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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The politically motivated holiness of al-Aqsa to Islam

Al-Aqsa is one of the two mosques that sits atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In this essay, Professor Mordechai Kedar of Bar Ilan University argues that the holiness of al-Aqsa to Muslims was invented to resolve political issues in 7th century Islam, some fifty years after Mohammed's death. Here's an excerpt:
Islam rediscovered Jerusalem 50 years after Mohammad's death. In 682 CE, 'Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr rebelled against the Islamic rulers in Damascus, conquered Mecca and prevented pilgrims from reaching Mecca for the Hajj. 'Abd al-Malik, the Umayyad Caliph, needed an alternative site for the pilgrimage and settled on Jerusalem, which was then under his control. In order to justify this choice, a verse from the Koran was chosen (sura 17, verse 1) which states (as translated by Majid Fakhri): "Glory to Him who caused His servant to travel by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, in order to show him some of Our Signs, He is indeed the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing."

The meaning ascribed to this verse (see the commentary in al-Jallalayn) is that "the furthest mosque" (al-masgid al-aqsa) is in Jerusalem and that Mohammad was conveyed there one night (although at that time the journey took three days by camel) on the back of al-Buraq, a magical horse with the head of a woman, wings of an eagle, the tail of a peacock, and hoofs reaching to the horizon. He tethered the horse to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and from there ascended to the seventh heaven together with the angel Gabriel. On his way, he met the prophets of other religions who are the guardians of heaven - Adam, Jesus, St. John, Joseph, Idris (Seth?), Aaron, Moses and Abraham - who accompanied him on his way to Allah and who accepted him as their master. Thus, Islam tries to gain legitimacy over other, older religions, by creating a scene in which the former prophets agree to Mohammad's mastery, thus making him Khatam al-Anbiya' ("the Seal of the Prophets").

Not surprisingly, this miraculous account contradicts a number of the tenets of Islam. How can a living man of flesh and blood ascend to heaven? How can a mythical creature carry a mortal to a real destination? Questions such as these have caused orthodox Muslim thinkers to conclude that the nocturnal journey was a dream of Mohammad's. The journey and the ascent serves Islam to "go one better" than the Bible: Moses "only" went up to Mt. Sinai, in the middle of nowhere, and drew close to heaven; whereas, Mohammad went all the way up to Allah, and from Jerusalem itself.

What are the difficulties with the belief that the al-Aqsa mosque described in Islamic tradition is located in Jerusalem? For one, the people of Mecca, who knew Mohammad well, did not believe this story. Only Abu Bakr, (later the first Calif), believed him and thus was called al-Siddiq ("the believer"). The second difficulty is that Islamic tradition tells us that al-Aqsa mosque is near Mecca on the Arabian peninsula. This was unequivocally stated in Kitab al-Maghazi (Oxford UP, 1966, vol. 3, pp. 958-9), a book by the Muslim historian and geographer al-Waqidi. According to al-Waqidi, there were two masjeds (places of prayer) in al-Gi'ranah, a village between Mecca and Ta'if, one was "the closer mosque" (al-masjid al-adana) and the other was "the further mosque" (al-masjid al-aqsa), and Mohammad would pray there when he went out of town. This description by al-Waqidi, which is supported by a chain of authorities (isnad), was not "convenient" for the Islamic propaganda of the 7th century.

In order to establish a basis for the awareness of the "holiness" of Jerusalem in Islam, the Caliphs of the Ummayad dynasty invented many "traditions" upholding the value of Jerusalem (known as fadha'il bayt al-Maqdis), which would justify pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the faithful Muslims. Thus was al-Masjid al-Aqsa "transported" to Jerusalem. It should be noted that Saladin also adopted the myth of al-Aqsa and those "traditions" in order to recruit and inflame the Muslim warriors against the Crusaders in the 12th century.
There's much more to this. Read the whole thing.


At 11:20 PM, Blogger Dymphna said...

so Islam is the origin of the Soviet habit of putting its brand on everything? (or -- as they say here in the hinterlands where we live -- "buncha dogs, pi**ing on all the lamp posts and baying at the moon")

This need for supremacy of course demonstrates their felt inferiority. What Islam really needs is lots of pychiatrists parachuted into its inner realms
...though since they'd probably be mostly Jewish (have to keep our stereotypes here) this would be a bumpy ride for all involved.

Seriously, the blatant inferiority feelings in Islam's culture causes no end of evil. This is an extreme example of the sins of the fathers visited on the children. Over and over and over again.

If only Islam could somehow grow up without having to blow up everything in sight...

At 1:52 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Islam transforms persons, places and ideas into Islamic entities. It assimilates, as though by osmosis, everything it comes into contact with. Just like the Borg. And for all their supposed feelings of inferiority, nevertheless, Muslims do think themselves superior to non Muslims, who are barely a step above slaves in the Muslim cosmos. And the fate of non-Muslims under Islamic rule, to put it delicately, has not been a kind one.


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