November 27, 2013

Why and when was the MYTH of al-Aqsa created?

By Dr. Mordechai Kedar

When the Prophet Mohammad established Islam, he
introduced a minimum of innovations. 

He employed the hallowed personages, historic legends and sacred sites of Judaism and Christianity, and even paganism, by Islamizing them. Thus, according to Islam, Abraham was the first Moslem and Jesus and St. John (the sons of Miriam, sister of Moses and Aron) were prophets and guardians of the second heaven. 

Many Biblical legends ("asatir al-awwalin"), which were familiar to the pagan Arabs before the dawn of Islam, underwent an Islamic conversion, and the Koran as well as the Hadith (the Islamic oral tradition), are replete with them.

Islamization was practiced on places as well as persons:

Mecca and the holy stone - al-Ka'bah - were holy sites of the
pre-Islamic pagan Arabs. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the
Great Mosque of Istanbul were erected on the sites of
Christian-Byzantine churches - two of the better known examples
of how Islam treats sanctuaries of other faiths.

Jerusalem, too, underwent the process of Islamization: at
first Muhammad attempted to convince the Jews near Medina to join
his young community, and, by way of persuasion, established the
direction of prayer (kiblah) to be to the north, towards
Jerusalem, in keeping with Jewish practice; but after he failed
in this attempt he turned against the Jews, killed many of them,
and directed the kiblah southward, towards Mecca.

Muhammad's abandonment of Jerusalem explains the fact
that this city is not mentioned even once in the Koran. After
Palestine was occupied by the Moslems, its capital was Ramlah, 30
miles to the west of Jerusalem, signifying that Jerusalem meant
nothing to them.

Islam rediscovered Jerusalem 50 years after Mohammad's
death. In 682 CE, 'Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr rebelled against the
Islamic rulers in Damascus, conquered Mecca and prevented
pilgrims from reaching Mecca for the Hajj. 'Abd al-Malik, the
Umayyad Calif, needed an alternative site for the pilgrimage and
settled on Jerusalem which was then under his control. In order
to justify this choice, a verse from the Koran was chosen (17,1 =
sura 17, verse 1) which states (trans. by Majid Fakhri):

"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 meaning ascribed to this verse (see the commentary in
al-Jallalayn) is that "the furthest mosque" (al-masgid al-aqsa)
is in Jerusalem and that Mohammad was conveyed there one night
(although at that time the journey took three days by camel), 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 hoofs reaching to
the horizon. He tethered the horse to the Western Wall of the
Temple Mount and from there ascended to the seventh heaven
together with the angel Gabriel. On his way he met the prophets
of other religions who are the guardians of heaven: Adam, Jesus,
St. John, Joseph, Idris (=Seth?), Aaron, Moses and Abraham who
accompanied him on his way to Allah and who accepted him as their
master. Thus Islam tries to gain legitimacy over other, older
religions, by creating a scene in which the former prophets agree
to Mohammad's mastery, thus making him Khatam al-Anbiya' ("the
Seal of the Prophets").

Not surprisingly, this miraculous account contradicts a
number of the tenets of Islam: How can a living man of flesh and
blood ascend to heaven? How can a mythical creature carry a
mortal to a real destination? Questions such as these have caused
orthodox Moslem thinkers to conclude that the nocturnal journey
was a dream of Mohammad's. The journey and the ascent serves
Islam to "go one better" than the Bible: Moses "only" went up to
Mt. Sinai, in the middle of nowhere, and drew close to heaven,
whereas Mohammad went all the way up to Allah, and from Jerusalem

What are the difficulties with the belief that the
al-Aqsa mosque described in Islamic tradition is located in
Jerusalem? For one, the people of Mecca, who knew Muhammad well,
did not believe this story. Only Abu Bakr, (later the first
Calif), believed him and thus was called al-Siddiq ("the
believer"). The second difficulty is that Islamic tradition tells
us that al-Aqsa mosque is near Mecca on the Arabian peninsula.
This was unequivocally stated in "Kitab al-Maghazi" (Oxford
University Press, 1966, vol. 3, pp. 958-9), a book by the Moslem
historian and geographer al-Waqidi. According to al-Waqidi, there
were two "masjeds" (places of prayer) in al-Gi'irranah, a village
between Mecca and Ta'if, one was "the closer mosque" (al-masjid
al-adna) and the other was "the further mosque" (al-masjid
al-aqsa), and Muhammad would pray there when he went out of town.
This description by al-Waqidi which is supported by a chain of
authorities (isnad), was not "convenient" for the Islamic
propaganda of the 7th century. In order to establish a basis for
the awareness of the "holiness" of Jerusalem in Islam, the Califs
of the Ummayad dynasty invented many "traditions" upholding the
value of Jerusalem (known as "fadha'il bayt al-Maqdis"), which
would justify pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the faithful Moslems.
Thus was al-Masjid al-Aqsa "transported" to Jerusalem. It should
be noted that Saladin also adopted the myth of al-Aqsa and those
"traditions" in order to recruit and inflame the Moslem warriors
against the Crusaders in the 12th century.

Another aim of the Islamization of Jerusalem was to
undermine the legitimacy of the older religions, Judaism and
Christianity, which consider Jerusalem to be a holy city. Islam
is presented as the only legitimate religion, destined to replace
the other two, because they had changed and distorted the Word of
God, each in its turn. (ghyyarou wa-baddalou). On the alleged
forgeries of the Holy Scriptures, made by Jews and Christians,
see the third chapter of: M. J. Kister, "haddithu 'an bani
isra'il wa-la haraja", IOS 2 (1972), pp. 215-239. Kister quotes
dozens of Islamic sources).

Though Judaism and Christianity can exist side by side in
Jerusalem, Islam regards both of them as betrayals of Allah and
his teachings, and has always done, and will continue to do, all
in its power to expel both of them from this city. It is
interesting to note that this expulsion is retroactive: The
Islamic broadcasters of the Palestinian radio stations
consistently make it a point to claim that the Jews never had a
temple on the Temple Mount and certainly not two temples. (Where,
then, according to them, did Jesus preach?)

Arafat, himself a secular person (ask the Hamas!), is
doing today exactly what the Califs of the Umayyad dynasty did
1300 years ago: he is marshaling the holiness of Jerusalem to
serve his political ends. He must not give control of Jerusalem
over to the Jews since according to Islam they are impure and the
wrath of Allah is upon them (al-maghdhoub 'alayhim; Koran 1,7,
see al-Jalalayn and other commentaries; note that verse numbers
may differ slightly in the various editions of the Koran). The
Jews are the sons of monkeys and pigs (5,60). (For the idea that
Jews are related to pigs and monkeys see, for example, Musnad
al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, (Beirut 1969) vol. 3, p. 241. See also
pages 348, 395, 397, 421, and vol. 6, p. 135.) The Jews are those
who distorted the holy writings which were revealed to them
(2,73; 3,72) and denied God's signs (3,63). Since they violated
the covenant with their God (4,154), He cursed them (5,16) and
they are forever the inheritors of hell (3,112). So how can
Arafat abandon Jerusalem to the Jews?

The Palestinian media these days are full of messages of
Jihad, calling to broaden the national-political war between
Israel and the Palestinians into a religious-Islamic war between
the Jews and the Moslems. READ THEIR LIPS: for them Christianity
is no better than Judaism, since both "forfeited" their right to
rule over Jerusalem. Only Islam - Din al-Haqq ("the Religion of
Truth") - has this right, and forever. (shaykh 'Ikrima Sabri, the
mufti of Jerusalem, in Friday's khutbah 4 weeks ago, "Sawt
falastin", the PA official radio).

Since the holiness of Jerusalem to Islam has always been,
and still is no more than a politically motivated holiness,
Arafat would be putting his political head on the block should he
give it up. Must Judaism and Christianity defer to myths related
in Islamic texts or envisioned in Mohammad's dreams, long after
Jerusalem was established as the ancient, true center of these
two religions which preceded Islam? Should UN forces be sent to
the Middle East just because Arafat decided to recycle the
political problems of the Umayyads 1250 years after the curtain
came down on their role in history?

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Lecturer

Dept. of Arabic

Bar-Ilan University

52900 Ranmt-Gan, Israel

Phone+Fax: 972 9 7449162


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