Muslim traditions about Jerusalem

Muslim Conquest of Jerusalem and Qur’anic and other Muslim traditions about Jerusalem

Timeline of early Islam

570-632 CE     life of Muhammad
610                  beginning of revelations to Muhammad (according to the Muslim tradition, these were mediated by the angel Gabriel); at this time, he begins proclaiming the messages that he receives from Gabriel, and he gains a few followers in Mecca, but he also arouses a great deal of opposition.
620                  according to Muslim tradition, Muhammad is taken miraculously from Mecca to Jerusalem by Gabriel, riding on the flying steed Buraq, and from there to heaven (he returns to Mecca afterwards)
622                  hijra (emigration) of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina; they
                        leave Medina because of the opposition of people from the leading tribe in Mecca,
the Quraysh
624                  change of the qibla (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Mecca; before this time the Muslims apparently prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, as Jews did (and do)
632                  death of Muhammad; after his death, the Muslims began gathering together records of the revelations given to Muhammad, and in the next few decades the first edition of the Qur’an was put together.
638                  Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, during the rule of caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab
661-680           Mu’awiyah, the founder of the Ummayad dynasty, rules Jerusalem
691                  the caliph Abd al-Malik builds the Dome of the Rock
710                  completion of the Al Aqsa Mosque

Muslim names of Jerusalem
  • Ilya (at first) = Aelia Capitolina, the Roman renaming of Jerusalem.
  • Bayt al-Maqdis – “The Holy House,” an Arabic version of the Hebrew name for the Temple, Beit ha-Miqdash.
  • Medinat Bayt al-Maqdis – City of the Holy House
  • Al-Quds – “the holy”
Source: F. E. PetersJerusalem: The Holy City in the Eyes of Chroniclers, Visitors, Pilgrims, and Prophets from the Days of Abraham to the Beginnings of Modern Times (1985)

What did Muslims know of the earlier history of the city?
The new Muslims did not enter Jerusalem brandishing copies of the Qur’an, which hadn’t been codified yet; so Christians in the city didn’t know what the Muslim attachment to the city was.
In Qur’anic traditions (17:4-7), there were two ravagings of the country of the Jews; God sent armies to ravage them and to enter the Temple and lay waste to it (see quote from the Qur’an below). Muslims of Muhammad’s generation knew of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and knew that it had been destroyed twice because of the sins of the Jews. The Romans weren’t remembered, but the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar were (who destroyed the First Temple in 586 BCE). Solomon’s Temple lived on in the mind of the early Muslims (not Herod’s Temple); Solomon himself is regarded as a prophet in the Qur’an, who was given control over the jinn (the demons).

Destruction of the two Temples – Qur’an 17:4-7
            And We gave guidance to the Children of Israel in the Scripture: Truly, twice will you work evil on the earth, and you will become mightily arrogant.
            So when the time of the first of the two came to pass, We sent against you Our slaves of great might who ravaged (your) country, and it was a threat fulfilled.
            Then We granted you once again your turn against them. We gave you wealth and children and made you more numerous in manpower.
            If you do well, you do well of yourselves, and if you do evil, (you do it) against yourselves. So, when the time of the second (of the warnings) came, (We sent against you others of Our slaves) to ravage you, and to enter the Temple, even as they entered it the first time, and to lay waste all that they conquered with an utter wasting.

Night Journey of Muhammad
There are no readily apparent reasons why Muhammad at first prayed toward Jerusalem. The later Muslim response was that the earlier prophets had prayed towards the Jewish Temple. But the custom was abrogated in about 623/4. What attracted far more notice was the dramatic visit of Muhammad to the Holy City, in Sura 17:
            Glory be to Him who carried His servant by night from the holy shrine to the distant shrine (al masjid al-aqsa), the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of our (miraculous) signs. He is the One who hears, the One who sees (Qur’an 17).
            What were the “holy shrine” and the “distant shrine”?
            Zamakhshari’s commentary on the Qur’an (died 1141): “to carry” in itself means a Night Journey, so why add this stipulation? To indicate the duration of the journey as short – within a single night God and His servant accomplished the journey from Mecca to Syria, which usually required forty nights. Disagreement about the place from which the journey started. Some say it was the holy mosque of Mecca itself. See the account of the Prophet: While I was between being asleep and awake in the apartments near the Ka’ba at the holy mosque, Gabriel came to me with the steed Buraq. Others say it originated from the dwelling of his cousin Umm Hani, daughter of Abu Talib….
            Zamakhshari also shows how the Night Journey is connected with Muhammad’s Ascension to heaven (Qur’an 53:4-10): In the same night (in which the journey to Jerusalem occurred), Muhammad was (also) raised up to heaven, that is, his Ascension took its departure from Jerusalem. Muhammad told the Quraysh also of the wonderful things he had seen in heaven, that he met the prophets there and went as far as the house visited (by the pilgrims) and the Zizyphus tree at the far end of heaven.
            There’s disagreement about when the Night Journey took place – one year after the hijra, or even before his mission as a prophet. Also disagreement about whether it took place when he was asleep or awake. A’isha (wife of Muhammad) – By God, the body of the Messenger of God was not missed (during the Night Journey); rather the Ascension to heaven occurred with his spirit.
            …the distant shrine…: This is Jerusalem. At that time no mosque existed farther away (from Mecca) than the one at Jerusalem.
            … the precincts of which We have blessed…: God means the blessing of religion and of the present world, for Jerusalem had been since the time of Moses the place of worship of the prophets and the place to which (divine) inspiration was restricted (before the time of Muhammad), and it is surrounded with flowing rivers and fruit-bearing trees.
            The interpretation that Jerusalem was always the “distant mosque” was not always unanimous. If the Night Journey was combined with the Ascension as a single event, then it was plausible that the “distant shrine” was “heaven,” as a number of early Muslims  understood it. The identification of Jerusalem was secondary and somewhat later. By the eighth century the Jerusalem connection prevailed, as it does in the account preserved in the Life of Muhammad.
In the Life of Muhammad (eighth century CE), quoting al-Hasan al-Basri (642-728) – the Apostle of God told him, While I was sleeping in the Hijr [a kind of semicircular stone porch close by the Ka’ba], Gabriel came and stirred me with his foot. I sat up but saw nothing and lay down again. He came a second time and stirred me with his foot. I sat up but saw nothing and lay down again. He came to me the third time and stirred me with his foot. I sat up and he took hold of my arm and I stood beside him and he brought me out to the door of the shrine and there was a white animal, half mule and half donkey with wings on its side with which it propelled its feet, putting down each forefoot at the limit of its sight, and he mounted me on it. Then he went out with me, keeping close by my side.
            al-Hasan continued: The Apostle and Gabriel went their way until they arrived at the shrine at Jerusalem. There he found Abraham, Moses and Jesus among a company of the prophets. The Apostle acted as their leader in prayer….  Then the Apostle returned to Mecca and in the morning he told the Quraysh what had happened. Most of them said, “by God, this is a plain absurdity!” Muhammad described Jerusalem to Abu Bakr (according to al-Hasan), and Abu Bakr confirmed everything he said.

Changing of the Qibla
Early in Muhammad’s career, before the hijra to Medina in 622, he followed the Jewish custom of turning towards Jerusalem in prayer. We know this because the Qur’an notes an important change in the direction of prayer (qibla), likely a year or two after he arrives in Medina.
            What has turned them from the qibla which they formerly observed?We have appointed the qibla which you formerly observed only that we might test him who follows the messenger from him who turns on his heels….. We see the turning of your face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammed). And now we shall make you turn (in prayer) toward a qibla which will please you. So turn your face to the Inviolable Sanctuary, and you, wheresoever you may be, turn your faces when you pray toward it…. And even if you were to bring the People of the Book all kinds of signs, they would not follow your qibla, nor can you be a follower of their qibla. (Qur’an 2:142-145).
            There was a substantial Jewish community in Medina, and Muhammad’s decision to change the qibla from Jerusalem to the Ka’ba may have been the result of a falling out with the Medinan Jews. Or it might have been done to placate the Jews, though this would appear unlikely if it had been Muhammad’s custom at Mecca, where there were no Jews that we know of, to pray toward Jerusalem.
            There is a glimpse of this practice in the Life of the Prophet (8th century) of early Muslim converts praying towards “Syria” when they went on the hajj (the pilgrimage) to Mecca. At this time Muhammad himself was still praying towards Syria.
            Commentary of Tabari (died 923) – first injunction of the Qur’an which was abrogated was that concerning the qibla. This is because the Prophet used to prefer the Rock of the Holy House of Jerusalem which was the qibla of the Jews. The Prophet faced it for seventeen months [after his arrival in Medina] in the hope that they would believe in him and follow him. Another authority quoted by Tabari: He chose the Holy House in Jerusalem in order that the People of the Book would be conciliated.
            Spiritual reading of a Sufi author: The west is the qibla of Moses and the east is the qibla of Jesus; between them is the qibla of Abraham and Muhammad.

Umar’s arrival in Jerusalem
The center of the action of all the accounts of the Muslim occupation of the city is the Temple Mount. All of our information is from Muslims, from an era much later than the events described – there were no immediate eyewitnesses. Our historians are all fully accustomed to a thoroughly Muslim Jerusalem. But these accounts might go back to the first generation of Muslims in Jerusalem.
            According to the fourteenth century account (Muthir al-Ghiram): Now at that time there was over the Rock in the Holy City a great dungheap which completely masked the prayer niche of David and which the Christians had put there to offend the Jews. [According to this source, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius was in Jerusalem then and when he received a letter from Muhammad declaring his prophethood he started to clean off the mount]… but when the Muslims invaded Syria only a third of it had been cleared. Now when Umar came to the Holy City and conquered it, and saw how there was a dungheap over the Rock, he regarded it as horrible and ordered that the place be entirely cleaned….
            It is related … that Umar entered by the Gate of Muhammad, crawling on his hands and knees, he and all those who were with him, until he came up to the court of the Sanctuary. Then looking around to the right and the left and glorifying God, he said, ‘By God, in whose hand is my soul, this must be the sanctuary of David of which the Apostle spoke to us when he said, ‘I was conducted there in the Night Journey.’ Then Umar advancing to the front (or southern) part of the Haram area and to the western part thereof, said, ‘Let us make this the place for the sanctuary (masjid).’
            According to this same account, the patriarch Sophronius took Umar first to the Holy Sepulcher (Anastasis), and said “this is David’s sanctuary.” Umar said it was not, because it didn’t match the description of Muhammad. Finally he brought him to the Gate of Muhammad, and they crawled up the dung-covered steps to the Noble Sanctuary.
            A Jewish account from Isaac ben Joseph (1334) is very similar to the Muslim accounts. Umar demanded of the Jews that they should make known to him the ruins of Solomon’s Temple. The Christians, in their hatred of the Jews, had heaped filth over the spot, so no one knew where the ruins stood. An old man said to him, “If the king will take an oath to preserve the wall, I will discover unto him the place where the ruins of the Temple were.” The old man showed him the ruins under the filth, and then the king had the ruins cleared and cleansed, and then set up a very beautiful temple. The wall still stands before the Temple, and it’s called the Gate of Mercy. The Jews go there for their prayers.
            A poem found in the Cairo Geniza (a storeroom in the Cairo synagogue that had centuries of holy books and manuscripts placed in it) tells what it was like when the Arabs came to Jerusalem in the 7th century. It is dated to very close to 638. It recounts the fight between the king of the West and of the East (Rome and Persia), and then a king coming forth from the land of Arabia – his armies will seize the land. “And Israel will be freed of all their sins and will no more be kept from the house of prayer.”
            Another report: when Umar was caliph he went to visit the people of Syria…. Then the caliph himself went there, and Ka’b [al-Ahbar, a Jewish convert to Islam] with him. Umar said to Ka’b: “O Abu Ishaq, do you know the position of the Rock?” Ka’b answered, “Measure from the well which is in the valley of Gehenna so and so many ells; there dig and you will discover it,” adding, “at this present day it is a dungheap.” So they dug there and the rock was laid bare. Then Umar said to Ka’b, “Where do you say we should place the sanctuary, or rather, the qibla?” Ka’b replied: “Lay out a place for it behind [that is, to the north of] the Rock and so you will make two qiblas, that, namely of Moses and that of Muhammad.” And Umar answered him: “You still lean toward the Jews, O Abu Ishaq. The sanctuary will be in front [that is, to the south of] the Rock.” Thus was the Mosque [of al-Aqsa] erected in the front part of the Haram area.

Role of the Jews on the Temple Mount when the Muslims came
            The Jewish Karaite Salman ben Yeruham (ca. 950) said that the Muslims repaid Jewish cooperation by granting access to both Jerusalem and the Temple mount. When by the mercy of the God of Israel the Rum [Romans] departed from us and the kingdom of Ishmael [the Arabs] appeared, the Jews were granted permission to enter and reside there. The courts of the (House of) the Lord were handed over to them, where they prayed for a number of years.

The covenant of Umar
The Muslims who took Jerusalem in 638 knew some of the biblical associations of the city, but not yet the city’s connection with Muhammad’s Night Journey. There are a number of accounts of what happened after the conquest. Umar (the second caliph, who reigned from 634-644) figures prominently in many of them, although western scholars have wondered if he was ever in Jerusalem at all. The Covenant of Umar is purported to be the surrender terms of the Christians of Jerusalem.
            He grants them the surety of their persons, their goods, their churches, their crosses – whether these are in a good or a bad condition – and the cult in general….
            No constraint will be imposed on them in the matter of religion and no one of them will be annoyed.
            The inhabitants of Jerusalem will pay the poll-tax in the same manner as those in other cities.

The Islamic City – the meaning of Jerusalem for Muslims by Suleiman Ali Mourad

Muslims laid claim to religious heritage of Jerusalem upon their conquest of the city
  • Visits to holy sites
  • Creation of literature in praise of them
  • Rituals on the Temple Mount: wuquf (prayer-while-standing), prayers, liturgical readings associated with particular sites.
  • Veneration first displayed in the account of caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab’s trip from Medina to negotiate the terms of surrender – he was led on a tour of the city by Sophronius, the Christian patriarch, and was taken to the Temple Mount and cleansed it of its dirt.
  • Mu’awiya, the fifth caliph (founder of the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled world of Islam from 661-750), chose to be crowned in Jerusalem.
Umayyad sanctification of Jerusalem
  • Dome of the Rock (completed in 692 by order of the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik)
  • Al Aqsa Mosque (completed about 710 CE by al-Walid, son of al-Malik)
Why did Muslims cherish and promote the religious symbolism of Jerusalem? Why did the two early Umayyad caliphs invest so much wealth in the city?

It’s taken for granted that Muslims’ reverence for Jerusalem comes from two episodes in the life of the Prophet Muhammed. But was that originally the case?

1) Night Journey (isra’) to Jerusalem and Ascension to Heaven (mi’raj)

  • Early Muslim scholars were not at all in agreement about the reality of these two experiences, their sequence, and whether or not they occurred in Jerusalem.
  • There was a question as to whether Muhammad’s soul or body made the trip and whether the experience was in Jerusalem.
  • The reference to an “Aqsa Mosque” is not clarified (the word “Aqsa” means “farthest”)
2) Adoption of Jerusalem by the Muhammad movement as the first qibla until the Ka’ba in Mecca was chosen as the final qibla.
  • Te reference in the Qur’an (2:142-152), especially the lines, “turn then your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque. Wherever you are, turn your faces in its direction,” does not identify Jerusalem as the first qibla. But the practice of praying toward Jerusalem is described in early sources, mostly the Sira (life of Muhammad) and Hadith collections.
  • Jerusalem’s significance in first century of Islam did not derive exclusively from its association with any episode in the career of Muhammad.
Genre of Islamic religious literature – Fada’il – “religious merits” praising particular towns and regions

Earliest Muslim work on Fada’il of Jerusalem – Fada’il Bayt al-Maqdis (“Merits of the Holy House”) by al-Walid ibn Hammad al-Ramli al-Zayyat (died 912 CE). Al-Ramli quotes informants from Syria and Palestine, most frequently four from Jerusalem. Traditions about the sacredness of Jerusalem were in circulation in the eighth and ninth centuries, primarily disseminated by local scholars.

Religious symbolism of Jerusalem according to Al-Ramli:

  • Hadith that establishes three places only that are the destinations of pilgrimage. 
  • Jerusalem’s significance originated with the Temple that once stood there
  • Story about the construction of the Temple (p. 91) – Solomon will build it instead of David: collage of biblical narratives.
  • Why was David prevented from building the Temple? Because his hands were polluted with blood (see 1 Chron. 22:7-9)
  • Benefits of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem – Solomon’s prayer (p. 92); cf. 1 Kings 8:22-53: current visitor to the Dome of the Rock receives the blessing of Solomon’s prayer
Pilgrims to Jerusalem should avoid Christian sites

Rejection of the popular practice of pilgrimage to Jerusalem by a few later Muslim scholars, such as Ibn Taymiyya (died 1328), who also argued that praying in Jerusalem is legitimate only if it takes place in the Aqsa mosque.

Why is the Temple sacred, according to Al-Ramli?

  • The presence of the Rock (al-Sakhra).
  • God spoke to the Rock and said: “You are my earthly throne” – earthly and heavenly rivers spring forth from it. Clear biblical foundation of these ideas (cf. Gen. 2:10-14; Ezekiel 47).
  • Tradition that the Rock is God’s abode and place of his throne on the day of judgment – “here is heaven to its right and hell to its left, and I shall erect the scale in front of it.”
Why did ‘Abd al-Malik decide to build the Dome of the Rock?
  • To shelter the Rock so that the Muslims would not be exposed to heat or cold when they visit it
  • Muslims and Jews were already making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and going to the Temple Mount area to worship at the Rock
  • This rock was the exact location of the binding of Isaac (p. 95) – exact quotation of Genesis 22
We see here the importance of the biblical dimension in determining the holiness of Jerusalem for Al-Ramli and his informants.

Association of Muhammad with Jerusalem and its significance in relation to the biblical dimension in Al-Ramli.

  • The episodes in the life of Muhammad that associate him with Jerusalem are powerful testimonies to the sacredness of the city
How did he understand the verse in chapter 17.1 of the Qur’an about the journey to the “farthest mosque”?
  • He quotes an old man of Jerusalem (Uqba son of Abi Zaynab) that the verse means that “the Hour will not come until the bones of Muhammad are transported to it [Jerusalem].”
  • Thus the verse refers to the end of days, not to an incident during the life of Muhammad.
  • This suggests that the legends about Muhammad’s Night Journey to Jerusalem and Ascension to Heaven were still fluid in the beginning of the eighth century CE, at least as far as popular preachers in Jerusalem and its area were concerned (this tradition that Al-Ramli transmits seems to have been from the early 8th century CE).
  • Thus the legends about the Night Journey and the Ascension could not have been the reason for the Muslim veneration of Jerusalem in the beginning.
Compare al-Ramli’s Praise of Jerusalem with that written by Diya’ al-Din al-Maqdisi (d. 1245 CE).
  • written after the Crusades (Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099; the city was reconquered by Muslims in 1187 by Saladin).
  • Attempt after the Crusades to dissociated Jerusalem from its non-Islamic heritage.
  • Al-Maqdisi emphasizes references to the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension, and several major Muslim figures who visited and prayed in the city.
  • The biblical legacy of Jerusalem is entirely eliminated.
Emphasis on the apocalyptic end of days:
  • Jesus will descend to Jerusalem to kill the Antichrist
  • Creation will be rushed to Jerusalem for the Day of Judgement
  • Mecca and Medina will be brought to Jerusalem at that time
While the city was lost to the Crusaders, the emphasis on the exclusive Muslim dimension was to show that Muslims were being asked to liberate a holy place that was exclusively theirs.

No comments:

Post a Comment