The Temple Mount (or Noble Sanctuary) is a hill in the eastern part of Old Jerusalem. The site of the two ancient Jewish Jerusalem Temples, and since the 7th century it has been the place of Muslim worship. It is the holiest site to the Jews, third holiest site in Islam, and of special significance to Christians. The Temple Mount is one of the most contested religious sites in the world.

Table of contents
1 Historical and religious significance
2 Early Legends and the First Temple
3 Controversy
4 Muslim Claims of Exclusivity
5 External Links
6 References

Historical and religious significance

Many parts of Jewish rabbinic literature state that the Israelites built the First Temple in Jerusalem about 3000 years ago; it is the holiest site in Judaism. The Temple was the central sites of Jewish worship. The destruction of both temples, five hundred years apart, were central points in Jewish history. Religious Jews have prayed from the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem for the last 2,000 years.

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is the one remaining wall of the Temple Mount. For all practical purposes this wall is the holiest site in Judaism. Many Jews pray there, and often leave written prayers addressed to God in the cracks of the wall.

Aerial view of Temple Mount, with the dome of the rock in the center and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the upper left of the compound

After the Muslim conquest of this region, the Temple Mount became known to Muslims as al-Harm al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). Islam regards the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) "one of the three most important sites in Islam". According to an Islamic source, "the entire area is regarded as a mosque". Since the 7th century it has housed Muslim holy structures, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to many traditional Islamic stories, Muhammad journeyed to Jerusalem in a dream, and in this dream he went to the Temple Mount, ascending from there to Heaven (see below).

Early Legends and the First Temple

Muslims, Christians, and Jews identify the Temple Mount with many of the key events in their religious narratives of the early history of the world.

In the Bible, the Temple Mount first appears as a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel, 24:18-25) overlooking Jerusalem, which King David purchased to erect an altar. As his hands were "bloodied," he was forbidden from constructing the Temple there, so this task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task c. 950 B.C. That Temple was destroyed by the Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

According to a later rabbinic account, it was from here that God gathered the earth that was formed into Adam (some Christians later chose Golgotha as the site), and it was here that Adam--and later Cain, Abel, and Noah--offered sacrifices to God.

To Jews and Christians, this is also the site where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, though Muslims identify that site with the rock of the Kaaba in Mecca.

Muslim beliefs

The Quran contains a curious anonymous sentence that has opened the door to much Muslim speculation on its meaning. It states "Subhana allathee israa' bi-abdeehee laylan min al-masjidul-haraam ila al-masjidul-aqsa", "Most glorified is the one who carried his servant during the night, from the inviolable place of prostration to the farthest place of prostration."

This verse is mysterious because it does not say who this servant is, where he left from, where he travelled to, or what its meaning is supposed to be. One of the first historical articles on the lack of context in this sentence was written by A. Bevan, Mohammed's Ascension to Heaven, in "Studien zu Semitischen Philologie und Religionsgeschichte Julius Wellhausen," (Topelman, 1914,pp. 53-54.) John Wansgrough holds that this verse does not refer to Muhammed. "The alternative, namely, that 'abd can only be Muhammad, implies submission to an interpretation of all the Quranic data which, in my opinion, has yet to be demonstrated." (Quranic Studies, p. 68, Oxford, 1977)

Wansbrough holds that not only does no evidence exist to link this verse to Muhammed or Jerusalem, but that it probably is Islamic scriptural exegesis designed to explain away the vagueness of the verse (a literary phenomenon common in early Islamic and Jewish theology.) "Far from providing unambiguous witness to the Arabian prophet, this particular scriptural image (israa' bi-abdeehee laylan) is employed, in but slightly varying forms, only to describe Moses' departure from Egypt" (Wansbrough, Quranic Studies)

Abdul-Khinzeer Kalb'ullaah al-Murtad Shabazz writes "Dr. Wansbrough is absolutely right, as this sort of locution is used for stories about Musa {Moses} and Lut {Lot}. In Soorat Ta-Ha 20:77 the verb asraa (instead of israa') is used to make reference to taking the slaves out by night. In soorat ash-Shu'araa 26:52 the exact same "asri bi-aibadee" line is used. In soorat ad-Dhukhaan 44:23 once again asraa is used, beginning with "faasri bi-aibadee laylan..." (take my slaves by night) showing similar language to the aforementioned verse from soorat Bani Israil."

Historians hold that at the time this verse of the Quran was recited (around 621 CE) many Muslims understood the phrase "furthest mosque" as a poetic phrase for a mosque already known to them, a mosque in Heaven, or as a metaphor. For a number of reasons, many historians find it unlikely that this verse referred to a location in Palestine:

(a) The Quran (30:1) calls Palestine "the closest land" (adna al-ard). (b) This phrase was written before the Muslim conquest of Palestine; no mosques existed in Palestine at this time. (c) There were already two places that Muslim tradition of that time period called "the furthest mosque"; one was the mosque in Medina (Arthur Jeffrey, The Suppressed Quran Commentary of Muhammad Abu Zaid, Der Islam, 20 (1932): 306) and the other was the mosque in the town of Jirana, which Muhammed is said to have visitied in 630 CE. (Alfred Guillaume, Where Was Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa? Al-Andalus, (18) 1953: 323-36) and (d) When Muslims finally did conquer and occupy Jerusalem, they did not identify the Temple Mount with "the furthest Mosque".

In 715 CE the Umayyads built a second mosque on the Temple Mount; in a move that changed Muslim history, they named this Mosque al-masjid al-aqsa, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, "the furthest mosque". According to A. L. Tibawi, a Palestinian historian, this action "gave reality to the figurative name used in the Koran." (A. L. Tibawi, Jerusalem: Its Place in Islam and Arab History, Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1969, p. 9.) From this point on Muslims worldwide began to identify to "the furthest mosque" reference in the Quran with this new mosque built in Jerusalem.

However, over time a series of legends about this verse developed in the Muslim community. While no specific meaning seems to ever have been attached to this verse before the Muslim conquest and occupation of Jerusalem, after the conquest it became to be believed that the person this verse refers to is Muhammed, that he left Mecca, that he travelled to a specific mosque in Jerusalem, and from there ascended to Heaven.

While none of these details exist in the Quran, this set of ideas quickly grew to become a mainstream Islamic belief. Today, nearly all Muslims interpret this verse identically, and from this have developed the view that the Mosque which presumable was on the Temple Mount at this time is a holy place within Islam.

Islamic law allows mosques to be built on top of conquered temples, churches, synagogues and the like; many historians hold that this was the original reason for the Muslim building of two new Islamic holy sites on top of the remains of the Jewish Temple, the legend being developed some years later.

In 690 A.D., after the Islamic conquest of Palestine, an octagonal Muslim shrine (but not a mosque) was built around the rock, which became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra). Two decades later, a mosque called Al-Aqsa was built on the spot. It was destroyed several times in earthquakes. The current version dates from the first half of the 11th century. Both buildings are considered holy to Muslims and make Jerusalem the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. The mosques are administered by the Waqf, an Islamic trust that has been granted almost total autonomy starting in 1967.


Many Israelis object to Arab occupation of the Temple Mount. One small extremist group, the Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement advocates the removal of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, which they deem signs of "Islamic conquest and domination" and suggests they be "rebuilt at Mecca". This group is supported only by a small minority of the Israeli public.

In recent years many complaints have been voiced about Muslim construction and excavation underneath the Temple Mount. Many archaeologists fear that this will lead to the destabilization of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall). It is also believed that the Palestinians are deliberately removing significant amounts of archaeological evidence about the Jewish past of the site. Since the Waqf is granted almost full autonomy on the site, Jewish archaeologists have been forbidden from inspecting this area for themselves.

In autumn 2002, a bulge of about 70 cm was reported in the Southern Wall part of the complex. It was feared that that part of the wall might seriously deteriorate or even collapse. The Waqf would not permit detailed Israeli inspection but came to an agreement with Israel that led to a team of Jordanian engineers inspecting the wall in October. They recommended repair work that involved replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area. This was completed by mid-2003.

Muslim Claims of Exclusivity

See also: Al-Aqsa Mosque - Dome of the Rock

External Links


  • B. Schreike, "Die Himmelreise Muhammeds," Der Islam 6 (1915-16): 1-30
  • J. Horovitz, "Muhammeds Himmelfahrt," Der Islam 9 (1919): 159-83
  • Heribert Busse, "Jerusalem in the Story of Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 14 (1991): 1-40.
  • Heribert Busse and Georg Kretschmar, Jerusalemer Heiligstumstraditionen (Weisbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1987)