Thursday, November 5, 2015

Muslims haven't always been hostile toward Jews in Jerusalem

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: Genesis 12:3a

Expressions of hostility and acts of discrimination by Muslims against Jews in Jerusalem aren't as traditional as it may appear to those of us in the 21st century. From the column Then and Now in Jerusalem by Geoffrey Clarfield and Salim Mansur in the Toronto newspaper National Post, October 27, 2015:

...The Palestinian leadership has incited publicly their people to “spill blood.” Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestinian Authority, declared on television, “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah.” Such chilling incitement to kill reaches back to the years immediately after the First World War, when the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, appointed by the British, made a career out of calling for jihad against the Jews culminating in his embrace of Hitler.

When Abbas calls to “spill blood,” or Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, declares, “I will personally expel every Jew who comes to the Temple Mount in a provocative manner,” they are following the odious footsteps of Haj Amin Al-Husseini. Their anti-Jew hatred not surprisingly is encouraged by King Abdullah II, the West’s favourite royal pretender whose family the British imported from Hejaz in Arabia and enthroned as unelected rulers over the largely Palestinian people and country of Jordan, illegally carved out of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in the early 1920s. Abdullah shamelessly announced recently that only Muslims should be allowed on the grounds of the Temple Mount.

There is, however, another history of Muslim rulers over Jerusalem. It is contrary to Al-Husseini’s jihad against the Jews that became embedded in the politics espoused by Palestinians over the past century. Though this history has been deliberately obscured by advocates of political Islam or Islamism in recent years, it is all the more necessary today to hold Palestinians accountable for shredding their own Muslim tradition that holds the promise of religious coexistence and mutual respect among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

When the first Arab armies conquered Palestine, or the land of Israel, in 637, Jews stood witness. Muslim and non-Muslim sources recount the surrender of Jerusalem by the Byzantine Patriarch Sophronious to Umar, the second of the righteous Caliph of Muslims and a close companion of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. There were Jews in the company of Umar when he visited the Temple Mount and ordered the removal of filth accumulated on the site.

Jews were granted permission by Umar to live in Jerusalem and pray on the Temple Mount. They were allowed to build a synagogue there. Even after the completion of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Umayyad caliphs based in Damascus, the 10th century Jewish writer Solomon ben Jeroham (a Karaite) recorded that Jews prayed on the Temple Mount.

Umar’s conduct on taking control of Jerusalem from the Byzantines set the righteous precedent for Muslims to follow. When Muslim rulers behaved differently their conduct spoke ill of them, as happened with the Fatimid ruler Caliph Hakim in Cairo. Hakim turned malevolent against Christian and Jews, and destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1009 (for which Jews were falsely blamed and victimized by a recurrent wave of anti-Semitism in Europe).

There were the Crusades, and Jews were massacred in Jerusalem by the Crusaders. But Christian rulers of the Crusader Kingdom during the 12th century became mindful of the local traditions and Jews were allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. After Saladin reconquered Jerusalem in 1187, he restored Jewish rights following Umar’s precedent.

When Ottoman Turks took control of Jerusalem in the 16th century they imposed a ban on Jews worshipping on the Temple Mount. However, they strictly enforced the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall of the Temple, what is now known as the “Wailing Wall.” Access to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims (including Jews) was relaxed at the request of the British at the end of the Crimean war in 1856. Some six decades later General Allenby, at the head of the British army, triumphantly entered Jerusalem in November 1917, and Britain’s rule over Palestine under the League of Nation’s Mandate inaugurated a new era for Jews in their ancestral homeland after nearly 2,000 years.

For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. But for Jews, Jerusalem is the first and only holy city, since it was made the capital of ancient Israel by King David. Yet contrary to public opinion (in and outside of the Muslim world) Muslim authorities have generally tolerated Jews praying on the Temple Mount. The theological and historical evidence over time support this simple fact. The Muslim connection to Jerusalem rests upon the reference made in the Quran of the Prophet’s night journey “from the Sacred Mosque to the distant Mosque whose precincts We have blessed, that We may show him some of Our Signs” (17:11). Muhammad’s miraculous heavenly journey from King David’s city, referred in Arabic simply as al Quds (the Holiness), confirmed his lineage in the fraternity of prophets reaching back through Moses and Abraham to Adam.

Muhammad had prayed at first by turning his face in the direction (qiblah) of Jerusalem. After his flight to Medina from Mecca he received guidance, as the Quran states, to “turn towards the Holy Mosque” (2:144) in prayer. Since then Muslims have followed their prophet. From an Islamic point of view, it might be said, the revelation instructing the Prophet to pray in the direction of Mecca was a sign for him and his followers not to contest Jews with unlawful claims or deny their rights in Jerusalem.

Until 1967 no scholar in or outside of the Muslim world doubted that underneath the Temple Mount could be found the site and remains of the Jewish Temple of Solomon, Ezra and Nehemiah, and of Herod the Great within whose Temple Jesus of Nazareth prayed and preached. Even Haj Amin al-Husseini published in 1925 a brochure, titled “Brief Guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, Jerusalem” (the Arabic expression for the Temple Mount), in which is stated, “The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute...”

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