Jerusalem is perhaps the only city in the world which has drawn the attention of the world community so much, especially among the followers of three major monotheistic religions in the world: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The city being a religious center has generated a lot of political and historical importance; however, its religious position has always been at the root of every controversy.
This controversy revolves around the argument that which of the three religions has the greatest affinity and attachment to the place and who is rightfully entitled to rule over it. As Ibrahim Abu Lughod stated in “Jerusalem – Islamic Perspective II”:
“In all probability one would never be able to gauge the degree of attachment that an individual community feels toward the city, for attachment is psychological and thus highly subjective.”
Significance for Muslims
While Muslims recognize the religious significance of Judaism and Christianity and their affiliation to the place, they stress that this attachment is included in the doctrinal view of the city. Indeed, it’s not only the Muslims in Palestine and neighboring Arab states but Muslims all over the world who have a multifaceted interest in the land of Palestine. Muslims carry a special place for the city in their hearts and has a strong emotional association to it. After Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem is considered the third holiest city in Islam. The roots of its religious significance lie in the fact that it was the first Qibla for Muslims, the place which Muhammad SAW himself and his followers faced to pray, the direction being changed to Mecca a year and a half later.
Muslims also derive their significance of the place from its association with Prophet Muhammad SAW’s accession to heaven, the miraculous nocturnal journey he made from earth to the skies which included a stop in Jerusalem. The Dome of Rock is known to be the site from where Muhammad SAW ascended. The religious significance of the city of Jerusalem was also highlighted during the rules of Umayyad and Abbasid; the first Umayyad caliph Mu’awiyah decided Jerusalem as the capital of caliphate and not Damascus. The successive Muslim rules, up to Mamelukes and Ottomans, considered Jerusalem to be equally significant and the city enjoyed the status equal to that of Mecca and Medina.
Significance to Jews
Jerusalem is a holy city for Judaism. Jews consider its soil and air to be holy and sacred, mentioning the city’s name in prayers. King Solomon made Jerusalem the capital of Judaism by building the Temple there in the 10th Century BC. The Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and exiled most of the Jews from the place. The destruction and building of the Temple and the exile and return of Jews continued for almost 1000 years when Christian Crusaders allowed them to return.
Interestingly, with the increase of Jews in Palestine at the time of Spanish Inquisition, they build Tsfat as its religious capital instead of Jerusalem and for a hundred years, Tsfat played a more prominent role in Jewish history than Jerusalem.