Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The Temple Mount, which is an elevated platform, almost 35 acres in size, about 10 stories high from the neighboring land of the old city of Jerusalem, is the site where the prophet Solomon, may peace be on him, had built the First Temple, in the ninth century BC.
But, the Temple Mount was a garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem at the time of the holy prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.
There was no worldly reason for him to fly to Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
All of us like to take direct flights to our destination. Majority of the Sunni Muslims believe that the prophet flew from Mecca to Temple Mount in Jerusalem and then to heaven, to have an intimate meeting with God in the fifth year of his ministry. If he was going to the heavens, according to the majority Sunni belief, there did not seem any spiritual need to stop in Jerusalem.
Incidentally, it was not a physical flight on some flying horse. It was an elaborate spiritual dream. The journey to Jerusalem is mentioned in the very beginning of the 17th chapter of the Quran, titled Israelites.
But, what was the significance of Jerusalem to Muhammad, why did he have to stop there?
- A painting about destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, in 70 CE, by Francesco Hayez
The second Solomon Temple had been rebuilt after the Jews came back from Babylon during the time of prophet Ezra, but was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. After the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE, a Roman temple to Jupiter Capitolinus was built at the site.
Both the destruction of the First and the Second Temple of Solomon are mentioned in the holy Quran. (Al Quran 17:5-8)
By the time of Muhammad (570-632 CE), the Christian Roman Emperors had no use for the Temple Mount and it had been reduced to a garbage dump, as we noted before.
Hostilities against the Muslims in Arabia had been initiated by the Roman Empire or her subordinate states during the time of Muhammad.
After a brief and bloodless siege, initiated after the offensives by the Byzantines colonies, Muslims seized control of Jerusalem from the Byzantines in February 638, during the time Caliph Umar Farooq, who had become the Muslim leader two years after Muhammad’s demise. He accepted the city’s surrender from Patriarch Sophronius in person. Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was shown the great Church of the Holy Sepulcher and offered a place to pray in it, but he refused. He knew that if he prayed in the church, it would set a precedent that would lead to the building’s transformation into a mosque. He wanted the Christians to have their freedom of religion and their worship places. Therefore, he instead prayed on the steps outside, where Umar Mosque was built centuries later, allowing the church to remain a Christian holy place.
The First Crusade (1095–1099) was the first of a number of crusades that attempted to capture the Holy Land, called by Pope Urban II in 1095. It started as a widespread pilgrimage in western Christendom and ended as a military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to regain the Holy Land taken in the Muslim conquests of the Levant (632–661), ultimately resulting in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.
The massacre that followed the capture of Jerusalem has attained particular notoriety, as a “juxtaposition of extreme violence and anguished faith”. The eyewitness accounts from the crusaders themselves leave little doubt that there was great slaughter in the aftermath of the siege. Nevertheless, some historians propose that the scale of the massacre has been exaggerated in later medieval sources.
After the successful assault on the northern wall, the defenders fled to the Temple Mount, pursued by Tancred and his men. Arriving before the defenders could secure the area, Tancred’s men assaulted the precinct, butchering many of the defenders, with the remainder taking refuge in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The slaughter continued for the rest of the day; Muslims were indiscriminately killed, and Jews who had taken refuge in their synagogue died when it was burnt down by the Crusaders. The following day, Tancred’s prisoners in the mosque were slaughtered. Nevertheless, it is clear that some Muslims and Jews of the city survived the massacre, either escaping or being taken prisoner to be ransomed.
Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin on 2 October 1187. He did not exact any revenge for the massacre of the First Crusade and the Dome of the Rock was reconsecrated as a Muslim shrine. The cross on top of the dome was replaced by a crescent, and a wooden screen was placed around the rock below.
The Dome of the Rock was the focus of extensive royal patronage by the sultans during the Mamluk period, which lasted from 1250 until 1510.
Going back to the time of Muhammad, it was the 5th year of Muhammad’s ministry in Mecca and according to the majority Sunni Muslim belief, he flew from Mecca to Jerusalem and then to heaven. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that these were two separate events. The travel to heaven was in the 5th year and travel to Jerusalem was in the 12th year of his ministry. Without getting into the details of the events, let us focus on why did he fly to Jerusalem?
He did not go to Jerusalem to conquer or destroy anything, rather to give a unified vision of Monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths. In the Suras revealed during the early Meccan period, Muhammad had made a case for his nascent faith, based on the experience and paradigm of the Jewish prophets and Jesus, may peace be on him, whom the Quran describes as the last Jewish prophet.
According to Dr Considine, the documents have been located in monasteries around the world and in books which have been out of print for centuries, and in many cases they were never translated for a wider audience.
But, he said: “Scholars and believers are turning to them now because of the widespread violence against Christians in places like Iraq and Syria.
“The Prophet Mohammed did not want to inflict harm on Christians, nor interfere or encroach on their privacy or private property.
Muhammad’s vision was of coexistence with the Jews and the Christians. Soon after his migration to Medina he entered into treaties with the Jewish people and formulated a constitution for Medina, which called all the citizens of Medina, the Muslims, the Jews and the polytheist tribes of Medina, as part of one Umma or nation.
Muhammad and the Quran recognized the freedom of religion of all faiths. (Al Quran 2:257)
The Quran called the Synagogues and the Churches as equally sacred as the Mosques and described their defense as a sacred duty of each and every Muslim. (Al Quran 22:41)
Muhammad did not monopolize the eternal salvation for the Muslims only. The Quran framed the issue of salvation and submission to God of Abrahamic faiths in much broader terms. Abraham had two sons Isaac and Ishmael. The children of Isaac are the Jews and the Christians and the children of Ishmael became the Muslims. The holy Quran calls Patriarch Abraham as the first among Muslims.
Muhammad flew to Jerusalem to give humanity a religious coexistence, granted it may not be so obvious if we study the history of the last fourteen centuries. The wars that followed his demise, through countless Crusades and wars of the Ottoman Empire were not his vision, as is somewhat revealed by the description of the First Crusade above.
Those wars were due to some of the myopic followers of the Prophet Muhammad and often the blame was largely to be shared by the non-Muslims, who did not have a vision of universal brotherhood and coexistence, at that time.
Muhammad had allowed only defensive war and had demonstrated how peace should be initiated at the earliest opportunity and every time an olive branch was extended by the enemy.
Muhammad not only did not monopolize worldly treasures he did not even monopolize salvation. The Quranic verses promise salvation to every Monotheist, who leads an upright life. being true to oneself. It says:
Surely, the Believers, and the Jews, and the Christians and the Sabians — whichever party from among these truly believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds — shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (Al Quran 2:63)
Surely, those who have believed, and the Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians — whoso believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds, on them shall come no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Al Quran 22:18)
Now is the time to go back to Muhammad’s vision of multiculturalism. How he entered into treaties of coexistence with the Jews of Medina and signed covenants with several of the Christian groups.
He dreamt of all the children of Abraham to live together in peace and harmony. He also married a Jewish wife, whose deep love, affection and respect he won. That is what the traditions tell us.
It is also said that once a funeral of a Jew was passing by and he was holding a meeting with his companions by the road side. He stopped the meeting and stood up to honor the deceased and his followers followed him in the gesture.
The Muslims are to offer prayers 5 times a day and in every prayer they offer salutation for Muhammad and pray for him and his spiritual progeny for blessings for them, just like the prophet Abraham and his spiritual followers received the special blessings of God. The devout Muslims are supposed to pray this prayer at least 10 times a day and some do it scores of time daily. The prayer is:
O Allah! Shower blessings on Muhammad and on his spiritual progeny, as You had blessed Abraham and his spiritual progeny. Surely You are Praiseworthy, Glorious.
O Allah! Confer special favors on Muhammad and his spiritual progeny, as You had conferred special favors on Abraham and his spiritual progeny. Surely, You are Praiseworthy, Glorious.
His close friend and father-in-law Umar Farooq, who became the second caliph after him, personally got involved with the clean up of the Temple Mount and restored 70 Jewish families to Jerusalem, as at that time there were none living in Jerusalem, they had been banished from the sacred city by the rulers before him.
This is why Muhammad had flown to Jerusalem in an elaborate dream to lay the foundation for mutual love and coexistence of the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews.