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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Society, Politics, and Economy >
Why is Jerusalem so important to Muslims?

Jerusalem is revered as a holy city by all three of the great monotheistic faiths. The importance of Jerusalem to the early Islamic community is seen in the fact that Jerusalem was the original qibla (location that all Muslims face when they pray). In addition, according to tradition, Jerusalem was the Prophet's destination in his Night Journey from Mecca, when he traveled with Gabriel to see everything in heaven and earth and to the Temple in Jerusalem, where he met with Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. The Night Journey made Jerusalem the third-holiest city in Islam and affirmed the continuity of Islam with Judaism and Christianity.

Today Muslims view the creation of the state of Israel and the declaration of Jerusalem as its capital as reminders of the injustices of Western imperialism and powerful symbols of the continuing weakness of contemporary Muslim societies. The history of Jerusalem helps us to see the role the city has played in all three monotheistic faiths.

Jerusalem was originally a Canaanite settlement where, according to the Hebrew scripture, David, king of Israel, built his capital and his son Solomon built the Temple. Muslim armies took Jerusalem without resistance in 635 and immediately began to refurbish its chief holy place, the neglected Temple Mount of the Noble Sanctuary. First the congregational mosque al-Aqsa was built, and then the magnificent shrine the Dome of the Rock was completed by 692. The Dome is thought to be the destination of Muhammad's Night Journey as well as the biblical site of Abraham's sacrifice and Solomon's Temple.

During this period, Jerusalem was home to many Christians and to Jews who had been permitted by the Muslims to return to the city for the first time since their ban by the Romans in 135. Both Jews and Christians may have outnumbered the Muslims in Jerusalem at this time. The city's history was generally uneventful until the Crusades.

One event that provoked the Crusaders' invasion of Palestine in 1099 and the occupation of Jerusalem was the burning of the Christians' Holy Sepulchre Church by the Egyptian ruler al-Hakim bi-amr Allah. During the eighty-eight-year Latin Christian occupation of Jerusalem, the Crusaders converted the Dome of the Rock into a church and al-Aqsa into the headquarters of the Knights Templar. When Salah al-Din (Saladin) drove them out in 1187, he restored the Muslim holy places to their original use and, aided by popular preachers, raised Muslim appreciation of this third-holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

Salah al-Din's successors, the Mamluks and then the Ottomans, generously supported the city, which thrived until the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. In the First World War Turkey joined Germany against the Allies, and Jerusalem fell to the British in 1917. When the British withdrew in 1948, the Jordanians occupied the Old City, and it remained a part of Jordan until the 1967 war, when Israel took it over.

What is called the Arab world's “Six Day War” with Israel (it was actually more like a six-hour war) and the devastating failure of the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan against tiny Israel came to be remembered in Arab literature as “the disaster.” It transformed the Arab and Palestinian problem into an Islamic issue. The loss of Jerusalem and its sacred shrines was a major blow to Muslim pride, faith, and identity. The “liberation of Jerusalem” became a worldwide Islamic slogan and Muslim cause.

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