A columnist for an Egyptian government journal has called into question the established Muslim belief that Jerusalem is a sacred Islamic city.
Writing for the weekly Al-Qahira, published by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, Ahmad Muhammad ‘Arafa rejects the Islamic doctrine that the Prophet Muhammad’s celebrated “Night Journey” took him from Mecca to Jerusalem.
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
The passage in Quran 17:1 – known as the Sura of the Night Journey – does not refer to a miraculous trip from Mecca to Jerusalem, but to the prophet’s emigration from Mecca to Medina, Arafa asserts in his Aug. 5 article.
MEMRI said the column constitutes a “dramatic departure” from a standard Islamic belief held for more than 1,300 years.
“The fact that this article was published in a government journal adds to its political significance,” the Washington, D.C.-based group noted.
Jerusalem, at the center of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is considered to be Islam’s third holiest city, after the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.
The text of the Quranic passage says, according to a translation, “Praise be to Him who took His servant by night from the Al-Haram [Sacred] Mosque [in Mecca] to the Al-Aqsa [literally ‘the most distant’] Mosque, whose environs We did bless, so that We might show him some of Our signs, for He is the All-Hearing and All-Seeing One.”
Arafa contends “Al-Aqsa” must refer to an existing mosque, not a place where a mosque would be established later.
“But in Palestine during that time, there was no mosque at all that could have been the mosque ‘most distant’ from the Al-Haram Mosque,” he said, according to MEMRI. “During that time, there were no people in [Palestine] who believed in Muhammad and would gather to pray in a specific place that served as a mosque.”
The Egyptian columnist noted most of the inhabitants of Palestine at that time were Christians and a Jewish minority.
“The construction of the mosque situated today in Jerusalem and known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque began only in the year 66 of the Hijra of the prophet – that is, during the era of the Omayyad state, not during the time of the prophet nor that of any of the righteous caliphs,” he said. “So much for the mosque.”
The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the adjacent Muslim shrine known as the Dome of the Rock were built after Caliph Omar I captured Jerusalem from the Persians, six years after Muhammad’s death in AD 632.
Omar decreed that the Jews holy Temple Mount was the place referred to in the Quran.
According to the Jewish Scriptures, Solomon built the First Temple on that spot, where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Arafa says the Quranic expression “He took His servant by night” means Muhammad ordered him to journey in secret from his enemies to a place where he and his mission would be secure.
“In other words, the text speaks of the Hijra of the prophet from Mecca to Medina, and not of a visit to Palestine,” Arafa said. “[Indeed], the Hijra of the Prophet [to Medina] was carried out unbeknownst to his enemies.”
Arafa concludes the Night Journey began at the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca “after the prophet had prayed there with his companion, and both of them had left it, and the journey ended at the mosque of As’ad ibn Zurara, in front of the house of Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari, in Medina, where the prophet built the mosque known as the Mosque of the Prophet.”
The details of the journey of the Hijra, or emigration, Arafa says, “are the very same details of the Night Journey, because the Night Journey is indeed the secret Hijra.”