For a Jew or a Muslim, religious or secular,
thinking of Jerusalem means
to feel reason and sentiment mingled together. So, as a Muslim scholar
and a man of religion, it is today worthwhile for me to try to determine
whether, from an Islamic point of view, there is some well-grounded
theological reason that makes recognizing Jerusalem both as an Islamic
holy place and as the capital of the State
of Israel impossible.
The idea of Islam as a factor that prevents Arabs from
recognizing any sovereign right of Jews over the Land of Israel or Jerusalem
is quite recent and can by no means be found in Islamic classical sources.
Both Qur'an and Torah indicate quite clearly that the link between the Jews and the Land of
Israel does not depend on any kind of colonization project but directly
on the will of God Almighty. In particular, both Jewish and Islamic
Scriptures state specifically that God through His chosen servant Moses decided to free the offspring of Jacob from slavery in Egypt and
to make them the inheritors of the Promised Land.
The Qur'an cites the exact words with which Moses ordered the Israelites
to conquer the Land:
"And (remember) when Moses said to his people:
O my people, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you,
when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you
what He had not given to any other among the people. O my people,
enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not
back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin'".
(Qur'an, Sura 5:22-23, "The Table")
The Holy Qur'an also quite openly refers to the reinstatement
of the Children of Israel in the Land before the Last Judgment, where
it says "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: Dwell
securely in the Promised Land.' And when the last warning will come
to pass, We will gather you together in a mingled crowd." (Qur'an,
Sura 17:104, "The Night Journey")
As concerns Jerusalem, the most common argument against
Islamic acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the Holy City is that,
since it is a holy place for Muslims, its being ruled by non-Muslims
would be a betrayal of Islam.
The designation of Jerusalem as an Islamic holy place
depends on al-Mi'raj, the Ascension of the Prophet
Muhammad to heaven, which began from the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount.
But while remembering this, we must admit that there is no real link
between al-Mi'raj and sovereign rights over Jerusalem, since when al-Mi'raj
took place the city was not under Islamic but under alternate Byzantine or Sassanid administration.
Moreover, the Qur'an expressly recognizes that Jerusalem
plays the same role for Jews that Mecca has for Muslims. We read: "They
would not follow thy direction of prayer (qibla), nor art thou to follow
their direction of prayer; nor indeed will they follow each other's
direction of prayer...." (Qur'an, Sura 2:145, "The Cow")
All Qur'anic commentators explain that "thy qibla" is obviously
the Kaba of Mecca, while "their qibla" refers to the Temple
Mount Area in Jerusalem. Some Muslim exegetes also quote the Book of
Daniel as proof of this (Daniel
Thus, as no one wishes to deny Muslims complete sovereignty over Mecca,
from an Islamic point of view there is no sound theological reason to
deny the Jews the same right over Jerusalem.
As to Jewish-Muslim relationships, if we reflect on
the level of inter-religious dialogue in past centuries, we must frankly
admit that in this respect we have been moving backwards. From a theological
point of view, dialogue between Jews and Muslims is easier than, say,
dialogue between Jews and Chrisitians. Indeed, dialogue between Jews
and Muslims was much more extensive in the past. Ibn
Gabirol (Avicembro), Maimonides,
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were not isolated intellectuals
but part of an ongoing intercommunication and shared well of knowledge.
One can blame the current separation on the political
situation, but that does not free intellectuals and men of religion
of their responsibility. Today, looking toward the future, we must again
create the same kind of intellectual atmosphere, until it is common
for Islamic theologians to read Buber and Levinas, and for Jewish scholars to study the works of Sha'rawi
and Ashmawi. We can understand the common features in the development
of Kabbalah and Tasawwuf,
or study the mutual influence of Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Sharia.
Jewish intellectuals, for their part, must be ready to understand that
a new attitude is emerging among some Islamic thinkers. Many of us are
now ready to admit that hostility for Israel has been a great mistake,
perhaps the worst mistake Muslims have made in the last 50 years.
For those Muslim leaders who live in democratic countries, this declaration
is not so dangerous. Even in the more oppressed countries, there is
a certain part of the educated population that does not blindly accept
the local view. It is very important for us to verify that we are not
alone in this activity; we must know that there is someone else who
appreciates and shares our goals.
The times are ready for Jews and Muslims to recognize each other once
again as a branch of the tree of monotheism, as brothers descended from
the same father - Abraham, the forerunner of faith in the Living God.
The more we discover our common roots, the more we can hope for a common
future of peace and prosperity.