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The Muslim Perspective of Jerusalem: Historical Perspective

Historical Perspective

When the prophet of Islam died in 632 A.D., his successors felt compelled to spread the message and rule of Islam throughout Arabia and beyond, including Palestine and Jerusalem. Jerusalem had already experienced the cultural and religious erosion of foreign occupation, especially when the Romans took control and eventually destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. In the fourth century, following his conversion to Christianity, Emperor Constantine Christianized Jerusalem and made it the center of Christian pilgrimage. Then in the seventh century, Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam, led his armies into Syria and Iraq and overpowered Palestine and Jerusalem. The Christian Byzantine patriarch of Jerusalem handed Umar the keys of the city with the agreement that Christians would be allowed to continue to worship in their churches. According to tradition upon entering the city, the first thing Umar did was to search for the site of Solomon’s Temple, because supposedly, his prophet had ascended to heaven from there. He found the bedrock of the Temple (1 Chronicles 21:18-22; 1 and 2 Chronicles 3:1) and erected a makeshift mosque in its vicinity. About 50 years later, Muslims built the beautiful Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra), an octagonal structure (not a mosque) enshrining the bedrock; and a permanent mosque named Al Aqsa. Both of these stand today as a testimony to the sanctity Muslims ascribe to this site.

Later, during the Great Crusades (11-13 centuries), control of Jerusalem exchanged hands several times—between the Muslims and the Christians. Eventually, Jerusalem fell to the Muslims and remained in Islamic control until the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I. Jerusalem then passed through the hands of the British Mandate of Palestine into Jordanian control until Israel seized control of all of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967. Though Israel now possesses all of Jerusalem, it has handed the administration of the Temple Mount, with its Islamic buildings, to a Muslim Council headed by a Grand Mufti (an Islamic religious leader), with the understanding that Jews would be allowed to pray at the West Wall (Wailing Wall).

When Muslims erected their shrine and mosque on the Temple Mount in

the seventh century, they dedicated these structures to Allah in the form of a trust called waqf. When Muslims dedicate any land or building to Allah in this way, it is a perpetual arrangement. In other words, “once a mosque, always a mosque.” Because violating this trust would dishonor Allah, Muslims will give their lives to protect it. No doubt knowledge of this trust and awareness that Muslims throughout the world regard the Haram ash-Sharif (Temple Mount) as a holy Islamic site has prevented Israel from removing these buildings.

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