Monday, October 06, 2014

06-Oct-14: Oh Jerusalem

The Saudi news report about Gazans
admitted to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
by Israel [source]
Sitting in synagogue during the day-long Yom Kippur prayers this past weekend, it was difficult to avoid reflecting on the central role played by Jerusalem down through the generations.

The narrative which plays a central role in the Musaf liturgy - the lengthy narrative section called the Avoda - describes in detail how the Day of Atonement looked to Jews living in Jerusalem two thousand years ago:
"The quintessential rite of ancient Judaism, the most solemn moment of the Jewish year involving the holiest person (Kohen Gadol), the holiest time (Yom Kippur), and the holiest place (Temple in Jerusalem)" [My Jewish Learning]
Meanwhile for the worshipers gathered and fasting in our synagogue, today's Jerusalem in all its golden splendor was on view just outside the windows of our house of prayer which overlooks the capital's hills and homes from a gorgeous vantage point. The day's brilliant sunny weather added to the immense beauty of the vista.

There's a very different view of Jerusalem in a syndicated AFP report from yesterday; here's a link to the version ["Elderly Gazans win Eid permit to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque", October 5, 2014] published in the Saudi-based English-language Arab News. It describes how the Israeli authorities have just permitted Gazan senior citizens to travel to Jerusalem and to visit Islamic places of worship. And here's the photo that accompanies the report:

The source caption reads in part: "Palestinians from Gaza pray in front of the Dome of the Rock during their visit at the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City October 5, 2014... REUTERS/Ammar Awad [Image Source]
The point of the photo might not be immediately obvious to everyone. Its impact was evidently lost on the editors at Arab News who published it. We suspect the photo editors at Reuters, which circulated the photo among its syndication customers, might be surprised at the interpretation we are about to share.

We saw a comment this morning from an astute and uncommonly well-informed observer, Dr Harold Rhode. A professor of Islamic history at the University of Delaware in the early eighties, he spent much of his career as an adviser on the Islamic world to the US government. Between 1994 and 2010, he was an adviser on Islamic Affairs in the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon's think-tank.

It's an interesting photograph, writes Dr Rhode. And he then points out what most observers will have overlooked:
Look at where their "posteriors" face... Towards the Dome of the Rock, which Muslims say to so holy to them as well. Putting your rear end towards something in the Middle East is dishonoring it. It is saying that they are prostrating themselves towards what is holy, and the Dome of the Rock - also on the Temple Mount - is therefore not holy.
There's some doctrinal background to take on board, as Dr Rhode writes, in the story of
'Omar ibn Khattab [see the Wikipedia entry], the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem in the seventh century, and Ka'ab al-Akhbar, his aide who had converted to Islam from Judaism. In Dr Rhodes' words:
While they were both up on the Temple Mount, 'Omar said to Ka'ab: "It is time to pray. Where should we pray?" Ka'ab said: "Let is pray from the northern part of the mount so we can pray towards "the two prayer directions - in Arabic "Qiblatayn" meaning both towards the Holy of the Holies of the destroyed Jewish Temple (i.e., where the Dome of the Rock is today) and towards Mecca. 'Omar responded to Ka'ab: "There is only one prayer direction - Mecca. We will pray from the south of the mount" (i.e., with our backs and posteriors, towards where the Dome of the Rock is today.) ...Ibn Taymiya, the spiritual godfather of the Wahhabis, also specifically railed against Jerusalem, called it a Judaic innovation in Islam - and [declaring] is absolutely not holy. There are, he wrote, only two holy cities in Islam - Mecca and Medina.
Dr Rhode visited the issue in an article published on the Gatestone Institute website ["Is Jerusalem Sacred for Muslims?"] some years ago:
Jews and Christians know that Israel's claim to Jerusalem is rooted in the ancient Jewish connection to that city. Israel's declaration of independence speaks of both "natural and historic right." Jerusalem is the centerpiece of that historic right. What about the Muslim claim? [Rhode, 2010]
His review there too touches on the uncompromising views of Ibn Taymiyya, who he reminds us is "the intellectual godfather of Wahhabism, the dominant Islamic doctrine of the Saudi government", on Jerusalem:
Ibn Taymiyya went to great lengths to explain that the veneration of Jerusalem in nothing more than the "Judaization" of Islam... When they ruled over today's Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, neither [the first caliphs] nor any of the early governors nor any clerics made any attempt to build any structure over the Rock on the Temple Mount... They clearly did not attach any Islamic significance to today's Aqsa Mosque nor to the Temple Mount in general. How then, Ibn Taymiyya reasoned, could we who never knew them nor Muhammad have the right to disagree? There is no way we could know more about Islam than they. We therefore have no right to sanctity al-Aqsa because they did not do so. [Rhode, 2010]
Does this obscure branch of Islamic philosophy have implications for today? Doesn't everything?
When a Saudi editor published an article questioning something that Ibn Taymiyya had written [seven centuries earlier], he was quickly fired on the orders of the information minister. So it is rather curious that the Saudis have included, as one of the basic principles of their plan for peace between Israel and the Arabs, the idea that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a Palestinian state. Why have they rejected their godfather's stance on Jerusalem? Ibn Taymiyya must be turning over in the grave.
All of which is another reminder of how, tragically, Jerusalem the beloved, the sacred, the tranquil. the inspirational, has been cynically turned into a political football.

Speaking of which, some randomly-chosen photos below from the web showing Palestinian Arab children demonstrating on Jerusalem's Temple Mount just the sort of reverence their society has taught them to express for the city, its specialness, its history, its holiness.

[Our thanks to the people at the translated-into-Russian site (link) who turned this post into a Russian-language version.]

On Jerusalem's sacred Temple Mount, Palestinian Arab boys
and their football: Image Source
On Jerusalem's sacred Temple Mount, Palestinian Arab boys
and their football: Image Source
On Jerusalem's sacred Temple Mount, Palestinian Arab boys
and their football: Image Source
 On Jerusalem's sacred Temple Mount, Palestinian Arab boys
and their football: Image Source

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