JERUSALEM AND AL-AQSA: 3,000-YEAR-OLD STORY
Jerusalem, founded by David 3,000 years ago, is considered a sacred city by the three Abrahamic religions, but the recent conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis over Al-Aqsa have their roots in the 1940s
There are memories in every corner of Jerusalem, an area sacred for the three Abrahamic faiths. The city was founded by Prophet David 3,000 years ago and is now known as East Jerusalem or the Old City. The Old City is divided into four sections: Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish, though movement between the quarters is unlimited. Today, the first three quarters almost entirely consist of shops, topped with small ramshackle houses, and shrines.
There is also modern West Jerusalem, or the New City, west of the Old City, first under British control and then Israeli. Despite the fact that Israel declared Jerusalem its capital in 1980 and moved its parliament there, the world does not recognize it as such, holding their meetings in its former capital Tel Aviv.
The city of four hills
The Mount of Olives, one of the four hills the city was built on, provides the most beautiful views of the holy city. The cemetery on its outskirts is a place where Jews pay small fortunes to be buried since the savior of the Jews is believed to have first descended there. The hill where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located is in the middle of the city, not far from Mount Zion on which Prophet David is buried.
Old Jerusalem sits inside walls built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Today, the street in front of the wall is named after him. Though there are eight entrances to Jerusalem, the door, known as "Golden Gate," close to Al-Aqsa is always kept sealed. The reason for this is the Christian belief that the Messiah will return from this gate on the Judgement Day, and as a miracle, the door will open.
Al-Aqsa is located in the southeast end of the city. One of the three mosques valued above all others in Islam, the first Muslims prayed towards this spot. The Holy Prophet met with the souls of the previous prophets here on the Night of Ascension (Miraj), and then ascended to the spiritual realms.
Hebrews, ancestors of the Jews, came to Palestine from northern Iraq in 2,300 B.C. After a few centuries in Egypt, it was Prophet Moses who brought them back to this land called al-Ard al-Mawood (The Promised Land). Prophet David, the descendant of Moses' brother Prophet Aron, became the ruler in 1,020 B.C. and founded the city of Jerusalem (Yerushalayim, the City of Peace).
His son, Prophet Solomon, ordered the construction of the famous and magnificent mosque named Bet ha-Mikdaş (Bayt al-Maqdis, the Sacred House) through Phoenician architects. This temple is called Al-Aqsa (The Furthest Mosque) in the Quran, because it was further than the mosques in Mecca and Medina.
A group of Jews who did not recognize Bayt al-Maqdis as sacred established a separate sect, the Samaritans, who today live around Nablus.
Jerusalem was occupied and burned by Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 B.C. His people were driven to Babylon. The original Torah also disappeared at this time. The Iranians who defeated Babylon, freed the Jews in 539 B.C. Bayt al-Maqdis was built again in 520 B.C.
Masjid on fire
In 63 B.C., Jerusalem was occupied by Romans, and Pompey set fire to Jerusalem. In 20 B.C., Herod, the Romans' Jewish governor in Palestine, built the temple for the third time. Upon the Jews' revolt against the Roman commander, Titus burned Jerusalem completely. The only standing part of Bayt al-Maqdis was the western wall, today also known as the Wailing Wall. The Jews were then exiled from Palestine and dispersed throughout the world.
Jerusalem was taken from the Romans by Muslims in A.D. 636 at the time of Caliph Umar. Non-Muslims were granted freedom of life, property and religion. This moment marked the beginning of 1,300 years of peace and tranquility. The Umayyads, the Mamluks and the Ottomans preserved the remains of Bayt al-Maqdis and began to call the city al-Quds.
The Dome of the Rock
Today there are madrasas, fountains, gardens and trees in the large courtyard where Bayt al-Maqdis once stood. In the middle, there is a great rock where Prophet Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son. Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens above this rock. Footprints still exist on it.Because the bottom of the stone is pierced, it appears to be floating in the air. For this reason, it was given the name "al-Hajar al-Muallaq" (Floating Stone). On top of this, the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik's grand mausoleum with the golden domes ascend, called al-Qubba al-Sahra (The Dome of the Rock), where worshipers can still pray inside. Al-Aqsa, built by Caliph al-Walid in the south, is a mosque and often mistakenly referred to as the Mosque of Umar.
The Wailing Wall is an eccentric place where the Jews pray by swaying. Beneath it, there are cellars of Old Jerusalem and the remains of the mosque wall. Excavations, some of which were thought to have been designed to destroy Al-Aqsa, actually began during the time of the Ottomans and lay under the western quarter of the old city, not Al-Aqsa.
Everywhere in Jerusalem there are traces of Jesus Christ. According to Christianity, Via Dolorosa (the Way of Grief), is the road on which Jesus was apprehended and forced to walk with a cross on his back towards his crucifixion. There are stations and churches everywhere he paused, stumbled, touched the wall with his hand and caught his mother's eye. Christians from every corner of the world walk on this path with symbolic crosses on their backs for their personal pilgrimages. On the outskirts of the Mount of Olives, the House of Mary and the Garden of Gethsemane, with more than a thousand years old olive trees in which Prophet Jesus is believed to have been apprehended according to Christian belief, await.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by the Byzantine Empress Helena in the place where Jesus is believed to have risen to the heavens, is one of the oldest churches in the world. There are places believed to hold the washing bench and grave of Prophet Jesus. Caliph Umar wanted to pray somewhere when he conquered Jerusalem and the patriarch took him to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The caliph, thoughtful and tolerant, said, "If I pray there, then they will turn it into a mosque" and prayed somewhere nearby. Now, the Mosque of Umar rests on that spot.
Jerusalem, which had been held by Jordan since the British withdrew in 1946, was occupied by Israel after the war in 1967. Despite international warnings, Israel did not withdraw from the West Bank. The loss of Jerusalem, regarded as sacred and held by the Muslims for 1,300 years, was a shock to the Muslim world and marked the beginning of an ongoing conflict.
With the Wadi al-Araba Peace Treaty signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994, the administration of religious places in the West Bank and Jerusalem were given to the Jordanian Ministry of Foundations. It is forbidden for Jews to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is controlled by Muslims today, though Christians are allowed in on certain days.
Israeli and Palestinian soldiers guard the walls of the mosque and control the check-ins and outs in accordance with these guidelines. However, tension never seems to lessen in Jerusalem, especially in regard to Al-Aqsa, because of the provocation of both Israel and the locals, as well as Israel's disproportionate use of force against the demonstrations organized every day in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa.
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