Q. As a Muslim, I've never understood what claims Islam had on Jerusalem, particularly since the Qibla changed direction. An article in the Egyptian weekly Al-Qahira reinforces my doubts on Jerusalem's status in Islam. The author, Ahmad 'Arafa, makes note that there was no Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the time of the Prophet. That has already been well established by others.

'Arafa points out that verse 22:40 makes a distinction between synagogues, churches, and mosques. Can it still be assumed that the Prophet Muhammad visited the temple in Jerusalem? Was the journey actually to Jerusalem? Article referenced: http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP56403

A. There are certain presuppositions that are assumed when one reads any scripture. The problem is that often, the presuppositions that exist in the scripture are LOST on those of subsequent generations who read that text in terms of language only, or through the lenses of creedal perception. When this happens, all types of inferences arise, and the overwhelming majority are not based on a true understanding of the situation.

In the case of the opening verses of Sura 17, later Muslim opinion came to understand it as reference to a physical, actual body event. This, while not impossible in the realm of conjecture about the divine workings, is against the evidence of what we KNOW. The temple had been burned since 70 C.E., and there was NOTHING there. The reference then is to an abstract thing.

As far as the term "masjid" only being used to describe Muslim places of worship, this is wrong. A place of prostration is the more general term for any worship locus of the three Abrahamic religions. To structure a claim against the jumhoor of the mufasireen then, based on the idea that there was no Masjid-al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, is to base an argument on invalid suppositions.

The change of the Qibla rather supports the argument of the Masjid-al-Aqsa being in Jerusalem -- the symbolic farthest place of worship for those within the Abrahamic religion since the first and second temples would have been on sites holy to all. One may support the idea against Jerusalem being part of the Muslim polity at the time of the Prophet, and state that its becoming part of the Islamic State was post-prophetic and therefore part of empire building, etc. This, of course, is a totally different issue.

Posted August 21, 2009