Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet..

Ask the Rabbi

The role of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dear Rabbi,

Can you enlighten me as to the history behind the Al Aqsa mosque? I want to gain better understanding of this serious point of contention and a source of much of the current strife in violence in Jerusalem and across Israel.

StephenASK THE RABBI 2

Dear Stephen,

The Muslim “claim” to Jerusalem is based on what’s written in the Koran. Although Jerusalem is not mentioned once, it nevertheless talks (in Sura 17:1) of the “furthest mosque”… “ Glory be unto Allah who did take his servant for a journey at night from the Sacred Mosque to the Furthest Mosque.”

It is suggested based on this verse that Mohamad went onto the Temple Mount on his horse (Burak) and ascended heavenward. But is there any foundation to the Muslim argument that this “Furthest Mosque” refers to what is today called the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem? The answer is: none whatsoever. In the days of Mohammed, who died in 632CE, Jerusalem was a Christian city within the Byzantine Empire. Jerusalem was captured by Khalif Omar only in 638, six years after Mohammed’s death. Throughout all this time there were only churches in Jerusalem, and a church stood on the Temple Mount, called the Church of Saint Mary of Justinian – built in the Byzantine architectural style. The Aqsa Mosque was built 20 years after the Dome of the Rock, which was built in 691-692 by Khalif Abd El Malik.

In or around 711, or about 80 years after Mohammed died, Malik’s son, Abd El-Wahd – who ruled from 705-715 – reconstructed the Christian Byzantine Church of St. Mary and converted it into a mosque. He left the structure as it was, adding as he did an onion-like dome on top of the building to make it look like a mosque. He then named it al-Aqsa, so it would sound like the one mentioned in the Koran.

Mohammed could never have had this mosque in mind when he compiled the Koran, since it did not exist for another three generations after his death. Rather, as many scholars long ago established, it is logical that Mohammed intended the mosque in Mecca as the “Sacred Mosque,” and the mosque in Medina as the “Furthest Mosque.”

King David, as it is known first, made Hebron his capital. Then after seven years he made Jerusalem his capital, which will have included the Temple Mount. Though offered the site as a gift from the Jebusites, he chose to pay for it in order to establish a lasting and permanent ownership.

On the basis of the aforementioned, Abd Malik, who made the Mosque permanent, also acknowledged the Jewish claim to the site. Before converting it into a mosque he asked of the Jews if they had any use for it or intended for it to be the place of their Third Temple.

They responded that it was not the time for any Third Temple just then. At which point, he built the Mosque, with the understanding that when the time came, it would be given back to the Jews.

So to argue, as some do, that the Temple Mount was never a Jewish site is not just factually incorrect, but also historically flawed. It goes against basic Muslim teachings as well.

Shul-goers can be so impolite

Dear Rabbi,

I make a point of wishing fellow Jews well during Shabbat and festivals on my way to synagogue.

I find most men and teenagers are reluctant to reciprocate, although girls and married women are very friendly and sometimes take the initiative to greet me. Maybe through your column and the annual Shabbat UK, people will change and become friendlier.

Solomon

Dear Solomon,

Thank you for bringing this issue to the attention of Jewish News readers. Part of the spirit of Shabbat is the wonderful sense of community it fosters.

It turns strangers into friends. When you see a fellow Jew walking on the Shabbat, the two of you are sharing something special that binds you together to the exclusion of all others around you. Like two spies passing in the night exchanging a code-word, wouldn’t it be nice if people made the effort to smile and say ‘Shabbat Shalom!’ or ‘Good Shabbos’, or even a simple nod of the head.

However momentarily, it makes you feel different, special and proud to be a Jew, linked together with all your fellow Jews the world over.

So here’s a post Shabbat UK challenge to everyone: When you walk to and from shul or even when you are in shul – put on that smile and say, ‘Shabbat Shalom!’

Not just to the people you know, but especially to those you don’t. It will warm both your souls in the process.