Thirty years after the death of Muhammad, the Umayyad Caliphs transferred the capital of the Muslim Empire from the Hijaz to Damascus, incurring the wrath of the Meccans who were loyal to Muhammad and his legacy. In the following generation, because of the looting, plundering and booty that the Muslims perpetrated upon the empires of Persia, Byzantium and many other places, Damascus became a city of wealth, permissiveness, gala celebrations, debauchery and drunkenness, and there was no abomination that the people of Damascus left untouched. It’s low moral status caused the people of Mecca who were faithful to the legacy of Muhammad, to declare the residents of Damascus to be heretics. Finally, in the year 682, under the command of Abdallah bin al-Zubayr, the Meccans organized and rebelled against the Caliph, and prevented the residents of Damascus from coming to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage.
There are those who see a relationship between the rebellion of Abdallah bin al-Zubayr and the disturbing events that occurred two years earlier, in the year 680, when the army of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid bin Mu’awiya eliminated the greatest of the rebels, Husein bin ‘Ali, in the city of Karbala’, which is in the south of Iraq. Husein bin ‘Ali was the grandson of Muhammad; his mother was Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, and his father was ‘Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and the fourth Caliph, whose supporters are the Shi’ites, even today. However, the fact that Husein was a member of the Prophet’s family didn’t help him to escape an awful fate: he was decapitated and his head was brought to Damascus in order to show the Caliph that the leader of the Shi’ite opposition had been eliminated. The Caliph put the head on his desk for a month, so that everyone who came to his office would “see and fear”. It is thought that Abdallah bin al-Zubayr, the rebel from Mecca, was one of the Shi’ite supporters, and that this is the real reason that the people of Damascus, who lived in the shadow of the Caliph, Husein bin ‘Ali’s murderer, were prevented from taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage.
Whether because of the debauchery of the residents of Damascus, or because of the cruelty of the Caliph towards the grandson of Muhammad, the people of Mecca, armed Bedouins well versed in the ways of war, blocked off the routes of the Hajj pilgrimage from the people of Damascus and its surroundings. But while Mecca’s political and military rebellion continued for eight years, it was still necessary to make the yearly Hajj pilgrimage, a basic commandment of Islam, and so Caliph Yazid bin Mu’awiya searched for an alternative location for the Hajj. The alternative place to do the Hajj had to have an aura of holiness, one that would allow the Caliph to declare it as a place of pilgrimage instead of Mecca.
At that time, many Jews and Christians converted to Islam, at least outwardly, in order to escape the burden of the heavy tax that was imposed upon them. Because of their conversion to Islam they carried in their hearts and in their mouths the exaltation of Jerusalem, the Holy City, and this is how the idea of Jerusalem as a holy city entered into Islam. The Caliph decided that Jerusalem will be the place for pilgrimage, but he needed support from the Islamic writings to enable him to paint his decision in an Islamic color. That is why that passage in the Qur’an that speaks of the miracle of Muhammad’s night journey to the “Distant Mosque” was taken, and a new exegesis was attached to it: that the al-Aqsa mosque is located in Jerusalem, and that Muhammad was brought to Jerusalem during the night and ascended to the seventh heaven. During his ascent, the prophets of the previous religions – Judaism and Christianity – joined him: Adam, Jesus, Johannes, Seth, Joseph, Aaron, Moses, and Abraham. In heaven, next to Allah’ throne, they prayed behind Muhammad, and this indicates that they accepted his sovereignty over themselves and that Judaism and Christianity pass the baton of leadership on to Islam. All of this is under the Throne of Glory, that is, that the coronation of Islam over Judaism and Christianity is a matter of Allah’s magisterial decision. Islam, according to this story, came to the world not to live side by side with Judaism and Christianity but rather to replace them.
In order to better establish the validity of the transfer of the Hajj to Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was built in the center of the Temple Mount, so that the circumambulation can take place around it. It was built with eight walls, apparently to signify that it is double the holiness of the Ka’ba in Mecca, which has only four walls. In addition, many “Hadith” (oral tradition) pieces had been forged, attributed to Muhammad, which implies that the sanctity of Jerusalem is greater than the sanctity of Mecca.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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