Why is Jerusalem (Quds) important for Jews and Christians?

Details of the Question

As we know, Jerusalem was the qiblah of Muslims before the Kaaba. Why is Jerusalem also important for Jews and Christians? Is the story of Mount of Olives in Jerusalem true?

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(editor) on Wed, 20/12/2017 - 08:52

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Jerusalem is a city that has an important place in three religions and that is regarded as a sacred city.

Jerusalem in Judaism

The city of Jerusalem is mentioned only once in the Old Testament as Salem. (Genesis, 14/18) The claim whether Mount Moriah, the place where Isaac was presented as a sacrifice, and the temple of Solomon is there is debatable. The city’s being a center of kingdom and worshipping starts with Hz. Dawud (David). (II. Samuel, 6-7; chapters, 24/18-25; I. Chronicles, 21/18-22)

In the first period of the temple, the hill where the temple was located was called Mount Zion. The name Zion also meant the whole Jerusalem. When Hz. Dawud was promised that his kingdom will endure forever, it was also regarded as a sign of the eternity of Jerusalem, which was a city of kingdom and worshipping.  (II. Samuel, 7/13-16)

The construction of the temple during the reign of Hz. Sulayman (Solomon) gave Jerusalem a different sacredness; the promise of the Lord that Dawud’s kingdom will endure forever and the acceptance of the temple as Lord’s eternal abode consecrated the city.  

In Psalms (Psalm, 132), the city of Dawud (Zion), where the Ark of the Covenant was taken, is presented not only a city that Lord chose as kingdom but also as the abode of Lord. According to the Prophet Jeremiah, Jerusalem will be called a “prosperous city, sacred mountain”. (31/23; 33/16) It is also described as “beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth” (Psalm, 48/2), “perfect in beauty” (Psalm, 50/2); and the following is stated about it: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy!” Psalm, 137/5-6)

Jerusalem is dealt with differently from the other cities in Judaic shari’ah due to its specialty and sacredness; therefore, some rules are not applied in Jerusalem. Since it is accepted as a place chosen by Lord (II. Kings, 21/4; Psalm, 132/13), the Temple of Jerusalem is not only a place where sacrifices are presented but also the target of pilgrimage. For, every man must appear before the Lord (in the temple) three times a year (in the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). (Exodus, 23/17; Deuteronomy, 16/16-17)

Since it is a place of pilgrimage, Jews had to stay there for a certain period of time; this formed the most important characteristic that shaped the cultural life of the people in the period when the temple existed.

Jerusalem has been the symbol of the highest values and hopes of Judaism because it was chosen by God. The prophets mentioned its name with praise. Isaiah calls Jerusalem “the City of Righteousness” and states that the law will go out from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (1/26; 2/3). Jeremiah states that Jerusalem will be called “the Throne of the Lord” and that all nations will gather in Jerusalem (3/17).

On the other hand, its beauty is described and it is likened to the darling. (Song of Songs, 6/4; Psalm, 48/2; 50/2)

In Talmud (Sukkot, 51b), it is stated that a person who has not seen Jerusalem can never know what a beautiful city is like; it is reported in Midrash (Genesis Rabbah, 14, 8) that Adam was created from the soil of the Jerusalem Temple and it is reported in another narration that the world started to be created beginning from Zion

According to Jewish shari’ah (Halakah), the whole country is sacred but the city of Jerusalem is the most sacred. The holiest place on the earth called “the holiest of the holiest” is in the temple in Jerusalem. The orders and prohibitions necessitated by sacredness of Jerusalem are listed in shari’ah. (Neusner, V, 15-16)

After the demolition in 70 AD, Jerusalem started to play a lesser role in the life of Jews but it continued to exist as the symbol of spiritual magnificence and the embodied form of shari’ah; the longing felt for it has been expressed on every occasion. No matter where Jews are and at no matter what time they pray, they have to turn toward Jerusalem.

In the blessing said during dinner, the wish of rebuilding Jerusalem is expressed. The prayer called Amidah, which is repeated three times a day, is made by turning toward Jerusalem; in this prayer, the desire to return to Jerusalem and to reestablish the city and the reign of Dawud is expressed. In the three annual fasts, Jews mourn for the memory of the fall of Jerusalem.

The importance of Jerusalem in the worshipping life is based on the belief that the Jewish state will be established by Messiah in these regions. The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the construction of the temple are signs of this. According to Jewish tradition, there is a Jerusalem in the sky in addition to the Jerusalem on earth. It is reported that in Talmud that God declared that it was not possible to enter the Jerusalem in the sky before entering the Jerusalem on earth.

In some of the Jewish religious literature, it is stated that the celestial Jerusalem will come down to the earth to settle in its place at the end of the world. Jews wish to be buried in Mount of Olives in order to save time and reduce the burden when Jerusalem is rebuilt and when the dead are resurrected since it is close to the hill where the temple is located. The Seder table and the worshipping of the Day of Atonement in the Jewish Passover festival end with the wish of "next year in Jerusalem". (Dictionnaire encyclopedique du Judaisme, p. 573)

Jerusalem in Christianity

Jerusalem occupies an important place in the Gospels. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus started to convey his message to people in the Galilee region, and upon their negative attitude, he headed toward Jerusalem, entered the city and cleaned the temple. When he got reactions from Jewish authorities, he stated that the city would be punished and the temple would be fouled. When he was crucified outside the city, the curtain of the temple was torn.

The other Gospels make some additions to this information about Jerusalem. The Gospel of John states that Jesus had come to Jerusalem many times. According to the Gospels, the worldly life of Jesus ends in Jerusalem, where the disciples take the "holy spirit".

Jerusalem in Islam

The name Quds (Jerusalem) is not directly mentioned in the Quran but this city is mentioned as the farthest Mosque, whose precincts were blessed (al-Isra 17/1); in addition, the region where it is located is described as “the holy land” (al-Maida 5/21) and “a beautiful dwelling-place” (Yunus 10/93).

It is stated in hadiths that, along with Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi, Masjid al-Aqsa is one of the three mosques that are permissible to go on a journey in order to visit and that it is the second mosque built on earth after Masjid al-Haram. (Bukhari, Fadlus-salat fi masjidi Makkah wal-Madinah, 6, Hajj, 26, Anbiya, 8, 40; Muslim, Hajj, 288, Masajid, 2; Nasai, Masajid, 3)

In addition, it is reported in some narrations that the Prophet advised performing prayers in Bayt al-Maqdis. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 14)

According to the narrations outside Kutub as-Sitta, when Jesus dies after coming to the world again, he will be buried next to the grave of the Messenger of Allah in Madinah or in Jerusalem. 

There are narrations stating that the Prophet performed prayers by turning toward Jerusalem by also turning toward the Kaaba at the same time before the Migration for two or three years (Ibn Sa‘d, I, 243; Qurtubi, II, 150; Fakhruddin ar-Razi, IV, 110) and there are some different narrations but it is accepted that this practice continued for sixteen or seventeen months in the period of Madinah and then the qiblah was changed to the Kaaba. (Bukhari, Salat, 31, Tafsir, 18; Muslim, Masajid, 11-12)

That the Messenger of Allah preferred Jerusalem as the qiblah for a period of time when he was alive is one of the causes why Muslims regard this city as a religious center. 

In addition, that the Prophet went to Masjid al-Aqsa in the miracle of Isra (night journey) that took place when the Prophet was taken from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa, whose precincts were blessed, (al-Isra 17/1) and the consequent miracle of Miraj (Ascension) increased the importance of this city for Muslims.

Muhammad Hamidullah claims that Masjid al-Aqsa is not Bayt al-Maqdis but a mosque in the sky where angels worship Allah continuously (İslâm Peygamberi, I, 150-151), but it should be known that what is meant by that mosque is Bayt al-Maqdis built by Hz. Sulayman, not the mosque that was given this name afterwards.  

Furthermore, Jerusalem has had an important place in the tradition of heavenly religions because it was located in a region where many prophets lived beginning from Hz. Ibrahim and described as holy, because it included Bayt al-Maqdis built by Hz. Sulayman, and because it was the place where the struggle of Sons of Israel and the prophets sent to them took place. (see Abul-Faraj Ibnul-Jwzi, p. 63-147; TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, Kudüs item.)

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