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by Dr. M. Kedar, Dept of Arabic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Israel    
October 4, 2003
Muhammad, the Prophet, hardly made any innovations when he established islam. He used the hallowed personages, historic legends and sacred sites of Judaism, 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, the sister of Moses and Aaron!!) were prophets and guardians of the second heaven.   

Many Biblical legends, 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. The practice of islamization was performed on places as well as persons: Mecca and the holy stone – al-ka’abah – were holy sites of the pre-lslamic pagan Arabs. The Umayyads’ Mosque in Damascus and the great mosque of Istanbul were built on the sites of Christian-Byzantine churches that were converted into mosques. These are good examples of islamic treatment of sanctuaries of other faiths.

Jerusalem underwent the same process. At first, Muhammad attempted to convince the Jews near Medina to join his young community, and in order to persuade them he established the direction of prayer (kiblah) to be to the north, towards Jerusalem, like the Jews. But after he failed in this attempt, he fought the Jews, killed many of them and turned the kiblah southward, to Mecca. His abandonment of Jerusalem explains the fact that this city is not mentioned in the Koran even once.

After Palestine was occupied by the moslems, its capital was in Ramlah, 30 miles to the west of Jerusalem, since Jerusalem meant nothing to them. Islam rediscovered Jerusalem 50 years after Muhammad’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 Caliph, needed an alternative site for the pilgrimage and settled on Jerusalem which was under his control.

In order to justify this choice, a verse from the Koran was chosen (sura 17, verse 1) which states (translation 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 and All-Seeing.”

The meaning ascribed to this verse is that “the furthest mosque” (al-masjid al-aqsa) is in Jerusalem and that Muhammad was conveyed there one night (although at that time the journey took three days by camel), on the back of al-Buraq, his magical horse with the head of a woman, wings of an eagle, the tail of a peacock, and whose hoofs reach 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, Seth, Aaron, Moses and Abraham who accompanied him on his way to the seventh heaven, to Allah, and who accepted him as their master, (see the commentary of Al-Jalalayn on this verse). Thus islam tries to gain legitimacy over other, older religions, by creating a scene in which the former prophets agree to Muhammad’s mastery, thus making him “khatam al-anbiya” (“the seal of the prophets”).

The strange thing here is that this fantastic story contradicts a number of the tenets of islam: How can a 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 whole story of the nocturnal journey was Muhammad’s dream. Thus islam tried 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 Muhammad went all the way up to Allah, and from Jerusalem itself.

So why shouldn’t we also believe that the al-aqsa mosque is in Jerusalem? One good reason is that the people of Mecca, who knew Muhammad well, did not believed this story. Only Abu Bakr, the first khalif, believed him and thus was called “al-siddiq” (“the believer”). The second reason is that islamic tradition itself tells us that al-aqsa mosque is near Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula. This was unequivocally stated in “Kitab al Maghazi,” a book by the Moslem historian and geographer al-Waqidi (Oxford UP, 1966, vol. 3, pp. 958-9).

According to al-Waqidi, there were two “masjeds” (places of prayer) in al-Gi’ranah, a village between Mecca and Ta’if. One was the “the closer mosque” (al-masjid al-adana) and the other was “the further mosque” (al-masjid al-aqsa), and Muhammad would pray there when he was out of town.

This description by al-Waqidi was not “convenient” for the islamic propaganda of the 7th century.

In order to establish a basis to the awareness of the “holiness” of Jerusalem in islam, the khalifs of the Ummayid Dynasty invented many “traditions” upholding the value of Jerusalem, which would justify pilgrimage to Jerusalem to the faithful Moslems. Thus was the al-kasjid 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 that consider Jerusalem to be a holy city. Thus, islam is presented as the only legitimate religion, taking the place of the other two because they had changed and distorted the word of God, each in its turn. (About the alleged “forgeries” of the Holy Scriptures made by Jews and Christians, see the third chapter of: M. J. Kister, “haddith U ‘an bani isra’ll wa-laharaja,” IDS 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 a betrayal of Allah and his teachings, and has done and will do all in its power to expel both of them from the city. It is interesting to note that this expulsion is retroactive. The islamic announcers of the palestinian radio stations keep claiming 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 khalifs of the Umayyad dynasty did: he is recruiting 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, sura. 1, verse 7, see al-Jalalayn and other commentaries;

(Note: verse numbers differ slightly in different editions of the Koran.) The Jews are the sons of monkeys and pigs (s. 5, v. 60). (For the idea that Jews are related to pigs and monkeys see, for example, Musnad al-lmam 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 that were revealed to them (s. 2, v. 73, s. 3, v. 72) and denied God’s signs (s. 3, v. 63). Since they violated the covenant with their God (s. 4, v. 154), God cursed them (s. 5, v. 16) and forever they are the inheritors of hell (s. 3, v. 112). So how can Arafat abandon Jerusalem to the Jews?

The palestinian media these days is 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 the muslims Christianity is as bad as Judaism, since both of them “lost their right to rule over Jerusalem” [by virtue of islam's conquests.]

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, on sawt falastin – the PA official radio). Since the holiness of Jerusalem to islam always was and still is no more than a politically motivated holiness, Arafat [and his successor, Abu Mazen] is putting his political head on the block should he give it up.

Must the whole world bow down to myths concocted by islam, long after Jerusalem is, and has been, the true center of Judaism and Christianity? Should UN forces be sent to the Middle East just because Arafat [and his successors] recycles the Umayyads’ political problems or even Muhammad’s fantasy dreams about Jerusalem?