In the wake of the recent violence over Temple Mount, a reader wrote to tell me something I hadn’t realised.
I had wrongly assumed that the al Aqsa mosque as well as the Dome of the Rock were built on top of the actual site of the Jewish Temple. In fact, only the Dome of the Rock is situated on top of where the Temple itself stood. Al Aqsa, which was built later, squats on the southern end of Temple Mount which was extended by Herod.
This raised a question in my mind. As we all know, the Arab and Muslim world incites murderous violence against Israel by claiming (entirely falsely) that al Aqsa is “in danger” from the Israelis. They use the term al Aqsa as a synonym for the whole area of Temple Mount and not just the mosque of that name.
But since the Dome of the Rock is also a mosque; and since it was deliberately built on top of the Jewish Temple in order to bury it both literally and figuratively; and since the Dome of the Rock is a more magnificent edifice and older than al Aqsa, why is it barely mentioned other than in passing? Why is al Aqsa classified as the third holiest Islamic place after Mecca and Medina? Why is it only al Aqsa for which the Arab and Muslim world goes to war against the Jews?
To shed some light on this, I consulted two excellent and authoritative pieces of work: an article in Middle East Quarterly by Daniel Pipes entitled The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem, and a book-length paper by Nadav Shragai for the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs entitled The “Al Aksa is in Danger” Libel: The History of a Lie.
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