By Imam Murtadha Gusau
In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Most Kind
All praise is due to Allah, and may His peace and blessings be upon Allah’s Messenger, his Companions and whosoever follows his guidance.
Dear brothers and sisters! Know that the city of Jerusalem in Islam is very sacred to Muslims. It is one of the three most sacred cities in Islam. Jerusalem is called al-Quds al-Sharif (the Noble Sacred Place). In order to understand the sacredness of this city in Islam, one has to understand the faith (Iman) structure of Islam. There are three basic principles of faith in Islam:
1. Belief in the oneness of Allah (At-Tauhid).
2. Belief in the divine guidance through His chosen Prophets and Messengers (Ar-Risalah).
3. Belief in the life after death, divine judgment and heaven and hell (Yaumul Akhirah).
It is the second principle of faith (Iman) in Islam that is directly related to our love and devotion to Jerusalem.
Respected servants of Allah! Islam recognises all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. The Qur’an has mentioned many Prophets by name. Their stories and teachings are told at varying length throughout the Qur’an. Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Zakariyyah (Zechariah), Yahya (John the Baptist) and Isa (Jesus) – peace be upon them all – are among the honoured Prophets and Messengers of Allah according to Islam.
Jews and Christians also recognise Prophets Dawud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon) as great kings and patriarchs of ancient Israel.
However, in Islam they are honoured as Allah’s great Prophets. The Qur’an not only narrated their stories, but also restored their honour by removing some of the charges and allegations that were made against their characters by earlier communities.
Prophet Dawud (David, Peace be upon him) was accused in the Bible of committing adultery (See 2 Samuel 11 – 12) and Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon, Peace be upon him) was accused of idolatry (See 1 Kings 11). The Qur’an absolved them from all these charges (See Qur’an, 28:21 – 25; 38:30). This shows that Prophets Dawud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon, peace be upon them) are more revered and respected in Islam than in Jewish and Christian traditions.
Since the city of Jerusalem is historically associated with these Prophets of Allah, it naturally becomes a city sacred to Muslims.
Islam considers itself a continuation of the same spiritual and ethical movement that began with the earlier Prophets.
Historically and theologically it believes itself to be the true inheritor of the earlier traditions of the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. It is for this reason that the Qur’an called for Palestine – the land associated with the lives of many of Allah’s Prophets – al-ard al-Muqaddasah (the Sacred Land; Qur’an, 5:21) and called its surroundings barakna hawlaha (Allah’s Blessed Precincts; Qur’an, 17:1).
The sacredness of the city of Jerusalem, according to Islam, is in its historical religious reality. This is the city that witnessed the life and works of the greatest Prophets and Messengers of Allah. Here the Divine Grace touched the earth repeatedly. Allah’s great Prophets and Messengers lived and moved in its valleys and its streets. Makkah and Madinah are blessed cities in Islam because of their association with the Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma’il (Ishmael) and Muhammad. In a similar way Jerusalem is blessed and important in Islam because of its association with other Prophets of Allah, namely Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon) and Isa (Jesus).
Jews and Christians do not recognise Isma’il (Ishmael) and Muhammad as Allah’s Prophets and Messengers, so they do not consider Makkah and Madinah as sacred cities.
However, Muslims believe in Prophets Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon) and Isa (Jesus), and so they must recognise the sacredness and importance of Jerusalem in Islam.
Due to its theological and religious status, Jerusalem had a very important place in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) himself.
In the year 620 almost one-and-a-half years before his Hijrah (migration) from Makkah to Madinah the famous event of Isra’i and Mi’raj (Night Journey and Ascension) occurred. One night, in a miraculous way, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was taken on a momentous journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and then from there to the heavenly celestial abodes.
The Night Journey was a great miracle that Muslims believe was given to Prophet Muhammad as an honour and as a confirmation of Makkah’s spiritual link with Jerusalem.
Both of these events took place on the same night. The angel Jibril (Gabriel) took the Prophet from Makkah to Jerusalem. There it is reported that the Prophet stood at the Sacred Rock (al-Sakhrah al-Musharrafah), went to the heavens, returned to Jerusalem and met with many Prophets and Messengers who were gathered together for him on that occasion and he led them in prayers.
After these experiences the Prophet was taken back to Makkah. The story of Isra’i and Mi’raj is full of wonderful signs and symbols. Muslim scholars, thinkers, mystics and poets have interpreted it in deep an meaningful ways. There is, however, one essential point and that is it serves as an example of every Muslim’s deep devotion and spiritual connection with Jerusalem.
During the Mi’raj, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is reported to have received from Allah the command of five daily prayers (Salah) that all Muslims must perform. Upon his return to Makkah, the Prophet instituted these prayers. It is significant to note that he made Jerusalem the direction (al-Qiblah) which Muslims must face while doing their prayers. Jerusalem is thus called Ula al-Qiblatain (the First Qiblah).
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) and the early community of Islam worshipped towards the direction of Jerusalem during their stay in Makkah. After the Hijrah (migration), Muslims in Madinah also continued to pray facing Jerusalem for almost seventeen months. Then came Allah’s command to change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah (Qur’an, 2:142 – 150).
Muslim commentators of the Qur’an (Mufassirun) and historians have explained the meaning and purpose of this change.
It is a lengthy subject that we cannot discuss in detail here. Suffice it to say that the change of the Qiblah in no way diminished the status of Jerusalem in Islam.
The Ka’abah in Makkah was meant to be the Qiblah from the beginning, because the Qur’an said that it was the First House (Awwala Bait, in Qur’an, 3:96) established for mankind to worship the One Allah.
The Ka’abah, however, was full of idols when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) began preaching his message of Tauhid (the Oneness and Transcendence of Allah).
A separation had to be made between the people and the pagan worship that they used to perform at the Ka’abah. Jerusalem served that purpose very well by distancing the people from their pagan and idolatrous associations.
Once monotheism was fully established in the minds and hearts of the believers and once the Ka’abah’s position with Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and with monotheism was made clear, the way was open to restore the Ka’abah as the direction of prayers (Qiblah).
There are many instances of this type of change or abrogation (“naskh”) in Islamic legislation. As one example, visiting graves was forbidden in the beginning of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)’s messengership.
Later it was permitted because Muslims had learned the difference between a grave visit and ancestor worship. At first, the Prophet forbade his people to write down his words except when he told them that what he was saying was revelation – the Qur’an, the Word of Allah.
Later when people learned the difference between the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings and deeds of the Prophet), he gave them permission to write Hadith as well.
It is interesting to note that the Ka’abah in Makkah was the original direction of prayers for all the Prophets of Allah.
According to a Hadith, the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad) had been in Makkah at the place of Ka’abah since the time of Prophet Adam. It was the Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham) and Isma’il (Ishmael) who built the Ka’abah under Allah’s command and direction (Qur’an, 2:125 – 127).
The city of Jerusalem was established as a religious center for the Israelite people by the Prophets Dawud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon) around the year 900 BC.
This was almost 1,000 years after the time of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and the building of the Ka’abah. Thus one can say that the Ka’abah had a historical primacy over Jerusalem.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the Bible says that the early Israelites in Jerusalem used to turn to the southern direction when making their most sacred prayers and offerings (See Exodus 27:9; 40:24). The Ka’abah is in the southern direction of Jerusalem. Thus we can say that the Ka’abah was also a Qiblah for the earlier Israelite communities as well.
Dear servants of Allah! Jerusalem came under Islamic rule during the reign of the second Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) in the year 638.
It was a peaceful conquest. The ruling patriarch of the city, whose name was Sophronius, offered the keys of the city to the Caliph Umar himself.
Upon entering the blessed city, the Caliph asked about the location of the Mosque of Dawud (David, al-Masjid al-Aqsa) and the blessed Rock from where the Prophet went in Mi’raj.
The site was a desolate place at that time. Romans had destroyed the so-called Second Temple in the year 70 CE and no non-Christian or Christian ruler of that city after that ever tried to build any place of worship there.
According to historians, it was a garbage dump, a dunghill for the people of Anshan’s Jerusalem. Umar, upon learning this was the site of the Mosque of Jerusalem and hand the place from where the Mi’raj took place, cleaned the place with his own hands and put his forehead in payer on that ground.
In 691 CE the Dome of Rock and a more elaborate Mosque were constructed. Those were, perhaps, the first most expensive and expansive sacred monuments built in the history of Islam.
Jerusalem was always held in great esteem by Muslims. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Journeys should not be taken (with the intention of worship) except to three Mosques: the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, my Mosque in Madinah and Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.”
On the basis of this Hadith, Muslims always considered it as a religious deed to visit the city of Jerusalem, its Mosque and its sacred and blessed precincts. Often pilgrims made it a point to visit Jerusalem on their way to Makkah and Madinah.
Muslim leaders and philanthropists built many hospitals, schools, and religious centers in and around the city. They purchased land in and around the city and dedicated it as a Waqf (endowment) for religious purposes. The whole city is virtually Waqf land that is non-salable and nontransferable.
Many Muslim scholars also migrated and settled in the city. The Al-Aqsa Masjid was a great seat of learning. Thousands of pious people and scholars included provisions in their wills (Wasiyyah) to be buried in Jerusalem. There are thousands, perhaps millions of Muslim’s graves in the city of Jerusalem.
Muslims also recognised the rights of Christians and Jews who hold the city dear to their hearts and sacred in their faiths.
Under Islamic rule they were given permission to settle there. When the Caliph Umar made the treaty with the Christian Patriarch Sophronius it was agreed, at the request of the Christian patriarch, that:
“No Jews will live with them in Aelia (Jerusalem).”
But later, due to Muslims tolerance, patience and magnanimity, this rule was relaxed and Jews were allowed to come and settle in the city.
After the re-conquest of Jerusalem by Salahuddin Al-Ayubi in the time of the Crusades, Jews were again permitted by Muslims to come back and live in the city. The Crusaders during their 90-year rule (1099 – 1187) had banned both Jews and Muslims from that city.
The city of Jerusalem is very important to Muslims. Muslims have a right to this city religiously, historically and legally. I have mentioned only the religious aspects in this sermon. There are three important points to remember about Islam and the city of Jerusalem:
1. In the whole history of Jerusalem, from the time of Prophet Dawud (David) until now, the longest rule of this city belonged to Muslims.
2. Muslims maintained the sacredness of this city in the full sense of the word.
3. Muslims established and practiced the most tolerant multi-religious and multi-faith character of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is perhaps the only city in the world that is considered historically and spiritually significant to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. The city of Jerusalem is known in Arabic as Al-Quds or Baitul-Maqdis (“The Noble, Sacred Place”), and the importance of the city to Muslims comes as a surprise to some Christians and Jews.
It should be remembered that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all spring from a common source.
All are religions of monotheism—the belief that there is one God, and one God only. All three religions share a reverence for many of the same Prophets responsible for first teaching the Oneness of Allah in the area around Jerusalem, including Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), and Isa (Jesus)—Peace be upon them all. The reverence these religions share for Jerusalem is evidence of this shared background.
As mentioned earlier, for Muslims, Jerusalem was the first Qiblah—the place toward which they turn in prayer. It was many years into the Islamic mission (16 or 17 months after the Hijrah), that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was instructed to change the Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah (Qur’an, 2:142-144). It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“There are only three Mosques to which you should embark on a journey: the sacred Mosque (Makkah, Saudi Arabia), this Mosque of mine (Madinah, Saudi Arabia), and the Mosque of Al-Aqsah (Jerusalem).”
Thus, Jerusalem is one of the three holiest places on earth for Muslims.
As I said, it is Jerusalem that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) visited during his night journey and ascension (called Isra’i and Mi’raj). In one evening, legend tells us that the angel Jibril (Gabriel) miraculously took the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) from the Sacred Mosque in Makkah to the Furthest previously Mosque (Al-Aqsah) in Jerusalem.
He was then taken up to the heavens to be shown the signs of Allah. After the Prophet met with previous Prophets and led them in prayer, he was then taken back to Makkah. The whole experience (which many Muslim commentators take literally and most Muslims believe as a miracle) lasted a few hours. The event of Isra’i and Mi’raj is mentioned in the Qur’an, in the first verse of Chapter 17, entitled “The Children of Israel.”
“Glory be to Allah, Who did take His servant for a journey by night, from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless—in order that We might show him some of Our signs. For He is the One who hears and knows all things.” [Qur’an, 17:1]
This night journey further reinforced the link between Makkah and Jerusalem as noble and holy cities and serves as an example of every Muslim’s deep devotion and spiritual connection with Jerusalem. Most Muslims harbour a deep hope that Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land will be restored to a land of peace where all religious believers can exist in harmony.
O Allah, protect our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, and our children suffering terribly in Palestine, the land of the third of our three most Noble and Holy Masques, ameen!!!
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of: Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah Mosque; and Late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene Mosque, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org; or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today Friday, Rabi’ul Akhir 12, 1445 AH (October 27, 2023).
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