Temple Mount Showdown: Will Islamic ‘Narrative’ Destroy Islamic History?

A view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, November 06 , 2016. (Photo by Sebi Berens/Flash90)

As leading Muslims seek to erase all memory of the Jewish Temples on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, reputable Islamic scholars are pointing out that original (7th century) Islam had no problem honoring Haram el-Sharif (the Noble Mount) as the site of the Jewish Temples. The real news, however, is how long this affirmation persisted, how recently it broke down, and how much Islamic history is being damaged by its own professed teachers.

Part of that history is found in Nuba, a Palestinian village near Hebron. Israeli archeologists at the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) recently published a translation and analysis of a 1000-year-old inscription embedded in the wall of Nuba’s Al-Omary Mosque. In part, the inscription reads:

“This territory, Nuba, and all its boundaries and its entire area, is an endowment to the Rock of Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as it was dedicated by the Commander of the Faithful,  Umar iben al-Khattab…”

The Nuba Inscription, dated to the 9th or 10th century CE. (Photo: Assaf Avraham)
The Nuba Inscription, dated to the 9th or 10th century CE. (Photo: Assaf Avraham)

This declaration, attributed to the Caliph who ruled around 640 AD but dated by its script to the 10th century, has suddenly put the village of less than 5000 inhabitants on the radar of global media. The reason is not the age of the text, but its message, which challenges the version of Islamic history currently promoted by imams, the UN and mindless media around the world.

The first surprise is that the al-Aqsa Mosque takes a back seat to another building with an unfamiliar name, which was not translated: Bayt al-Maqdis. Moreover, this first structure is not called a “Mosque” at all; unlike Masjid al-Aqsa, it is a “House” (Bayt). The House sheltered a “Rock“, and it is the Rock (not the structure) which received top billing in this reverent Muslim dedication.

The TMSP archeologists provide the key to the riddle, quoting from contemporary Islamic sources which asserted, “The rock that is in Bayt al-Maqdis is the center of the entire universe.” In addition, their analysis of the Nuba inscription (Hebrew only, page 60) notes that the Arabic word for “Rock” here was written in an unusual way. It points to the conclusion that ancient Jewish traditions (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 53b) concerning this Rock were accepted and honored by devout Muslims: that the world was created from it, that it was enclosed in the Most Holy Place of the Jewish Temples, and that in the first Temple it was the resting place for the Holy Ark.

This ancient belief makes a lot more sense than the modern Islamic narrative, which claims that the Rock is holy because Muhammad ascended into heaven from it. That claim is based on the “al-Aqsa” reference in the Quran’s “Night Journey” (“al-Aqsa” means “the farthermost” mosque). Yet there’s no attempt to explain why the “al-Aqsa Mosque” is a separate building some 200 meters away, against the south wall of the plaza. Besides, scholars agree that the Quran’s “Night Journey” was circulating before there WERE any mosques in Jerusalem, which eliminates the Temple Mount as the location. But the historical contradiction reveals why Masjid al-Aqsa gets confused with Qubbat al-Sakhra, the Dome of the Rock. The distinction between the two is routinely explained in tourist guides, but because ignorant Western media continually call the Dome of the Rock “the al-Aqsa Mosque“, most observers are likely to think that the gold-capped landmark has two alternate names.

The difference, however, goes beyond just the names. The Dome of the Rock is not used for Muslim prayers, except occasionally by women. In fact, not only do Muslims pray outside it, they always pray toward Mecca, turning their backs to it! The al-Aqsa Mosque, where thousands gather for prayer and sermons, has no history or special sanctity attached to it. At times the Mosque has even been used to store rocks and dirt for throwing at Israelis.

It’s less understandable why Islamic media, which certainly knows better, also calls the Dome of the Rock the “al-Aqsa Mosque“. The key is to watch how often the name morphs into “al-Aqsa compound“, referring to the entire plaza. Thus we learn that the Palestinian use of “al-Aqsa” in naming terrorist groups and provoking anti-Jewish incitement, accompanied by pictures of the “wrong” mosque, is not a mistake; they believe in calling the entire mountainthe al-Aqsa Mosque“. It’s no wonder ordinary Muslims are confused.

The third and most curious blow to Muslim sensitivities: the 1000-year-old inscription doesn’t even call this famous mosque-which-isn’t-a-mosque “Dome of the Rock”.  Instead of Qubbat al-Sakhra, we find Bayt al-Maqdis, a name which closely echoes the Hebrew: Beit Ha-Mikdash. In both languages, this translates as: “the House of the Sanctuary,” the Temple dedicated to the God of Israel, built and rebuilt by the Jews over a period spanning some 1000 years. The Jewish connection is straight and simple. Regarding the Caliph credited with this dedication, the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation cites a Muslim source from 1351 which tells that Umar rediscovered the Holy Rock in the ruins on Mount Moriah with the guidance of a Jewish convert to Islam. He erected a shelter over it for pilgrims, and in 685-691 the Ummayad Caliph Abd al-Malik spent a fortune to build the octagon-shaped, domed shrine and beautify this site so revered by the Jews. Could Islam be more Zionist than that? Read on.

According to the TMSP press release, early Muslims were so awed by the reputation of the Temple Mount that they taught, “Anyone who comes to Bayt al-Maqdis only for the sake of praying inside it – is cleansed of all his sins.” That declaration is in some sense an answer to the prayer offered by Solomon at the dedication of that first House:

Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.

(1 Kings 8:41-43)

Some have even theorized that the Bayt was built by Abd el-Malik as a restored Jewish temple. Muslim literature records that Jews were entrusted with the maintenance of the shrine, as well as offering incense and making vessels (see Pamela Berger, The Crescent on the Temple: The Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary).

Astonishingly, the Temple Mount was consistently identified in Islam as a Jewish site in the centuries that followed, including the 20th century while Jerusalem was under British and Jordanian rule. Even the infamous Haj Amin al-Husseini, friend of Hitler and bitter enemy of the Jews, allowed his Supreme Muslim Council to issue a visitor’s guide to the Temple Mount, which asserted that “its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond all doubt. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.’” (“A Brief Guide to Al Haram Al Sharif“, 1925, p.4) The origin of a smaller structure on the Mount, known as the Dome of the Chain, was attributed to Israel’s King Solomon as well (p.10); and the connection between the second Temple and Solomon’s Stables (under the southeastern surface of the Mount) was supported by quotes from the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus (p.16). This history was taken for granted by the mayor of East (Jordanian) Jerusalem, Aref el-Aref, a Palestinian nationalist whose book A Detailed History of Jerusalem stated – in 1961 – that the remains of the Jewish Temple were beneath the al-Aqsa Mosque.

So when was this long and sensible Islamic history tossed into the trash, and by which Muslims? Among researchers, who have dubbed the phenomenon “Temple Denial“, various answers are suggested: the 1930s, when Haj Amin began using the Mount as a political weapon; 1973, when Saudi King Faisal denied all Jewish presence in Jerusalem; 2000, when PLO leader Yasser Arafat introduced Temple denial into the peace talks; or a gradual break-down over the past 10 years, fueled by various PA-appointed Islamic leaders. At any rate, mainstream media dutifully reports that today “historical certainty proves illusive” when it comes to Jewish history on the Temple Mount.

The implications of this brief historical overview are brimming with irony. When UNESCO voted to sever the Temple Mount from Jewish history, that global body managed to decapitate Islamic history as well. The fact that the puppeteers behind the Western defacement of Islam are the leaders of the Muslim world, and that the voice seeking to restore the lost Islamic heritage is a Jewish one, makes the story even more bizarre.

Who will win and lose in the Temple Mount showdown? If Islamists continue to promote a destructive Temple Mount “narrative” over their real history, just to spite the Jews, the Muslims will be the biggest losers.

It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. (Zech.12:3)