Was the Al-Aqsa Mosque of the Quran in Jerusalem?
By Mordechai Kedar, Ph.D., Israeli scholar of Arabic culture and lecturer at Bar-Ilan University.
A well known proverb says "liars need to have good memories." The reasoning is clear: a liar needs to remember his own lies and whom he told them to in order to avoid contradicting himself and revealing his mendacity. This rule applies to important issues as well. Jerusalem, for instance, whose holiness to Sunni Muslims is based on a late and political interpretation of a Koranic verse, while to Shiite Muslims it is only the third holiest city, ranked below Mecca and Medina (today the city of Najaf in southern Iraq).
Early Islamic sources state that the "al Aqsa Mosque" (literal meaning: 'the farther mosque'), mentioned only once in the Koran, was one of two mosques located near Ji'irrana, a village located between Mecca and Taaf in the Arabian Peninsula (now Saudi Arabia.) One of the mosques was called "al-Masjid al-Adna," meaning the "closer mosque" and the other "al-Masjid al-Aqsa", the "farther mosque." When the Koran refers to the al Aqsa mosque while telling the myth of the Prophet Muhammad's night time journey from the "holy mosque" of Mecca to al Aqsa, that is, the "farther mosque," it is referring to the mosque in Ji'irrana.
In 682 C.E., fifty years after Mohammed's death, Abd allah Ibn al-Zubayr, the tough man of Mecca, rebelled against the Umayyads who ruled Damascus and would not allow them to fulfill the Haj in Mecca. Since the Haj pilgrimage is one of the five basic Islamic commandments, they were forced to choose Jerusalem as their alternative for a pilgrimage site. In order to justify choosing Jerusalem, the Umayyads rewrote the story told in the Koran, moving the al Aqsa mosque to Jerusalem, and adding, for good measure, the myth of the night time journey of Mohammed to al Aqsa. This is the reason the Sunnis now consider Jerusalem their third holiest city.
Shia Islam, mercilessly persecuted by the Umayya Caliphate, did not accept the holy Jerusalem canard, which is the reason the second holiest city to Shiites is Najif in Iraq, the burial place of Shiite founder Ali bin Abi Talib. Many of the Shiite elders – Iranian and Hezbollah – only began to call Jerusalem holy after the Khomeni rebellion in 1979 so as to keep the Sunnis from accusing them of being soft on Zionism.
The first lie, in that case, is the spurious claim that the "farther mosque" is in Jerusalem.
More lies were piled on to the first one, the main prevarication being the exact location of this so-called al Aqsa mosque, which until not very long ago, was the silver-domed building on the southern end of the Temple Mount.
The entire area of the Temple Mount is known as al-Haram al-Sharif – "the holy and noble site"- but a change came about after the Six Day War, when Jewish voices could be heard, particularly that of the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rav She'er Yashuv HaCohen, calling for the establishment of a synagogue on the Mount. Immediately after the war, Chief IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren also said that he wanted to celebrate religious events on the Temple Mount. It was felt that the Muslims would not object, since al Aqsa was on the southern edge of the compound and the synagogue would not be nearby.
As a result, however, the Muslims decided to announce that the al Aqsa mentioned in the Koran refers not only to the mosque on the southern end of the compound, but is the name for the entire Temple Mount area, abandoning the original name, al-Haram al-Sharif. My colleague, Professor Yitzchak Reiter, discusses this issue at length in his book "From Mecca to Jerusalem and Back," 2005. The renaming of the Temple Mount is clearly a canard, with two documents, one known and one less known, revealing the truth.
The source that is more widely known is a booklet prepared in 1924 by none other than the openly anti-Semitic (and later on good friend of Hitler) Mufti Haj Amin el Husayni and reprinted many times in the years following its first publication. Dr. Daniel Tassel of Lexington, Massachusetts, gave me an original copy printed in 1930, for which generosity I am most grateful. The booklet's title is "A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif – Jerusalem." Note that the area is not called al Aqsa. The al Aqsa Mosque appears as a chapter in the booklet, after the chapter on the Dome of the Rock, the golden-domed structure in the middle of the compound. It is clear that to Haj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem, the al Aqsa Mosque is simply the building on the southern end of the compound, because that is what it is.
The lesser known of the two documents is one I photocopied recently at my friend Chaim Steinberger's home in New York. Chaim has a large collection of maps of the Land of Israel and he showed me an ordinary Jordanian tourist map of Jerusalem that was executed in 1965, two years before the 1967 Six Day War. At that time,East Jerusalem was still illegally occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, while the entire world kept silent and uttered not a word against this totally illegal occupation. The map was drawn by a Jordanian named Abd al-Rahman Rassas who worked as an official surveyor and was authorized by the Hashemite Tourism Authority of Jordan. The map bears the words: "recommended and approved by the official Jordanian Tourist Authority."
A perusal of the map shows that in 1965 the Temple Mount compound was still called " al-Haram al-Sharif", that it was on "Mount Moriah", and that the "al Aqsa Mosque" was simply a building on the southern end of al-Haram al-Sharif. In other words, thirty years before the peace agreement between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan, the Jordanians identified al Aqsa as no more than an edifice on the southern end of al-Haram al-Sharif, which in turn is built on Mount Moriah.
Islam's liars decided to "expand" al Aqsa – whose real location is actually in the Arabian desert – to encompass the entire Temple Mount area only after the Jews liberated the site of their Temples in the June 1967 Six Day War. After all, the Jews might want to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount under the direction of Rabbis Goren and She'er Yashuv Hacohen.
For example, Sheikh Ikrima Sabr, Mufti of Jerusalem 1994-2006, in a speech given on Friday, January 4th, 2002, said the following (my additions in parentheses, M.K.): " O ye Muslims (all over the world), when we talk about the blessed al Aqsa Mosque, we mean a mosque whose area is 144 dunam (the size of al-Haram al-Sharif in its entirety) including the walls, the al-Buraq Wall (the Western Wall), the passages, hallways, entrances and squares, in addition to the part that is roofed (the building in the southern end),the part that is ancient (under the roofed part) and the Foundation Stone (under the Dome of the Rock), the Marwani prayer site (Solomon's Stables), all are al Aqsa…."
Another lie, revealed as such by the very same map, follows on the heels of this one. It concerns the site of the Jewish Holy Temples. I have listened to a good many Friday sermons in Arabic, which I unfortunately did not record, including some in which the preacher claimed that al-Haykal al-Maz'oum –" the supposed (Jewish) Temple"- was never in Jerusalem. One preacher claimed it was on Mount Sinai and in another instance, the preacher said it was on Mount Gerizim near Nablus, where "the Samaritans preserve the authentic Jewish traditions." The Jordanian map puts paid to the lies of every one of these Islamic orators.
One wonders why the al Aqsa Mosque is of such importance to the Muslims and why they have accorded it such prominence that it is becoming accepted as one of the basic principles of their faith. The answer lies in the fact that Islam defines itself as a religion that did not enter the world to live in peace with Judaism and Christianity, the religions that preceded it, but as a universal religion that is meant to obliterate them and take over the world. Islam sees itself as "Din al-Haqq," the true religion, and Judaism and Christianity as "Din al-Batil," the false religions. The Muslims fear that the Jewish people's return to their land, cities and the site of their Temples will grant Judaism the status of a vibrant, active and true religion, posing a theological threat to the very existence and raison d'etre of Islam.
That is the reason that all Jewish activity on the Temple Mount, especially Jewish prayer, infuriates them, and they will do everything, including spreading prevarications and outright lies, to prevent the Jews from returning to the places from which they were exiled almost 2000 years ago. That is what makes the conflict over Jerusalem the basis of a theological struggle whose source is the Muslim world's inability to recognize the history and religious rights of non-Muslim believers, all of whom are slated to disappear, according to Islam.
All the other aspects of the conflict, nationalistic, political or legal, are layers of camouflage hiding the real dispute, the theological one, between Israel and its neighbors.
Today, now that we have been blessed with the beginnings of a return to Zion, we bring to mind the destruction of the Temples and our people's dispersion among the nations of the world. We can see with our own eyes that the return of the Jewish people to their land, to its capital city and the site of the Holy Temples, is anathema to many and especially to our Muslim neighbors. The question that arises is whether we still have to live with the Muslim falsehoods concerning the Temple Mount—after we succeeded in liberating our land and capital city from Islamic occupation—or whether we should inform them of what they know full well, but attempt to repress: that it is our forefathers who were here 3000 years ago and worshipped the one God, while their forefathers were pagan tribes in the Saudi desert, who drank wine, buried their daughters alive and worshipped idols.
When we respect ourselves and our heritage enough to stand up for our rights, they will respect us and leave us in peace.
May the Jewish People soon be blessed with the complete Redemption.
Translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism editor.