world religions, if not by actions, then through the words of the Holy Books.
It has managed to survive all of its various forms of occupations, and is still held in a very high place to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There are around 2,700,000,000 people in total who follow the three monotheistic religions, thus, all of them consider Jerusalem as their Holy City. Jerusalem is significant to Christians because of Jesus-whom they consider as their Messiah. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is probably the most significant symbol of Christian history in Jerusalem.
Thousands of Christians make the annual trip to the church to pray and reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity’s sins, at Easter. Just as Mecca is important to Muslims, because its where Islam started and where their prophet Muhammad was born, and preached, Jerusalem is also important to Christians because its where Jesus started his preaching, and where he was crucified and resurrected, thus, “Jerusalem is the Mother Church of Christianity. ” 23 Isra’ and Mi’raj is believed to have taken place on the 27th Rajab24, and on Muhammad’s tenth prophet-hood.
Muslims worldwide celebrate this mystical night by praying additional prayers and by reading; parts form their Holy Book, the Quran. Another reason for Jerusalem’s historical significance to Muslims is that it was the first ‘kiblah’. This is the Arabic word for ‘direction for prayer’ and Allah commanded all the Muslims to face Jerusalem when they direct their five daily prayers to Him. But the ‘Kiblah’ soon changed around a year and a half from Jerusalem to Mecca, after Allah revealed a Quranic verse ordering His servants to do so. 25
Jews constantly pray to God for the return of Jerusalem to them. The real Jewish dream is for complete control over Jerusalem, the re-construction of their Third Temple, and dedicating the rest of their lives to worshiping God. Jewish belief is that before the completion of the Third Temple, their Messiah will appear, leading a peaceful, persecution free life for them. The creation of a Jewish state in Jerusalem makes all Jews believe that God is finally compensating them for all the hardships they’ve had to face in the name of their religion and God.
First, the exile of Jews from their homeland, followed by the Holocaust, and finally, the current form of hardship, being physically, and spiritually divided. For the past 2,000 years, Jews have fasted on the 9th of Av26, for 25 hours, to remember the end of their city and Temple. “Our Torah, in Tractate Ksubos, folio 111, specifies that the Creator, blessed be He, swore the Jews not to occupy the Holy Land by force, even if it appears that they have the force to do so; and not rebel against the Nations.
And the Creator warned that if His oath be desecrated, Jewish flesh would be ‘open property,’ like the animals in the forest!! “27 If this statement from the Talmud is correct, then why do a majority of Jews totally disregard it and opt for the opposite? If Jerusalem is important to the Muslims, then as Pipes notes, why have Muslim leaders, including King Faisal of Saudi Arabia indicated their wish of visiting and praying in Masjidal Aqsa, but never doing so, although there have been numerous opportunities?
And If Jerusalem was so important to the three faiths, then why didn’t one of them at least take control over the Holy land when it was used as a rubbish tip, until Caliph Umar took over it? If we go by the saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’, then it will seem that Jerusalem isn’t that important to neither religion. Personally, I don’t think that the Jew’s main aim of establishing a state is for religious reasons, rather, they are merely using religion as an excuse to rise to the top, and rather than living as minorities, finally being a strong and powerful nation.
The fact that early Zionists considered other countries rather than Palestine to establish their state, and that leaders such as Herzl, Peres, and a majority of Jewish politicians aren’t religious, shows that they don’t really care about the religious side of Palestine-it’s just an pretext. Herzl’s hidden aim was to make the Jews one of the most powerful worldwide nations. While most Jewish politicians agree with Peres that, “religion is an impediment to peace,”28 I think that if Herzl had lived long enough, the state of Israel would have been established in one of the optional countries.