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October 10, 2015 / 27 Tishri, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Mecca’

Towering Crane Collapses on Mecca’s Grand Mosque

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

At least 107 people died Friday in Saudi Arabia at the holiest site in Islam, when a towering construction crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Authorities estimated the number of injured to be at least 238 as of Saturday.

The crane toppled over during a violent rainstorm, a disaster which came just ahead of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage which starts later this month.

Islam’s Tenuous Connection to Jerusalem

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Despite 1,300 years of Muslim Arab rule, Jerusalem was never the capital of an Arab entity, nor was it ever mentioned in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s covenant until Israel regained control of East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967. Overall, the role of Jerusalem in Islam is best understood as the outcome of political exigencies impacting religious belief.

Mohammed, who founded Islam in 622 CE, was born and raised in present-day Saudi Arabia and never set foot in Jerusalem. His connection to the city came years after his death when the Dome of the Rock shrine and the al-Aqsa mosque were built in 688 and 691, respectively, their construction spurred by political and religious rivalries. In 638 CE, the Caliph (or successor to Mohammed) Omar and his invading armies captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire. One reason they wanted to erect a holy structure in Jerusalem was to proclaim Islam’s supremacy over Christianity and its most important shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

More important was the power struggle within Islam itself. The Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphs who controlled Jerusalem wanted to establish an alternative holy site if their rivals blocked access to Mecca. That was important because the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, was (and remains today) one of the Five Pillars of Islam. As a result, they built what became known as the Dome of the Rock shrine and the adjacent mosque.

To enhance the prestige of the ‘substitute Mecca,’ the Jerusalem mosque was named al-Aqsa. It means ‘the furthest mosque’ in Arabic, but has far broader implications, since it is the same phrase used in a key passage of the Quran called “The Night Journey.” In that passage, Mohammed arrives at ‘al-Aqsa’ on a winged steed accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel; from there they ascend into heaven for a divine meeting with Allah, after which Mohammed returns to Mecca. Naming the Jerusalem mosque al-Aqsa was an attempt to say the Dome of the Rock was the very spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, thus tying Jerusalem to divine revelation in Islamic belief. The problem however, is that Mohammed died in the year 632, nearly 50 years before the first construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque was completed.

Jerusalem never replaced the importance of Mecca in the Islamic world. When the Umayyad dynasty fell in 750, Jerusalem also fell into near obscurity for 350 years, until the Crusades. During those centuries, many Islamic sites in Jerusalem fell into disrepair and in 1016 the Dome of the Rock collapsed.

Still, for 1,300 years, various Islamic dynasties (Syrian, Egyptian and Turkish) continued to govern Jerusalem as part of their overall control of the Land of Israel, disrupted only by the Crusaders. What is amazing is that over that period, not one Islamic dynasty ever made Jerusalem its capital. By the 19th century, Jerusalem had been so neglected by Islamic rulers that several prominent Western writers who visited Jerusalem were moved to write about it. French writer Gustav Flaubert, for example, found “ruins everywhere” during his visit in 1850 when it was part of the Turkish Empire (1516-1917). Seventeen years later Mark Twain wrote that Jerusalem had “become a pauper village.”

Indeed, Jerusalem’s importance in the Islamic world only appears evident when non-Muslims (including the Crusaders, the British and the Jews) control or capture the city. Only at those points in history did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem as their third most holy city after Mecca and Medina. That was again the case in 1967, when Israel captured Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem (and the Old City) during the 1967 Six-Day War. Oddly, the PLO’s National Covenant, written in 1964, never mentioned Jerusalem. Only after Israel regained control of the entire city did the PLO ‘update’ its Covenant to include Jerusalem.

Book Review: Simon Sebag Montefiore’s ‘Jerusalem: The Biography’

Friday, October 18th, 2013

By Henry Goldblum

At first glance, Simon Sebag Montefiore’s best seller Jerusalem: The Biography is surely impressive. Media critics as well as Henry Kissinger have showered it with praise, and the BBC devoted a timely three-part TV series to the author, providing invaluable publicity. Indeed, the book is not dull by any standards. Drama abounds – be it in chapter headings (take chapter 5, “The Whore of Babylon”) or in the description of events, such as the Moloch ceremonies in the days of King Menasseh, “the sacrifice of children at the roaster…in the Valley of Hinom…as priests beat drums to hide the shrieks of the victims from their parents” (p. 39). The Muslim invasion is depicted in graphic detail, particularly the battle of 636 CE, which took place “amidst the impenetrable gorges of the Yarmuk River” (p. 172) – although the area through which the Yarmuk flows is in fact more of an open plain.

Renouncing Uniqueness

Sebag Montefiore has clearly invested much effort in conveying his vision of Jerusalem – past, present, and future. The result reflects thoughtful study of many sources relating to different features of the city, and the author certainly recognizes its special status. However, in his apparent desire to deal evenhandedly with the various local religions, he fails to make it clear that it is only for Jews and Judaism that Jerusalem is, was, and has always been the sole spiritual center on earth. This omission is unacceptable. The author rightly refers, if only en passant, to Midrash Tanhuma and the writings of Philo of Alexandria as two examples of this basic, constant belief, unlimited by time or circumstance. The intensity of Jerusalem’s sacred status for Judaism is such that later monotheistic faiths have attempted at various times to gain a foothold in the city, despite their having other, holier places (Mecca and Medina, Rome and Bethlehem). Perhaps recognizing the significance of capturing the “chosen status” of Judaism, they have utilized diverse strategies to prop up their variant “histories,” including reinterpreting Muhammad’s miraculous night visit to the “Farthest Mosque” on the outskirts of Mecca to include a stopover in Jerusalem.

It has always been fundamental for the Jew to appreciate this imbalance, and it cannot be overlooked in any attempt to describe Jerusalem. Sebag Montefiore has downgraded this uniquely Jewish aspect of the city; as far as he is concerned, Judaism’s monopoly on Jerusalem is limited to part 1 of his book, extending until the year 70 CE. Parts 2-8 belong primarily to other faiths and peoples, and the final section of the book, dating from 1898, is titled “Zionism,” as if the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty is a separate chapter in the history of the city rather than the restorationof a violently interrupted continuum. Significantly, he neglects to emphasize thata Jewish majority has dominated the citywhenever circumstances have permitted,including from the early 19th century onwardwithout interruption; nor does he remind thereader that only when Jews have ruled thecity have all other faiths enjoyed full rights ofworship there.

Historically Dubious These omissions are partially explained by the almost complete absence of references to classic Jewish works compiled in the Land of Israel – despite their obvious relevance in terms of place, time, and subject. Thus, the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds are together accorded a mere four quotations; the output of Jewish historians from Graetz to current Israeli scholars not of the revisionist mode is similarly glaringly absent. In contrast, detailed descriptions of events and individuals taken from non-Jewish sources abound – even when their relevance is historically uncertain or unsound – notably the passages on Jesus in chapter 11. The sole reference to Jesus in Josephus (Antiquities, book 17, 63-64), whom Sebag Montefiore cites among other non- Jewish sources as confirmation of his existence as a historic character, is widely regarded as being of dubious authorship (see Emil Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus, vol. 1, p. 428ff.).

The reliability of the author’s statement at the opening of the Islam section is similarly questionable: Muhammad is said to have come “to venerate Jerusalem as one of the noblest of sanctuaries” (p. 169). With all due respect, the Koran never mentions Jerusalem, and by beginning his discussion of Islam with the reinterpretation of the passage regarding “the furthest place of worship,” Sebag Montefiore creates a false impression, especially since in Sura 2, the Prophet commands that prayer be directed exclusively to Mecca. The other quotes on page 168 are all from later Muslim sources. The term “Iliya,” a corruption of the pagan name Aelia Capitolina coined by Hadrian, continued to be used by the Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem for a generation or more following Muhammad’s death, with examples from as late as the end of the 10th century. This is the name of the city appearing on the milestones of Caliph al-Malik, who built the Dome of the Rock in the 690s. The name Al-Quds, “The Sanctuary,“ came into common use only in the 11th century, in the context of the struggle between Crusaders and Saracens for dominion over the Holy Land (see Moshe Gil, The Political History of Jerusalem in the Early Muslim Period, p. 10). The anecdote concerning Caliph Omar’s tour of the Temple Mount (p. 175 in Sebag Montefiore’s book) only reiterates the secondary status of Jerusalem in Islam – the caliph rebukes Kaab, a converted Jew, who suggests praying in the direction of the Temple on the mount rather than toward Mecca. As Bernard Lewis has stated in The Middle East, “Much of the traditional narrative of the early history of Islam must remain problematic, whilst the critical history is at best tentative” (p. 51). Why, then, has Sebag Montefiore adopted Islamic accounts regarding this period so readily? Is he perhaps playing to Muslim sensibilities? All this leads us to an epilogue that looks forward, as might be expected from the previous sections, to a permanent division of the city into two capitals for two states, in accordance with current liberal and revisionist dogma. The hope of witnessing such a chapter in the history of Jerusalem rankles coming from a scion of the illustrious Montefiore family, whose philanthropy was once invested in the furtherance of a quite different destiny for the city.

Admittedly, Jerusalem: The Biography provides an enjoyable ride. A more appropriate destination and a less controversial and dangerous route might be preferable, but that, presumably, would require a change of driver.

Dr. Heny Goldblum is a lawyer and a scholar of history

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Saudi Man Arrested For Seeking Jewish Wife

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

A Saudi Arabian man was arrested near the Grand Mosque in Mecca after local police discovered papers indicating that he was seeking a Jewish bride.

The Jewish Chronicle, citing Al-Hayat news, reported that officials believe the 49 year-old man may have a “mental illness”.

The papers showed the man may have been mentally unstable, and that he was looking for a Jewish woman to marry.  He is still under arrest and may face prosecution and mandatory medical or psychological treatment.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/saudi-man-arrested-for-seeking-jewish-wife/2013/01/09/

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