The majority of Palestinians subscribe to the common belief that
they are the ethnic and cultural extension to all the civilizations
which had gained a foothold on the land of Palestine since the dawn
of history. They consid¬er themselves the product and remnants
of the diverse historical periods through which the city has passed
since its inception, without exception, regardless of the name of
the period or the ethnic or religious nature of whichever political
authority enjoyed hegemony over the city at the time. This
understanding underlies the historical and cultural perception of
Jerusalem and its Palestinian inhabitants.
As for Islam, its original bond with Jerusalem is embodied in the
fact that it is heir to the religious and cultural legacy of the
Abrahamic religions which predated it: all the prophets and events
which preceded the Prophet Muhammad are an integral part of the
Arab-Islamic religious and cultural heritage.
The city of Jerusalem has been connected with a great number of
Biblical figures, such as Abraham, Solomon, David and other
prophets. They are mentioned in the Koran and are considered
prophets according to Islam, especially Ibrahim (Abraham) who
occupies a prominent place in the Muslim creed.
Hence the centrality of Jerusalem in Islam both during and after
the Da' wa (the call by God to the Prophet and men to
embrace Islam). It is not surprising, then, that during the most
difficult period of the Da'wa, the first Muslims turned in
their prayers towards Jerusalem. This step was a tribute of great
religious symbolism for the city of God and His Holy Rock, a
symbolism which, during the early days of Islam, super¬seded
in importance the Ka'aba, venue of pilgrimage.
This religious importance of Jerusalem for Muslims was further
enhanced through al-lsra' wal Mi'raj (the Prophet's
nocturnal ascent to Heaven), an event which constitutes one of the
pillars of Islam and also one of the few miracles of
The link with Heaven was effected through a journey from Mecca to
Jerusalem and thereon from God's Holy Rock to Heaven. This
important event is celebrated yearly throughout the Islamic world
and Muslims every¬where remember the Holy City and the
Prophet's miracle associated with it.
As a result, Jerusalem became a permanent place of pilgrimage for
the faithful and, as such, connected with the emblems of
hadj (pilgrimage), as pilgrims took to visiting Jerusalem at
the conclusion of their hadj in Mecca.
A visit to Jerusalem brings about remission of sins and reward,
espe¬cially since such a visit is considered an imitation of
Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem - a journey of atonement and
proximity to God. A prayer in Jerusalem is better than 1/000
prayers in any other place, and whoever vis¬its Jerusalem and
prays there becomes as innocent as the day of his birth.
Jerusalem will attain its height of glory on Judgment Day when it
will supersede Mecca and Medina in rank and will be exalted by
being consid¬ered part of Heaven.
The city, then, has acquired a religious primacy since the dawn of
Islam through the Koran or Hadith (record of the Prophet's
sayings or actions taken as a model of behavior by Muslims), or
through national heritage or religious legends. Several sites in
the city came to be identified with the stories of the prophets or
religious events; these were immortalized through memorial
buildings, domes or mosques.
The Merits of Jerusalem
The jewel in the crown is, of course, the Dome of the Rock, site of
al-Isra' wal Mi'raj and one of the most splendid edifices offered
by the Arab-¬Islamic civilization. It has become the national
and political symbol of the city of Jerusalem, in particular, and
of Palestine in general.
Although the political and the religious are closely interconnected
in Islam, neither Mecca with its Ka'aba, nor Medina has acquired
the political prominence of Jerusalem. During the early years of
Islam, with the estab¬lishment of the first Muslim dynasty,
following political upheavals which threatened the Muslim world,
Jerusalem became the place which gave legitimacy to the successive
rulers. For example, Mu'awiyyah Ibn Abi Sufian, the first Umayyad
Caliph, sat in Jerusalem in order to obtain the approval of the
Arab and Muslim world for the revolutionary change he had brought
about in the political order.
There is no doubt that the subjection of the city to the Crusades
opened a new door in its political and religious life. For almost a
century the city had been an important political and religious
symbol. Its fall into Crusader hands was considered a defeat for
both the Arab and Islamic worlds, and its liberation and
restoration to its past glory became a Muslim aim and duty.
The Jerusalemite refugees who fled the city in the face of the
Crusades played an inflammatory role in calling the Islamic forces
to arms. Their presence was centered in Damascus and other cities
of Ash-Sham as well as in Iraq and Egypt.
As a result of this nostalgia for the homeland, Jerusalem and
Palestine, a new literary genre evolved. Some of it predated the
Crusader conquests and was entitled Fada'il al-Quds (Merits of
Jerusalem). Its main features are the enumeration of the merits of
Jerusalem: its importance for Arabs and Muslims, its connection
with important religious and historical battles, historical
figures, and indeed, the Muslim creed and heritage. Scores of
publications in this literary genre have reached us, written during
the Middle Ages, for the most part, by Palestinians from
Jerusalem, not one cloud ever passed over my head
without my addressing it, brokenly,
'By God, pass over Jerusalem, cloud,
carry my greetings to its valleys and hills.'
I've been bitterly separated from you
my eyes are almost blind from crying
After you my eyes can only see the world
as a dismal night of dark day.
With the end of the Crusades came a revival of the Arab-Islamic
heritage of the city in demography, science, architecture and other
aspects of civi¬lization. It was during the Mameluke dynasty
that the city acquired the greater part of all those beautiful
buildings which give it its architectural and cultural identity to
However, this architectural distinctiveness is not the only
achievement of the Arab-Islamic civilization in the city; there is
also the pluralism and colorfulness which existed during the
Islamic era. Never throughout its history had the city contained
such a diversity of religious and ethnic groups: Jews, Christians
as well as Muslim groups of various ethnic roots.
It is very true that the city was imbued with an Arab-Islamic
character, yet this did not lead to the imposition of this identity
on all its inhabitants. Rather, it formed a cultural framework
whereby different denominations lived in an atmosphere of
generosity and religious and ethnic tolerance, sharing in the
embellishment of the city and making it their own.
These factors and others have made of Jerusalem a symbol of the
reli¬gious, political and national identity of the
Palestinians. It has been and still is a center for institutions
and services - financial, religious, political, cultural and
social. This centrality has become quite evident as a
conse¬quence of the closures imposed on the city which left it
and the Occupied Territories in a state of near-paralysis.
Jerusalem is at the center of the age-long Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. In recent events, Palestinian and Israeli maximalism over
all of Palestine was swayed by the dictates of demographic and
political realities as well as by local and international balance,
inevitably leading to a two-state solution. The question then
arises: How will this experience impact on absolutist
Israeli-Palestinian positions on Jerusalem? And what direction will