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Al-Aqsa Disputed, Myths and Facts

In the interview he gave IOL’s (IslamOnline.net) Abdelrahman Rashdan, Dr. Mazin Al-Naggar, a well-known researcher interested in history, politics, and economics, refutes the claims that Al-Aqsa is not Islamic. Al-Naggar also provides insights to fill in the alleged gaps in Islamic history pertaining to Al-Aqsa.

IOL: Then what is the meaning of the word “Al-Quds” or “Bayt Al-Maqdis”?

Al-Naggar: These terms point out the holiness of the place. Allah hallowed Al-Quds through making it the place of prophethood and the place through which Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) ascended to Him in Al-Israa’ (Night Journey). In the same manner, Allah had hallowed the valley of Tuwa, in which Moses received revelation from Allah.

IOL: Some people claim that Al-Quds never throughout history was a cultural center nor a capital of any Islamic state, is that true?

Al-Naggar: The hallowed Quds is not related to capitals, it was chosen by Allah in the same manner that he chose Adam and his descendants, Noah, Abraham and his family, the family of Imran, and Muhammad to be the last and the seal of all prophets. Thus, the three holy mosques of Islam (Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Al-Masjid An-Nabawi, and Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa) were divinely chosen by Allah and do not need any political or historical proof. We are touching upon a holy ground that is not stipulated by any historical or political conditions or circumstances. 

IOL: Is today’s Al-Aqsa mosque the same building that Prophet Muhammad began Al-Israa’ from?

Al-Naggar: No, it is not the same building; it was rather the same piece of land. This building of Al-Aqsa began to be constructed in the age of Abdul-Malik ibn Marawan, then the construction and renewal processes continued in the lifetime of several caliphs and sultans. Among the most important restoration stages that Al-Aqsa went through was the period of Sultan Sulayman Al-Qanouni [known as Suleiman the Magnificent]: When he became the caliph, he started to spend heavily to develop and renew Al-Aqsa, as well as Al-Masjid Al-Haram and Al-Masjid An-Nabawi. It is to be mentioned that Al-Qanouni spent what is equivalent to more than US$2 billion nowadays.

The shape of the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock dates back to the Ottoman Era, or specifically from the Sulaymaneyya architecture — of Sultan Sulayman Al-Qanouni who reigned from 1520 till 1564 —, which is the most likely to be true.

Of course, there was construction work done before the Crusades, and the foreign occupation of Bayt Al-Maqdis; yet, renewal work and reconstruction was done after Muslims took Al-Quds back as well.

Around Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa is a holy land as well. In fact, Al-Aqsa is not this only area for praying, all the area around Al-Aqsa be it in the Eastern Al-Quds (Al-Quds Al-Sharkeyya) or the Old Al-Quds (Al-Quds Al-Qadeema) is in fact a mosque and a sanctuary. In such a huge area of Al-Quds — which is sacred — there is a large number of Islamic endowments, schools, traditional shops, and other establishments.

The Dome of the Rock is actually not meant to be a place for praying, it is a monument; it is a monumental structure rather than a temple.

IOL: Until the time when the Dome of the Rock was built, was there any existence of any Jewish temple in that place?

Al-Naggar: When Muslims visited the place of Al-Aqsa in the first time, they found a midden in place, and many of the Prophet’s Companions started to collect and remove rubbish from that spot. At this time, under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, Jews were not allowed to get in Al-Quds and there was no Jewish temple in the place.

The archaeological excavations by Kathryn Kenyon in the 1960s onwards prove that there is no trace of the Temple of Solomon. However, there are traces or foundations of Zerubbabel and Herod’s temples. Zerubbabel is a character from the people of Israel who had a significant role in the era of the Babylonian captivity; he was one of those who were allowed to go to Palestine in which he founded a temple, and this is according to the most valid of the Western accounts. On the other hand, Herod was a king of the Arab Anbat; Herod is the Hellenic word that was originally taken from the Arabic word “Harab.”

When groups of Jews came into Palestine — after the end of the Babylonian captivity — the Persian rulers at the time, Achaemenid dynasty allowed them in. Here is an important point that we have to consider, was it a “return” for Jews to Jerusalem, or was it in fact a tide of immigration that did not take place in the Jewish history before? I deem that it was not a return because Al-Quds or Bayt Al-Maqdis or Aelia Capitolina was never Orshalim in history.

… There is no trace of the Temple of Solomon 

The descriptions of Orshalim in the Bible do not match that of Al-Quds or Bayt Al-Maqdis: They are not the same characteristics; we can talk about this at length in another occasion.

However, there is an explanation for the influx of the Babylon Jews that were allowed or accommodated by the Achaemenid dynasty into the southern part of Palestine in Al-Quds and Al-Khalil, which was called later Al-Yahoudeyya (or the Jewish).

Of course, there are some expressions in the English language that are different yet they look like each other. For example, Yahouza (يهوذا) the expression came to an end by the 6th century BC of the Babylonian captivity. It was called Juda (جودة), but Judea (جوديا) is the place where groups of Jews appear and settled in — which is Al-Quds and Al-Khalil — during the era of the Achaemenid dynasty and on. Acting as the guardian power for Jews, the Achaemenid dynasty allowed Jews to move into Palestine for some strategic interests. At the time, there was an imperial custom that the imperialistic power expatriates its enemies to distanced areas, yet it sends its allies to the same areas to satisfy its interests. In this specific case, Jews were sent to the southern part of Palestine to guard the strategic trade routes in the area as well as to have control over the old Syrian lands. It is to be mentioned that the Achaemenid dynasty at the time reached Egypt.

During the mentioned period, the Arab Anbat tribes settling in east Jordan and the southern part of Palestine converted to Judaism through the efforts of those coming from Babylon. And thus the ruling Herod’s family became Jewish. Also, king Herod constructed bases for a temple on the old bases that existed according to the archaeological excavations. However, there is not any traces or remnants from the Temple of Solomon in the area.

IOL: The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) did not mention anything about Al-Quds in its founding documents in 1964, how valid is that claim?

Al-Naggar: At that time Al-Quds — or at least the Old Quds — was a region under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Thus, to ask for it from the Jordanian custody would be an incentive for many political tensions and problems. At the same time, Al-Quds was accessible for the PLO while being under the Jordanian control; the bureaus of the PLO were in Al-Quds at the time, and there were troops from the PLO in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordanian. In fact there were official representation and relations between the PLO and the Jordanian government.

What I know for sure is that the original founding documents of the PLO were demanding the whole land of Palestine from the river to the sea.

IOL: So it was a basic thing that Al-Quds is included?

Al-Naggar: Yes, of course. It is not expected that any national convention mention in details all the villages and cities that are included, or do a land survey. Charters, fundamental laws, or constitutions are not expected to do that!

The main problem is really on the other side: Israel is a state that declared itself without borders, and it does not have a constitution. Israel does not have mentioned anywhere in the covenants that it was founded upon that Al-Quds Al-Sharkeyya (Eastern Jerusalem) or Al-Aqsa falls under its sovereignty.

IOL: One broad question, does the Israeli government dare to destroy or change in the sight of Al-Aqsa Mosque?

Al-Naggar: They are capable of that; there is more than one way that the Israeli side can use to get rid of Al-Aqsa and build a Jewish temple in its place. Some of the so-called Jewish radical groups were calling for the destruction of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa with a huge amount of explosives, to make it a fact and force the world to accept it. I think that the municipality of Al-Quds and the other organizations involved are desperately working hard on the long term to find anything that is related to the Temple of Solomon in the same area, but they found nothing.

Nevertheless, they are weakening the bases of the holy Haram of Al-Aqsa. This area is in a seismic zone. One potential scenario is as follows: If the digging and tunnel construction continue under Al-Aqsa, it will simply become void of strong footings; thus, in case any earthquake struck the area, the whole Al-Aqsa will totally collapse. At that point, the Israeli authorities represented in the municipality of Al-Quds will take charge over the place and determine its future.

IOL: And does the Muslims have the enough courage to stand against the Israeli forces?

Al-Naggar: Yes, they have it.

I think, actually, I believe that Muslim masses owe this holy land a lot of respect, preciousness, and allegiance. 

IOL: Is that expected from them — Muslims — on the short term?

Al-Naggar: Yes, I expect that they will stand up for Allah’s holy places and His sanctities, and that it cannot happen in any way that Muslims give in their proven historical and legal right in Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa and in Palestine as an Islamic endowed land.

Most of the lands of Palestine were Islamic endowments; they were not privatized until the end of the 19th century and after the fall of the Ottoman Tanzimat and after the embracement of land privatization laws in 1860. As a matter of fact, this land is an Islamic endowment, as were most of the Islamic lands at the time. Individuals, families, and tribes were offered land for one or two generations and then the land was taken from them to be offered to others according to the development in sociological, economic, and political circumstances.

I think, actually, I believe that Muslim masses owe this holy land a lot of respect, preciousness, and allegiance; this is the main obstacle that Israel is facing: When it comes to the issue of Al-Quds and the matter of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, Israel becomes in conflict not only with Arabs or Palestinians, but also with a billion and a half of Muslims around the world. Whether a long or short time passes, this Ummah will definitely take a move.

I have another theory which says that the Arabic culture (Al-`Urouba) is different from other cultures: It is a culture that is not violent because it is mixed with faith. The Arab experience can be understood through the holy Qur’an that says [Those who entered the city and the faith before them] (Al-Hashr 59:9) in Arabic it means that the Muslims have faith and then carry their homes, cultures, and tribes to move throughout the whole earth. The Muslim or the Arab [for that matter] never is centralized or trenched in a certain land or place. That does not entail giving up the land, it rather means that the whole world is a space for belief and for the culture that he believes in, from south of France to the borders of China.

I sometimes think, as well as others do like Mohamed Abu Al-Jasem Haj Hamad, the late Sudanese politician and thinker (may God have mercy upon him), do the Islamic sanctuaries need to be in danger for the Arab conscious to move and wake up? Why doesn’t that conscious move on the basis of the nationalism that exists among the other nations? I believe that an action against Al-Aqsa will motivate a huge power that is dormant in the Arab and Muslim masses all over the world.


Abdelrahman Rashdan is a staff writer for the Politics in Depth section of IslamOnline.net. A graduate of the American University in Cairo, he holds a BA in political science with a specialization in political economy and international relations. 

By:  Abdelrahman Rashdan

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