June 03, 2007

Muslim Mythology: Fabricating an Emotion for Jerusalem

A lesson in Muslim mythology, from Fabricating an Emotion for Jerusalem:

The Koran relates that Muhammad in a single night was transported to heaven by Burak, a horse with wings, a woman's face, and a peacock's tail. He was first taken to what the Koran called the "uttermost mosque" - il masjad al aksa. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the story, and there was no mosque in Jerusalem at the time. After Muhammad's death, the tradition - which did not pass unchallenged by an opposing school of thought - laid it down that the "uttermost mosque" meant the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. On this legend rests the Muslim claim to the Jewish Temple Mount as a Muslim holy place.

The Muslims were not overly impressed with Jerusalem's importance when they ruled in Palestine. While, in turn, Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo glittered with the luster of an imperial capital, Jerusalem stagnated as a remote provincial townlet. To the Muslims, Jerusalem, though the site of a Holy Place, was a backwater. Even during the Jordanian control of Jerusalem (1948-1967), not a single globe-trotting Saudi prince ever set foot in the city. The Arabs' slight and superficial relationship to the city has only recently been expanded into a claim of an uncompromising, even exclusive, ownership.