Islamic Sanctification of Jewish Yerushalayim

 “Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran,” I heard the determined voice of Dr. Mordechai Kedar as he was declaring it on Al Jazeera T.V.

The occasion was an interview he gave to the station. It was in response to the presenter’s claim that Kedar “cannot erase Jerusalem from the Koran.”
The embarrassed and defeated Muslim presenter was dumbfounded. He, so it seems, was a victim to his own ideology’s efforts to erase facts and re-write history.  The fact remains, Yerushalayim is NOT mentioned in the Koran, the holy book of Islam written by the Prophet Muhammad.
So when did Yerushalayim become the third holiest city to (Sunni) Muslims?
Last week, I accompanied Dr. Kedar to one of his most enlightening lectures. It addressed this very controversial issue.
According to Kedar it happened when Islam needed it purely for political and religious gain. When it comes to politics, as we all know, the art of convincing is of utmost importance. However, as the anonymous saying, I once saw, goes, “If you cannot convince them, confuse them.” That was the beginning of Islam’s most carefully crafted narrative
Since Yerushalayim is not mentioned in the holy Koran, what then is a better platform to sow the seeds aimed at distorting reality and spreading disinformation? The answer is, the Hadith, the oral tradition. It was a great tool to re-write, re-create, change, delete and edit historical facts to create the perfect narrative.
According to Kedar, that is precisely what Islam did. In order to understand that rather confusing narrative, let Dr. Kedar and myself give you a bird’s eye view of the evolution of Islam.
It is no secret that Muhammad copied many of the stories in the Koran from the Tanach and Christian holy writings. He learned them from a Yemanite Rabbi by the name of Ka’b, who was his close friend.  According to Kedar, “The criticism of Islam, as a copy of other religions made Islam appear illegitimate: Muhammad was accused by his tribesmen for plagiarism, Asatir al-Awwalin – the legends of the former ones – since his stories about Allah, Adam, Noah and the Ark, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Jesus etc. reminded them of the stories of the Jews and the Christians. Therefore, in order to get a “seal of approval” Muhammad tried to convert three Jewish tribes who lived in Medina and in a desert oasis called “Khaybar.” To please them, Muhammad legislated that the direction of prayer for Muslims was Northward, towards Yerushalayim. That decree lasted 16 months. Unfortunately for Muhammad, the Jews remained loyal to Judaism and did not embrace Islam. He then waged war against them, slaughtered the men and took the women, including Safiyya, the daughter of one of the tribal heads, whom he took as wife.
Consequently, since there were no Jews left in the Arab peninsula (until this very day, ethnic cleansing?) Yerushalayim was of no interest to Muhammad anymore, so he turned the direction of prayer towards Mecca which he conquered later.
“But what about Al Aqsa?” one of the attendees at the lecture asked Dr. Kedar.

“Muhammad had a group of supporters in the city of al-Ta’if,” Kedar explained to us. That city was located at a distance of a two-day walk from Mecca. When Muhammad travelled to Ta’if and back to Mecca he would spend the night in the village of “al-Gi’irrana.” “Islamic tradition has it,” Kedar added, “that there were two mosques near that village. One was “The Nearby Mosque” (“al-Masjid al-adna”). The other, the “Distant Mosque”, (“al-Masjid al-Aqsa”). He would always pray in one of them before setting out on his day-long journey, either to Ta’if or back to Mecca. The Qur’an (Chapter 17, Verse 1) tells a story that one night a miracle occurred to Muhammad; the Creator took him to the Distant Mosque in order to show him His miracles. The people of that generation understood this passage literally, because they knew that “al-Masjid al-Aqsa” was near the village in the Arabian Peninsula on the way to Ta’if. Muhammad died in the year 632, without ever having visited Yerushalayim.

Kedar went further to say, “if the Creator had indeed taken Muhammad to the “Distant Mosque,” why then did he not take him to faraway places such as Southeast Asia or Spain but to Yerushalayim, as the Hadith suggests, which is relatively close geographically?”
Kedar provided even further proof to the fact that Yerushalayim was not holy to Islam. He told us that in the year 638, the city “was conquered without a battle, when Bishop Sophronius opened its gates to the formidable army of the second Caliph, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab. Sophronius took the caliph and his entourage for a tour of the city, and included in his entourage was Ka’b, Muhammad’s Jewish companion. When they reached Temple Mount Ka’b removed his shoes, apparently as commanded in Exodus 3,5 “remove your shoes from your feet” since for Jews, the place was holy. Caliph ‘Umar saw this and asked him the meaning of his actions, and Ka’b answered that it was because of the holiness of the place. Caliph ‘Umar became angry with him, scolded him and accused Ka’b for trying to insert Jewish concepts into Islam. He ordered Ka’b to put his shoes back on.” This anecdote is told by the great Islamic historian, al-Tabari. From it, one can surmise even though it was under Muslim occupation – Yerushalayim was not considered to be a holy place by Islamic tradition.
“So when did Yerushalayim become a “holy” place in Islam?” another attendee queried.
Thirty years after the death of Muhammad,” Kedar responded, “the Umayyad Caliphs transferred the capital of the Muslim Empire to Damascus, incurring the wrath of the Meccans who were loyal to Muhammad and his legacy. They witnessed the growing wealth of the residents of Damascus, their debauchery and failing moral standards and declared them to be heretics. Eventually, in the year 682, under the command of Abdallah bin al-Zubayr, the Meccans organized and rebelled against the Caliph, and prevented the residents of Damascus from coming to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage.

“Another reason for the ban,” Kedar suggested, “might be related to the 682 CE rebellion of Abdallah bin al-Zubayr that had occurred two years earlier, in the year 680. The army of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid bin Mu’awiya killed and decapitated the greatest of the rebels, Husein bin ‘Ali, who happened to be the grandson of Muhammad. Naturally, that did not go well with the residents of Mecca. 

“Whatever the reason for barring the residents of Damascus from carrying out the Hajj in Mecca, an alternative location needed to be found,” Kedar continued. “The Hajj is one of the basic principles of Islam. Caliph Yazid bin Mu’awiya searched for an alternative place, one that had an aura of holiness cloaking it, one that would allow him to declare it as a place of pilgrimage instead of Mecca.

“It also so happened,” Kedar explained to a mesmerized audience, “that at that time, many Jews and Christians converted to Islam, at least outwardly, in order to escape the burden of the heavy tax that was imposed upon them. Because of their conversion to Islam they carried in their hearts and in their mouths the exaltation of Yerushalayim, the Holy City, and this is how the idea of Yerushalayim as a holy city entered into Islam. The Caliph decided that Yerushalayim will be the place for Hajj but he needed support from the Islamic writings to enable him to paint his decision in an Islamic color. The Hadith machine was the tool to produce the needed "stories" which made Yerushalayim a holy place for Sunni Muslims. The Shi'a – traditionally – consider the Iraqi city of Najaf and the third place in holiness after Mecca and Medina.

And thus was a target painted on the Islamic narrative board, and one of the greatest fictional validations of all times was born. “The rest,” as Kedar say, “is history and Islamic plagiarism.”