May 3 2012
Islam's Tenuous Connection to Jerusalem [Excerpts]
Despite 1,300 years of Muslim Arab rule, Jerusalem was never the capital of an Arab entity. Oddly, the PLO's National Covenant, written in 1964, never mentioned Jerusalem. Only after Israel regained control of the entire city did the PLO "update" its Covenant to include Jerusalem.
Mohammed, who founded Islam in 622 CE, was born and raised in present-day Saudi Arabia, he never set foot in Jerusalem.
His connection to the city came years after his death when the Dome of the Rock shrine and the al-Aqsa mosque were built in 688 and 691, respectively, their construction spurred by political and religious rivalries. In 638 CE, the Caliph (or successor to Mohammed) Omar and his invading armies captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire. One reason they wanted to erect a holy structure in Jerusalem was to proclaim Islam's supremacy over Christianity and its most important shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
More important was the power struggle within Islam itself. The Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphs who controlled Jerusalem wanted to establish an alternative holy site if their rivals blocked access to Mecca. That was important because the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca was (and remains today) one of the Five Pillars of Islam. As a result, they built what became known as the Dome of the Rock shrine and the adjacent mosque.
To enhance the prestige of the "substitute Mecca," the Jerusalem mosque was named "al-Aqsa." It means "the furthest mosque" in Arabic, but has far broader implications, since it is the same phrase used in a key passage of the Quran called "The Night Journey." In that passage, Mohammed arrives at "al-Aqsa" on a winged steed accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel, from there they ascend into heaven for a divine meeting with Allah, after which Mohammed returns to Mecca. Naming the Jerusalem mosque "al-Aqsa" was an attempt to say the Dome of the Rock was the very spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, thus tying Jerusalem to divine revelation in Islamic belief. The problem however is, that Mohammed died in the year 632, nearly 50 years before the first construction of the "al-Aqsa" Mosque was completed.
Indeed, Jerusalem's importance in the Islamic world only appears evident when non-Muslims (including the Crusaders, the British, and the Jews) control or capture the city. Only at those points in history did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem as their third most holy city after Mecca and Medina. That was again the case in 1967, when Israel captured Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem (and the Old City) during the 1967 Six-Day War.
(Hertz, "Islam's Tenuous Connection to Jerusalem," March 28, 2012, http://www.thejerusalemconnection.us/blog/2012/03/28/islams-tenuous-connection-to-jerusalem.html ).