Muhammad’s famous Night Journey was the beginning of Jerusalem’s religious significance for Muslims.
This event triggered the Muslim migration to Jerusalem and signified Islam’s participation in the battle for the Holy Land. This engagement would garner many conquests and battles from the Crusaders, Egyptian freed slaves, World War I and finally to the establishment of modern-day Israel and the battles it faces today. When it comes to Jerusalem, it seems the battle for the Holy Land never stops.
621 A.D. – The Muslim Prophet Muhammad takes his Night Journey to Jerusalem.
Al-Isra’ wal-Mi’raj (The Night Journey and Ascension) is an important miracle in the Muslim religion. As alluded in the Qur’ān (17:1) Muhammad, a servant of God, traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single night on a winged creature called Buraq. While in Jerusalem, he ascended to heaven, where he met the precursor prophets and God. In heaven, Muhammad was told that the duty of devout Muslims was to recite Salat (ritual prayer) five times a day.
637 A.D. – Al-Aqsa was built and ordained as the third holiest place to Muslims. Caliph Umar, a friend of the Prophet Muhammad conquered Jerusalem and extended the Islamic empire.
The Masjid al-Aqsa, or simply Al-Aqsa, translates to “the farthest mosque” and refers to a domed mosque in the sacred precinct. After Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem is considered the holiest place on Earth to Muslims. Although Umar and Muhammad were originally at opposition with one another, Umar later converted to Islam then eventually became one of the prophets’ main advisers. After Muhammad’s death Umar not only rose to be the second Muslim caliph, but under his rule, the Arab armies conquered Mesopotamia, Syria, and Jerusalem.
661 A.D. – The rise of the Umayyad Dynasty continued, and the Arabs ruled over the city. By then Jerusalem had become a sacred city for Islam.
Muhammad’s death drew conflicts among his followers as to who would become his successor. This conflict eventually created the split within the Islamic religion between the Sunni and Shi’a sects. The conflict turned bloody with the tribes battling to put their favored successor as the next caliph. After Umar appointed Mu’awiya – a member of the Umayyad Dynasty – as the governor of Damascus, Palestine, and Jerusalem.
1099 A.D. – The First Crusades
In the early 11th century, Christians were the target of persecution under the newly established Islamic rulers; especially when the torch controlling the Holy City passed from the Egyptians to the Seljuk Turks. By the end of the century, Pope Urban II called for a crusade to aid their Christian neighbors in the East and recover the Holy Land for themselves. Some 4,000 mounted knights and 25,000 infantry army infiltrated the east, their goal was to capture Jerusalem. The Crusaders stormed the fortified walls and poured into the city. Jerusalem was successfully taken by the Christians with tens of thousands of residents from Jerusalem slaughtered.
1147-1149 A.D. – The Second Crusade
After the Crusaders achieved their goal, most of their army returned home. The Christians that remained established four western settlements in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli. These settlements provided the Crusaders with a military advantage in the region. This advantage lasted until 1144 A.D. when the Muslim forces (whom the Christians referred to as “Franks”) captured Edessa, one of the Crusader’s former states. This event prompted King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany to call for a Second Crusade. The Crusaders attacked Damascus to regain control in the region, however, the combined Muslim forces defeated them, effectively ending the Second Crusade.
1187-1192 A.D. – The Third Crusade. Saladin captured Jerusalem and eventually became the Muslim Sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine.
The Third Crusade was instigated by King Phillip II of France and King Richard I of England (also known as Richard, the Lionheart.) In the battle of Hattin, Saladin famously defeated a huge army of Crusaders and retook the city along with a vast amount of territory. With Saladin as governor of Egypt, he reduced the influence of Shia Islam and increased the power of the Sunni regime. Richard, the Lionheart put Saladin’s plans on hold when he recaptured the city of Jaffa and approached Jerusalem, yet he refused to lay siege to the Holy City. Eventually Saladin and Richard signed a peace treaty, the Treaty of Ramia, and restored the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This treaty permitted Christians to worship in Jerusalem. The city was officially deemed a religious site that allowed Muslims and Christians to worship.
1260-1517 A.D. – The Mamluk Period, the fall of the Ayyubids marked the dawn of a new political era.
The Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty that had been set up by Saladin reached a modus vivendi with the Crusaders. At the same time, the Mongols had begun advancing in the East. Cities including Jerusalem were over-run with refugees fleeing the Mongols invasion. During the early Mamluk period, the Mongols briefly controlled Jerusalem for four months. The occupation was cut short when the Mamluks, former Egyptian slaves, achieved the impossible when they overthrew their masters, defeated the Mongols, crushed the remaining Crusaders and established a dynasty that lasted 300 years. Jerusalem remained under the Mamluks control for two and a half centuries.
1516-1917 A.D. – The Ottoman Empire ruled the majority of the Middle East, including Jerusalem.
The Ottoman’s conquered Jerusalem with little resistance. Jerusalem became one of 10 sanjaks (districts.) Under the empire, Jerusalem was less regarded as central fortress and appraised more for its religious significance. The Ottomans repaired much of the damage the city had received in the last few centuries and eventually they began their own architectural patronage.
1948 A.D. – Following World War I, Britain gained control of Jerusalem which was still a part of Palestine at the time.
Israel became an independent state. For the first 20 years of Israel’s existence Jerusalem was divided, with Israel controlling the western portion of the city and Jordan in control of the East.
Knowing Jerusalem’s past helps to unravel some of the conflicts that continue to arise in the Holy City. The Palestinians and Israelis have been adversaries since the biblical age, although they were known by different names back then. By understanding the value placed on Jerusalem and the actions that famed historical figures, it de-mystifies both political and spiritual conflicts that are taking place today. One thing is for certain, as long as Jerusalem is seen as the promise land to three separate religions, the fight for Jerusalem will not stop.