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Jerusalem has been called the most controversial piece of real estate on earth. Jerusalem is widely recognized as a city holy to three world religions. The media consistently refers to it as the holiest site in Judaism, and the third holiest site in Islam. It is also home to important Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa and the Mount of Olives, but it has never been essential to Christian theology that Jerusalem be ruled by a Christian power. The primary justification for the Crusades was to reopen the holy sites to Christian pilgrims who had been barred by the Muslim occupation of the city, not to permanently conquer land. Furthermore, in the 21st century Christians make up less than 2% of the Holy Land’s population, a number that is steadily decreasing as they are driven out by their increasingly radical Muslim neighbors. Thus, today the principle competing claims to the city come from Judaism and Islam. Let’s examine these claims:
Jerusalem has been the unambiguous center of Jewish religious and national life since it was founded by King David about 3,000 years ago. In 957 BCE his son, King Solomon, built a Temple on a raised area of the city, as a permanent home for the Holy Ark of the Covenant.
From the very day it was constructed, Jewish life revolved around the Temple. The Sanhedrin council, which governed the nation, was located on the Temple grounds. The Temple service was at the heart of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Holy Days. The Temple was central to the three pilgrim festivals; Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when all Jews were required to gather in Jerusalem. And every seven years all Jews were required to assemble at the Temple to hear the King read from the Torah.
This first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the Jews were expelled to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, but they always longed for Jerusalem. A 2,500 year old prayer of mourning survives from that time: “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its strength. Let my tongue cling to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my highest joy."
The Jews returned a generation later and rebuilt a Second Temple, maintaining full or partial sovereignty over the land for another six centuries. In the 2nd century BCE King Antiochus of Greek-ruled Syria attempted to Hellenize the region, and imposed the worship of Zeus at the Temple. The eight-day festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple after this desecration.
The Romans finally destroyed the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, with the intent of erasing the Jewish people from history. They renamed the territory Palestina, a reference to the Jews biblical enemies the Phillistines, as a final insult. But there was always a Jewish presence in Israel, especially in the Holy Cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Tzfat. Elderly Jews from all over the world would make pilgrimage, to die and be buried in that sacred ground. In the Middle Ages, villages from Russia to Morocco would pool their money for years, just to send one villager to Jerusalem to deliver their prayers to the Western Wall.
- Three times every day, Jews face towards Jerusalem, and pray for their return to the Holy City.
- After every meal, Jews pray that God will "rebuild Jerusalem speedily in our days."
- The words "Next year in Jerusalem," are recited by every Jew at the end of the Passover Seder and at the end of the Yom Kippur fast.
- At Jewish weddings, a glass is broken in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple.
- Several religious fast days including the Ninth of Av, recall the destruction of the Temple.
- Jerusalem appears in the Hebrew bible 669 times:
"...O Jerusalem, the built up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together...Pray for the peace of Jerusalem..." (Psalms 122:2-6);
"The builder of Jerusalem is God, the outcast of Israel he will gather in...Praise God O Jerusalem, laud your God, O Zion." (Psalms 147:2-12)
- Jerusalem also shows up in thousands of rabbinic writings:
"When one is praying in the Land of Israel, he should direct his heart towards Jerusalem; If he is standing in Jerusalem, he should face towards the Holy Temple." - Brachot 27a
"All who pray in Jerusalem - it is as if he prayed before the throne of glory, because the gate of heaven is situated there." - Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 35
"From the day Jerusalem was destroyed, God has no joy, until He rebuilds Jerusalem and returns Israel to it." - Yalkut Shimoni Lamentations 1009
In the words of its current mayor, Jerusalem represents "the purist expression of all that Jews prayed for, dreamed of, cried for, and died for in the two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple."
And yet today, the central structures of Jerusalem are not Jewish; the skyline is dominated by the massive domes of two Islamic Mosques.
In founding a brand new monotheistic faith, Mohammad coveted the approval of the Jews and Christians for credibility reasons, especially the influential Jews of Medina. He made much noise about the conversion of a local Jew, who took the Muslim name Abdallah ibn Salam, calling him a “servant of God”. In these early years he had his followers pray towards Jerusalem, in emulation of the Jews. But when the Jews at large ridiculed his new faith, he rejected Jerusalem, and for the past 1400 years Muslims have prayed toward Mecca. Consequently Muslims in Jerusalem pray with their rear ends facing the Temple Mount. The traditional Haj pilgrimage to Mecca duplicates the 3 annual Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the preparation for which Mohammed would have witnessed among Arabian Jews.
Muhammad had personally conquered the entire Arabian Peninsula by the time of his death in 632 CE. Only six years later, his successors seized Jerusalem. But the city was largely ignored by the Muslim conquerors for 60 years, until political expediency thrust it into the spotlight. During the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Abd-al-malik who ruled from Damascus, Syria(684CE-705CE), the people of what is today Iraq revolted against him and subsequently conquered the Hijaz, including the cities of Mecca and Medina. As a result Syrian Muslims could no longer visit those cities. In order to maintain religious relevance he provided his subjects with a substitute destination, by transforming Jerusalem into a center of pilgrimage. Keep in mind Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran, so this was to be a difficult task.
He rested his justification on a vague Koranic passage, Sura 17 Verse 1:
“Glory to Him who caused His servant to travel by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, in order to show him some of Our Signs, He is indeed the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. "
The imaginative Islamic scholars of the time declared that the "Sacred Mosque" was in Mecca, and the "Farthest Mosque" was in Jerusalem. The story goes that Mohammad was conveyed there one night in a dream, on the back of al-Buraq, a magical horse with the head of a woman, wings of an eagle, the tail of a peacock, and hooves reaching to the horizon. He tethered the horse to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and from there ascended to the seventh heaven with the angel Gabriel.
The Umayyad Caliph completed the Dome of the Rock in 691 CE, built around the rock from which Muhammad is said to have risen to heaven; it was a blunt and concrete way of asserting Islam’s dominance over the site. Fourteen years later in 705, the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque was completed; Al Aqsa means The Farthest… the Caliph had retroactively created the Farthest Mosque referred to in the Koranic verse; and the co-option was complete… and so far it has been permanent, despite the fact that a Jewish power technically holds political control of the Temple Mount.
Here’s why this story is critical to the counter-Jihad today. The gradual Islamization of new territory and the co-option of its most important religious sites has been an essential feature of Jihad since the time of Muhammad. The Kaabah stone in Mecca was a pagan site of worship before it was appropriated by Islam. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the Great Mosque of Istanbul were erected on the sites of Christian-Byzantine churches. And as I have explained, two grand mosques were positioned deliberately to eradicate the holiest site in Judaism; a co-option that has retroactively lent credibility to the Islamic claim to Jerusalem. These buildings provide the strongest ammunition to Islamists and Leftist revisionists who maintain Islam’s singular right to Jerusalem.
Today, no one remembers that Damascus and Istanbul were Christian. If not for the modern Zionist movement, the Jewish connection to Jerusalem may have been completely obscured as well. If Islam sees fit to abort the entire history of a 3,000 year old city, do you think they would have any compunction about eclipsing cities and civilizations that are relatively young? Several years ago plans were made to build a mega-mosque, possibly accommodating up to 70,000 worshipers, in time for the 2012 Olympics in London. The funding would come from Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary sect with possible links to terrorism. If completed it would be the largest mosque in Europe, and the largest house of worship in the UK. It would dwarf London icons such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Meanwhile, in Germany, the religious affairs eepartment of the Turkish government is funding a huge mosque project in Cologne. It would also hold thousands of worshipers and permanently alter the skyline of a great European city. It would rival the Cologne Cathedral, which was founded in the year 1248. When concerned Europeans gathered this September to protest this modification, they were brutally assaulted by throngs of so-called antifascist demonstrators, who were given cover and assistance by the city’s own police department.
In 100 years, will any Muslims concede that London was British? Perhaps there will be a tense standoff, as the city is divided between Islamic and secular blocs. Will Cologne be remembered as German? When mosques outnumber and outshine churches, the former Western character of the city will be consigned to the realm of memories. Will intellectuals in America argue over whether Paris belongs to the French? Might one be castigated as a "Neocon Frankist", to support the construction of provocative ethnic French settlements in the suburbs of Paris, among established Muslim communities? These are the important questions that spring to mind, when one contemplates the Muslim co-option of Jerusalem.Islamic Crusades 3: The Co-Option of Jerusalem