Jerusalem: History Lessons (Aqsa)

By Khalid Baig


"Glory to Allah Who did take His Servant for a Journey by nightfrom the Masjid-e-Haram to the al-Aqsa Masjid, whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our signs. For He is the One Who heareth and seeth all things." [Bani- Israel 17:1].

This very famous verse tells us why al-Aqsa is and will always remain one of the holiest places in Islam. It was the destination of the Prophetic journey called Isra and the spot from where Miraj or the Ascension of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, into heavens took place.

This verse is immediately followed by seven others that talk about Jerusalem and the Jewish history. The Jews had a Covenant with God. They would get His blessings, including control of Jerusalem, as long as they lived up to the terms of that Covenant. Otherwise they would be severely punished. Two major punishments were promised. Both happened as promised as the Jews ignored the repeated warnings.

Soon after Prophet Sulaiman's death, his kingdom was divided into two: northern Israel, and southern Judah, which included Jerusalem. Both fought among themselves and courted pagans. The history of Jerusalem is thus a history of an ongoing battle between pure monotheism and paganism.

Jeroboam I, the first king of Israel ( 10th century BC), introduced a golden calf in the temples. In the next century king Ahab built a temple for Baal, a pagan idol, in Samaria, the capital. Various Prophets were persecuted at the insistence of his pagan wife Jezebel. As always moral corruption accompanied the spiritual one. Then in Divine retribution pagan Assyrians overran Israel in 721 BC. We see a similar trend in Judah, although on a reduced scale. There are periods of repentance during a general trend of accommodating the Babylonian and Egyptian pagans. Finally the promised punishment came to Jerusalem also. As Britannica notes: "In 586 BC the doom prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel came true. Rebellious Jerusalem was reduced [to rubble] by Nebuchadrezzar, the temple was burnt." Remaining Jews were exiled into Babylon. This was the first punishment mentioned by the Qur'an.

As they repented, and mended their ways, the Jews were given a second chance. In 538 BC Persian emperor Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. In 515 BC the Temple was rebuilt. The next century saw a revival under Prophet Ezra. But Alexander's conquest of Palestine in 332 BC started the process of hellenizing Jews. Canaanite paganism was now replaced by Greek paganism. Three centuries later Roman Pompey walked into Jerusalem.

Then we see Herod being appointed the client king for the Roman Empire. He built the Temple but destroyed the religion. The Temple was still being rebuilt when Jews joined with Roman paganism to persecute Prophet Jesus and his followers. John the Baptist (Prophet Yahya) was beheaded by Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod. So in 70 CE the second punishment mentioned by the Qur'an came. The armies of Roman commander Titus moved into the city and burnt it to ground on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Ab, the very month and day on which 657 years earlier the Babylonians had sacked the first Temple, built by Prophet Sulaiman. The punishment had come on an appointed time!

Prophet Muhammad's (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) night journey in which he lead all the prophets in prayers at al-Aqsa also signified that the leadership role had been transferred from the Children of Israel to the Children of Ismail. Along with leadership came the responsibility. As long as they remained true to the Covenant with Allah, they would be successful and Jerusalem will be theirs. When they betrayed the Covenant, they would get the punishment also.

So Umar Radi-Allahu unhu just walked into Jerusalem in 638 C.E. The vastly advanced war machine of the Roman super power could not stand in the way of the Muslim forces, the new standard bearers of monotheism. Muslims ruled with justice, compassion, and fear of God. A new era of peace, justice, and prosperity started under them.

With the exception of an 82 year period of ruthless crusader rule, the area remained under continuous Muslim rule till 1917. It was Muslim in-fighting and waywardness that had brought the crusaders in 1099 and it was their turning to Allah under the pious and God fearing leadership of Salahuddin Ayubi that defeated them in 1187. Again it was in-fighting and transgression which were at the root of the dissolution of the Khilafa and the British occupation of Jerusalem in 1917. As Muslims did not learn from their mistakes in the beginning of the century, in time it would lead to the establishment of a Zionist state. The rest is recent history.

The events of this century would readily be apparent to be a continuation of the centuries past, if we realize two facts. First, Israel is ruled today by Zionism and not Judaism, which in any case, over the centuries, has been "reformed" beyond recognition as the original revealed religion. And Zionism is just a particularly poisonous form of Western political nationalism. Second, Western civilization, despite all the polishing and enlightenment, remains at heart a pagan civilization. Any doubts in this regard could be quickly dispelled by looking at the Halloween and Christmas observations alone.

So this is Jerusalem's history of thirty centuries. Sins and transgression. Hellinicized Jews. Westernized Muslims. Client Kings. Puppet regimes. Humiliation and destruction. Repentance, trust in Allah, righteousness, and victory. In this eternal battleground between monotheism and paganism, the forces of monotheism would win as long as they remain true to it. When they betray their Covenant, they would be punished.

Can such reasoning lead to pacifism? Not as long as the concept of Jihad is alive and clear, for the sins that we must avoid include the sin of abandoning Jihad when it is called for. On the contrary it can save us from humiliation of continuously looking for the solutions in all the wrong places.

The world needs monotheism for only it can provide true universalism. And only it can provide peace and justice for all as it did in the past. The world is waiting for the forces of true monotheism to conquer Jerusalem once again.