Jerusalem is known to be one of the oldest cities in the world and is the focal point of the three monotheist religions of the world—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The following provides some facts on the underlying beliefs of the three religions. These are extracted from the e-book, “Jerusalem is OURs” –
- Jerusalem was Islam’s first Qibla (direction for prayers) and it was from Jerusalem that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ascended to the heavens in the famous event that has come to be known as “Al-Israa wal Me’raj”.
- According to Judeo-Christian historical accounts, during the biblical times, Jerusalem was the capital of the entire Kingdom of Israel (1020 BCE – 931 BCE).
- The “City of David” is considered to be the oldest part of Jerusalem from which Jerusalem eventually flourished into a full-fledged city.
- Jewish scriptures extensively discuss “Temple Mount” in Jerusalem, a sacred site in Jewish history. According to Jewish texts, the background and rationale behind the construction of the Temple was the realization of King David (referred to as Prophet Dawud in the Quran) that he, the earthly and visible king, lived in a magnificent house, but the invisible King of kings, his God, dwelt in an aging tent called the Tabernacle of Moses. Other than this realization, King David ultimately realized that other nations had temples of their own, while Israel, the chosen people of God, did not have a temple dedicated to Him.
- According to Jewish texts, upon David’s death, his son King Solomon (b. 1011 BCE – d. 931 BCE) ordered the construction of the Temple on Temple Mount. This temple is therefore also commonly referred to as the Temple of Solomon. The site of Temple Mount is also referred to as the Al-Aqsa site, Haram Al-Sharif and the Noble Sanctuary. Jews also refer to that site as Mount Moriah.
- In the Hebrew Bible (The First Book of Kings (1 Kings 6)) it says: “The temple which King Solomon built for the LORD was sixty cubits long, twenty wide, and twenty-five high. The porch in front of the temple was twenty cubits from side to side, along the width of the nave, and ten cubits deep in front of the temple. Splayed windows with trellises were made for the temple, and adjoining the wall of the temple, which enclosed the nave and the sanctuary, an annex of several stories was built. Its lowest story was five cubits wide, the middle one six cubits wide, the third seven cubits wide, because there were offsets along the outside of the temple so that the beams would not be fastened into the walls of the temple.”
- According to Judeo-Christian accounts, in 586 BC, the Temple of Solomon (known also as the First Temple) along with other parts of the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Forty-eight years later in 538 BC, Cyrus the Great (b. 600 BCE – d. 530 BC) who was a Persian emperor rebuilt the Second Temple. Centuries later, the same Temple underwent a massive reconstruction project under Herod the Great (b. 74 BCE – d. 1 BC) in the year 20 B.C, and became known as Herod’s Temple. Finally, in the year 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple during the great siege of Jerusalem. The remains of Herod’s Temple is the perimeter wall known today as the Western Wall. The Western Wall in Jerusalem, also known as the Wailing Wall or simply Kotel, is not only the Jewish holiest site, but for Jews is the remaining symbol of Jewish identity as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- Jesus of Nazareth, who is called by such names as Jesus Christ by Christians or Eesa in the Quran and other Islamic literature, was born in Bethlehem in the year 5 BC, but spent most of his life in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism.
- The Islamic rule in Jerusalem began with the conquest of Jerusalem by Umar Khattab’s forces. Later, under the rule of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (b. 646 CE – d. 705 CE), the Dome of the Rock was built in 688 CE followed by the copula of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the year 728 CE. (Read more about the life of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab here)
- When Umar’s forces conquered Jerusalem, Christian Bishop Sophronius was the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Sophronius, who was of an Arab descent, is venerated as a saint in the Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Seeing little hope to resist, the Christians in Jerusalem decided to surrender at the hands of Caliph Umar’s forces. However, the Bishop demanded that the city keys would be handed over to the Muslims without resistance only if Caliph Umar personally received the city keys.
- After the surrender by Christians, Caliph Umar was taken to the Church of Holy Sepulcher and was offered the opportunity by the Christian leadership to pray in the church. Caliph Umar, in view of Muslims, acted with prudence and refused to pray inside the church. He feared that future Muslim generations might decide to follow his footsteps and demand that the church be converted into a mosque. The Caliph therefore preferred to pray outside and a mosque was later built in his name called the Mosque of Umar. This mosque is currently located opposite to the southern courtyard of the church.
- The Crusades were holy wars fought between the Muslims and the Christians in the period from 1095 CE to 1272 CE, to gain control of Jerusalem and surrounding areas. The principal proponent of the Crusades was the Latin Christian Europe, particularly the Holy Roman Empire and the Franks of France. For the Latin Christian Europe, the Holy Land held a significant role because it is the locus of the birth, ministry, believed crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
- During the earlier crusades, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock were desecrated and looted. A golden cross was placed on top of the Dome of the Rock and renamed as “Templum Domini” (The Temple of the Lord) and Al Aqsa mosque was called “Templum Salomonis” (the royal palace of Solomon).
- Like Muslims, Jews too face in a certain direction when praying. The Talmud records the following on this topic: “A blind man, or one who cannot orient himself, should direct his heart toward his Father in Heaven, as it is said, “They shall pray to the Lord” (Kings I 8). One who stands in the diaspora should face the Land of Israel, as it is said, “They shall pray to You by way of their Land” (ibid). One who stands in the Land of Israel should face Jerusalem, as it is said, “They shall pray to the Lord by way of the city” (ibid). One who stands in Jerusalem should face the Temple…One who stands in the Temple should face the Holy of Holies…One who stands in the Holy of Holies should face the Cover of the Ark…It is therefore found that the entire nation of Israel directs their prayers toward a single location.”
- The Amidah (central prayer of the Jewish liturgy) contains prayers that states: “Return in mercy to Jerusalem your city, and dwell in it as you have promised. Rebuild it soon in our day as an eternal structure, and quickly set up in it the throne of David. Blessed are you, O Lord, who rebuilds Jerusalem.” The Amidah ends with a meditation for the restoration of the Temple – “And may the grain-offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasing, as in former days and ancient times” (Malachi 3:4)
- Talmud also states, “Ten kabs (measures) of wisdom descended to the world: nine were taken by Palestine and one by the rest of the world. Ten kabs (measures) of beauty descended to the world: nine were taken by Jerusalem and one by the rest of the world.” (Talmud: Kiddushin 49b)
- The Church of the Nativity is in the city of Bethlehem, which is 6 miles south of Jerusalem. This church is one of the oldest operating churches in the world. For Christians, the site is quite significant as it is believed by Christians to be the birth site of Jesus.
- Some Christians believe that toward the end of times, the global population will convert to Christianity as a result of evangelization. Jesus will appear at the end of the Millennium to lead his people into the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem.
- According to Christian beliefs, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the site where Jesus’s crucifixion site. According to Islamic beliefs, Jesus (Eesa) was not crucified. Ibn Kathir, a renowned Islamic scholar, in his interpretation of the Quranic verses provides the following account: “Allah’s Prophet `Isa (Jesus) could not live in any one city for long and he had to travel often with his mother, peace be upon them. Even so, the Jews were not satisfied, and they went to the king of Damascus at that time, a Greek polytheist who worshipped the stars. They told him that there was a man in Bayt Al-Maqdis (Al-Aqsa) misguiding and dividing the people in Jerusalem and stirring unrest among the king’s subjects. The king became angry and wrote to his deputy in Jerusalem to arrest the rebel leader, stop him from causing unrest, crucify him and make him wear a crown of thorns. When the king’s deputy in Jerusalem received these orders, he went with some Jews to the house that `Isa (Jesus) was residing in, and he was then with twelve, thirteen or seventeen of his companions. That day was a Friday, in the evening. They surrounded `Isa (Jesus) in the house, and when he felt that they would soon enter the house or that he would sooner or later have to leave it, he said to his companions, “Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise” A young man volunteered, but `Isa (Jesus) thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting `Isa (Jesus) to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” Allah (God) made the young man look exactly like `Isa (Jesus), while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and `Isa was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep.
- The Church of the Annunciation is located in the town of Nazareth, a town in northern Israel. The church is an important holy site for the Roman Catholic Christians because according to their beliefs it is the place where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary (Jesus’s mother) that she will conceive a child named Jesus.
Al-Aqsa Significance to Muslims
- Al-Aqsa was the first qiblah (direction of prayers) for Muslims. The religious significance of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Islamic traditions is rather deep. In fact, the term “Al-Aqsa Mosque” refers not only to the mosque itself, but to the entire area that is called the Temple Mount. Some refer to the entire area of Temple Mount as “Al-Aqsa” or the “Al-Aqsa Site” or “Haram Al-Sharif” and the mosque at the site as “Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
- Prophet Muhammad’s famous trip / ascension to the heavens and skies was from the Al-Aqsa site. This site was chosen to be important enough that the prophet was first brought to Al-Aqsa from Makkah and then taken from Al-Aqsa to the heavens for a night journey. The Quran states, “Glorified (and Exalted) be He (Allah), Who took His slave (Muhammad) for a journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram (at Makkah) to the farthest mosque (in Jerusalem), the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him (Muhammad) of Our Ayaat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, etc.). Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.” (Quran: 17:1)
- Islamic teachings have specifically designated Al-Aqsa as the third holiest site in Islam.
- According to Islamic traditions, Al-Aqsa was the second house of worship built on earth following the mosque in Makkah. According to a Hadith (saying) of Prophet Muhammad as quoted by Abu Dharr (Narrated in the books by al-Bukhaari, 3186 and Muslim, 520): “O Messenger of Allah, which mosque was built first on earth?” He said, “Al-Masjid al-Haraam (in Makkah).” I said, “Then which?” He said, “Al-Masjid al-Aqsa. (in Jerusalem)” I asked, “How much time was between them?” He said, “Forty years. So wherever you are when the time for prayer comes, then pray.”
- The religious significance led to Muslims in history flocking the city and thus Islamic history became more intertwined with events in Jerusalem, making Al-Aqsa site / Haram Al-Sharif hold an important place in Islamic history.
- According to prophesies of Prophet Muhammad, the Holy Land will be the site of significant events toward end of times, especially when Muslims and the world will go through hard times during the time of the Anti-Christ.
More facts on Jerusalem and the references in the Quran, Bible, and Torah about the city are covered in the e-book, “Jerusalem is OURs” –