Lecture 15 – (14.1) Islamic Jerusalem

Today we discussed the the rise of Islam in Jerusalem and how it transformed various aspects of the city. Since the end of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (135 CE), Jews had been banned from Jerusalem (by Hadrian). This banning came to an end in 614 CE when Jews were allowed to resettle thanks to the Sasanians taking Palestine and Jerusalem from the Byzantines (from 614-628 CE). However, even at the beginning (615 CE) of this period under Sasanian rule, Christian pograms (targeted mob attacks) against Jews were happening. By 628 CE, the Byzantine Emperor Herclius retook Jerusalem and the Jews were then severely persecuted and massacres committed against them. Ten years later, however, Roman (and thus Christian) presence in Jerusalem was wiped out for some time by  the muslim Caliph Umar’s taking of Jerusalem in 638 CE. Caliph Uman began what would become the Umayyad Dynasty (638-750 CE), and which was based in Damascus. He made a written agreement with the Christian community to not allow Jewish settlement, however, he later allowed Jews to move back in. The Muslims retained the term Aelia (from Hadrian, meaning “city of the Temple”), but Islamic communities quickly began to refer to it as Bait Maqdis (“the City of the Holy House”, and by the 10th C. CE Bait Maqdis was shorted to al-Quds (“the Holy”) [appears on coin minted in 832 CE]. They also renamed the Temple Mount the Haram al-Sharif (“the noble sanctuary”) and built new structures that took prominence in the religious mind during this period, including the Dome of the Rock (DotR) and the Al-Aqsa “The Farthest” Mosque (A-A Mosque). Some other important Islamic terms were: Qibla (direction of prayer) and Mihrab (niche [usually within a mosque] pointing/indicating the direction of prayer). There are thought to have been two Qiblas over the course of Islam’s history, the first of the two being Jerusalem (and its Haram al Sharif). This is indicated in 1 Kings 8:35-36 where it is indicated to pray towards Jerusalem, and this practice by muslims occurs from 610- c. 623 CE. In 622 CE, Mohammad is brought into the picture and his arrival in Medina upon supposedly being persecuted from Jerusalem shifted the Qibla. The Qur’an indicates to “turn your face toward” Mecca (Qur’an 2:144). The Kaaba in Mecca represents the central point to pray to once inside the city, and people thus form a circle of prayer around it. It served as the focal point of their religion as it represented the point of transcendence – a sacred space. We then discussed the give “pillars” of Islam, specifically the Hajj (making the Pilgramage to Mecca once in one’s lifetime) as a vehicle for discussing the prominence of Jerusalem vs. Mecca throughout the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty.  In this period we not only see the competition between Jerusalem and Mecca, but we see the structures and various changes in Jerusalem contributing to this santity competition. In Jerusalem, Caliph Omar builds a wodden Mosque, Abd al-Malik builds the DotR in 691 CE (the purpose of which was to divert pilgramage from Mecca to Jerusalem), the A-A Mosque was built on the site of Umar’s mosque during the reign of Calipha Walid (ca. 705-715) and other great palaces were constructed (equip with fresh water and sewage systems!). This also was a period of tolerance, where Christians and Jews were allowed within the city, and there was a continued influx of Jews and Christians on their pilgrimages. The DotR was commissioned in 687 CE, completed in 691 CE, and stood until in 1099 CE the Crusaders came and conquered Jerusalem, converting the DotR into a church. The Dome is then restored it to its former glory in 1187 CE by Salah ad-Din (Saladin). The DotR is not a mosque, it is a shrine/holy site. Many of these structures (including the added Dome of the Chain) were built in Christian archietectural traditions and intended to outshine Christian monuments, demonstrating the final truth of Islam. Some inscriptions explicitly repudiate Chistian view of Jesus as son of God, although they confirm him as a prophet. We also see much geometric intracacy in the artwork of these monumental buildings. We also see how the landmarks upon the Haram al-Sharif become a standard axis mundi (Eliade), “suspended between Heaven and Earth”.  Finally, we see how the reason for pilgramage by Muslims is based partly in the increased worth of a prayer offered in the “holy cities” versus other cities (Mecca is worth 100,000 prayers, Medina 1000, and Jerusalem is worth 500).

One of the most interesting points for me in this lecture was the part where (not on the slides given), Dr. Cargill described the islamic tradition of ways to say the prophet’s (Muhammad’s) name (with pboh [prais be upon him] attached, etc.). Also, requirements such as no depictions of the prophet was interesting and also the interesting idea that he could neither read or write, and how this contributed to the belief that a divine presence had influenced him in his formation of his life prophecies that he wrote down. My favorite part of all was to see how Muhammad’s descendents and then people’s beliefs in who was the more sacred to follow have shaped modern conflicts in the Islamic community, with Shi’ite on one side and Sunni (following a different descendent/line of Muhammad) on the other. It actually kind of felt bad to realize a lot of people were dieing just because of a conflict in belief over who was following the more rightful line of Muhammad. Seems pretty similar to me. But then again, I am not a muslim and many people feel very strong about their beliefs. I just wish people wouldn’t harm each other over it. It sort of paints them as hypocrites and violators of their own doctrines.

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~ by Andru on March 2, 2011.

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