Jerusalem, al-Quds in Arabic, is one of the most contested places on earth. The city and its significance to the three Abrahamic faiths cannot be emphasized enough. Sometimes, however, in the midst of the political battles around the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the importance of the sacred city within Islam is lost. Many people assume that only Mecca and Medina are sacred to Muslims, without realizing that they consider Jerusalem the third holiest of places. I decided to address this issue based on the news of Palestinian families being evicted in East Jerusalem. While the political element is extremely necessary to assessing the situation, I feel that there is always an assumption that Jerusalem is just a political symbol for Muslims, when in fact it is much more than that.
To understand the significance of Jerusalem, one must understand the lineage of prophecy in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad himself did not believe that he was bringing a new faith; rather, he was reviving the belief in one God espoused by earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Since the Prophet Muhammad saw Islam as sharing that theological lineage, Jerusalem, which witnessed many of those earlier prophets, symbolized the connection among the faiths. In fact, in the beginning, Muslims would face Jerusalem in prayer and it was called the first of the Qiblahs (the direction of prayer). Later, the direction of prayer would be redirected to the Kabah in Mecca, but the significance of Jerusalem still remained.
Jerusalem is also important in the Islamic worldview because of the ‘Isra and Miraj (the Night Journey and Ascension). In 620, the Prophet Muhammad was taken from Mecca to Jerusalem and from there to the heavens. In the Qur’an, this Night Journey is mentioned:
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things). (Chapter 17, Verse 1).
In Jerusalem, the spiritual link between all the prophets and faiths was further emphasized, when Prophet Muhammad met past Prophets and led them in prayer. This contextualized Islam within a broader tradition of prophecy and the call to monotheism.
Thus, in any discussion on Jerusalem, it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the spiritual claims of all faiths. Jerusalem was and continues to be held in high esteem by Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad said: “A journey should not be taken (with the intention of worship) except to three mosques: The Sacred Mosque in Mecca, my mosque in Medina, and Masjid al-Aqsa (the furthest mosque) in Jerusalem.”
Do you think that Jerusalem is sacred? Why? What other sacred places are contested? How can sacred spaces be shared? Please share your comments.