By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
02 June 2018
From an Islamic perspective the experience of Isra, Prophet Muhammad’s night-time journey to Jerusalem, and Miraj, Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heavens, is a very significant event in the history of religion.
But why, in Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to the heavens, was he first taken to the ruins of the sacred site of the Jerusalem Temple of Solomon? Why did Prophet Muhammad not ascend to the heavens directly from the Ka’bah?
Was it because the Ka’bah was polluted by the 300 carved statues of all sorts of pagan Gods surrounding the Ka’bah, as well as several pictures actually located inside the Ka’bah? Even if the Jerusalem sanctuary was in ruins, it was not religiously polluted by idols.
Or was it because Allah was determined to emphasize the unity of all monotheistic religions; and underscore the commitment of all religious communities to respect each other.
There was of course, no Muslim place of worship in Jerusalem at that time.
There were however, many Christian Churches and sacred Christian sites in Jerusalem.
But no Jews or Jewish synagogues were permitted in Jerusalem, and the ruins of the Second Temple, were being used as a garbage dump.
Thus, the two sacred sites associated with Abraham’s son Ishmael (the Ka’bah) and Abraham’s son Isaac (Mount Moria) were both desecrated; and both had been so for centuries.
Prophet Muhammad was born exactly 500 years after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in the year 70 CE. Prophet Muhammad’s followers captured the city just 4 years after his death. As Ibn Taymiyah relates: “when ‘Umar conquered Jerusalem there was a huge garbage dump on the rock (where ‘Abd al-Malik built; and in 691 CE dedicated the magnificent Dome of the Rock), since the Christians wanted to show their scorn for the place towards which the Jews used to pray.
“So ‘Umar issued orders that the filth be removed. Al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the name for the whole (area) of the place of worship built by (Prophet) Sulayman. Some people started to give the name of al-Aqsa to the mosque which was built by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, (the second caliph of Islam), in front (200 yards south) of it (the Dome of the Rock). Praying in this prayer-place (al-Aqsa) which ‘Umar built for the Muslims, is better than praying in the rest of the mosque (second Temple area).
A Hadith declares that the original pre-Abrahamic northern sanctuary was built only 40 years after the original pre-Abrahamic Ka’bah: It was narrated that Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Which mosque was built first?’ He said: ‘Al-Masjid Al-Haram (in Makkah).’ I said: ‘Then which?’ He said: ‘then Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa (in Jerusalem).’ I said: ‘How many years between them?’ He said: ‘Forty years’” (Sunan Ibn Majah 753: Book 4, Hadith 19 English: Vol. 1, Book 4, Hadith 753)
In the Greek and Roman Empires, the Jerusalem Temple (Beit HaMikdosh) and the Ka’ba, the House of God (Baitullah) in Mecca were not as well known as the giant pagan Temples of Greece and Rome.
Yet less than three centuries after the looting of Rome, both of these cities and their sanctuaries, one almost unknown by the Romans and the other totally destroyed by the Romans, were destined to be viewed as the spiritual centre of the world throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, North Africa and west Asia.
Jerusalem or Mecca were frequently portrayed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the centre of their maps, and spoken about as the spiritual centre of their faith.
Much of the folklore about these two holy sites is very similar. The following fable, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries and finally written down in several different versions in the 19th century, illustrates how these two holy places can be closely connected even though they are geographically separated by 765 miles.
Some say this happened in the age of Adam or Noah, and others say in the generation when Abraham was born.
“Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father divided the land in half so that each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.
One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meagre. This was at the beginning of a long term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought: “My brother has a wife and four children to feed, and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”
So that night, the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age, my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged, said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I’ll take more.”
That same morning, the older brother, standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts.
After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.
The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake—I’ll take two large sacks.”
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance.
When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened!
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.”
Only God can make something holy, and God thought the brothers’ love and concern for each other made their descendants worthy to rebuild a primordial Holy House in this valley; and later to build a new Holy House on that hill. So God sent Messengers to their descendants to guide them to do this.
When all those, both near and far, who revere these sacred places as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then Abraham’s request for Allah to “make this a land of peace, and provide its people with the produce of the land” (Qur’an 2:126) will be extended throughout the world; and all the children of Adam, Noah and Abraham will live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca.
I believe they are both right and God willing, someday everyone may see these two cities and their sanctuaries as a pair of spiritual lungs; that are central to our religious inspiration by, and connection to, the One God of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.
As the Qur’an states:
“’Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing.” (5:8)
Rabbi Allen Maller’s web site is: www.rabbimaller.com Rabbi Maller’s book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon and Morebooks.