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Since 2000, Jewish prayers have been banned at the faith’s most holy site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as only Muslims are allowed to even mouth prayers at the site.

Even Jews who have prayed silently while visiting the Temple Mount have been arrested upon Muslim complaints that “infidel” prayers are desecrating the site, where today stands not a Jewish temple, but the Islamic Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to a report in Israel Today, however, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat last week asserted it is time for Israel to restore religious freedom and allow other faiths to pray atop the Temple Mount.

“The government is ultimately responsible for whether or not Jews can pray on the Temple Mount, not the Jerusalem municipality,” Barkat reportedly told students at a religious high school. “My opinion is that everyone should be able to pray there.”

The paper reports that though anyone can “technically” pray at the site, threats of Muslim violence have resulted in a police policy forbidding Jews and Christians from even mouthing prayers while visiting the Temple Mount.

In the past, local Muslims have indeed responded with deadly violence when prominent Jewish leaders have visited the Temple Mount.

Temple history

The First Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.

According to the Talmud, the world was created from the foundation stone of the Temple Mount. It’s believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah, the location where Abraham fulfilled God’s test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The Temple Mount has remained a focal point for Jewish services for thousands of years. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed in about A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al-Aqsa was meant to mark what Muslims came to believe was the place at which Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven to receive revelations from Allah.

Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible 656 times.

Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night on a horse from “a sacred mosque” – believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia – to “the farthest mosque” and from a rock there ascended to heaven. The farthest mosque became associated with Jerusalem about 120 years ago.

According to research by Israeli author Shmuel Berkovits, Islam historically disregarded Jerusalem as being holy. Berkovits points out in his book “How Dreadful Is This Place!” that Muhammad was said to loathe Jerusalem and what it stood for. He wrote Muhammad made a point of eliminating pagan sites of worship and sanctifying only one place – the Kaaba in Mecca – to signify the unity of God.

As late as the 14th century, Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, whose writings influenced the Wahhabi movement in Arabia, ruled that sacred Islamic sites are to be found only in the Arabian Peninsula and that “in Jerusalem, there is not a place one calls sacred, and the same holds true for the tombs of Hebron.”

A guide to the Temple Mount by the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem published in 1925 listed the Mount as Jewish and as the site of Solomon’s Temple. The Temple Institute acquired a copy of the official 1925 “Guide Book to Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” which states on page 4, “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord.’”

No prayer zone

The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their Intifada, or “uprising,” by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.

Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.

The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. The Mount is open to non-Muslims only during select hours, and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf, the Mount’s Islamic custodians.

During “open” days, Jews and Christians are allowed to ascend the Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.

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