According to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, a believer is one with whom one can trust one’s life and property. That is because Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur’an calls its way ‘the paths of peace’ (5:16). It describes reconciliation as the best policy, (4:128) and states quite plainly that God abhors disturbance of the peace (2:205).
Yet, in this world, for one reason or the other, peace remains elusive. Differences—political and apolitical—keep on arising between individuals and groups, Muslims and non-Muslims. Whenever people refuse to be tolerant of these differences, insisting that they be rooted out the moment they arise, there is bound to be strife. Peace, as a result, can never prevail in this world.
One recent example is the ever-recurring conflict over Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a very ancient, historic city with a unique value for all the millions of people of different religious persuasions who believe it to be their very own Sacred Place. Jerusalem is, indeed, a symbol and center of inspiration for the three great Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Jews, it is a living proof of their ancient grandeur, and the pivot of their national history. For Christians, it is the scene of their Savior’s agony and triumph. For Muslims, it is the first halting place on the Prophet’s mystic journey, and also the site of one of Islam’s most sacred Shrines. Thus, for all three faiths, it is a center of pilgrimage, while for Muslims it is the third holiest place of worship.
Now the question arises as to how, when it is a place of worship for all three religions, it can be freely accessible to all. How can the adherents of all the three religions have the opportunity there to satisfy their religious feelings?
Nowadays, all around us, we hear the slogan: "Jerusalem is ours." The raising of this slogan by different parties clearly shows that each one desires political supremacy for itself. All the three believe that without political dominance over this sacred city, they cannot worship God in the proper sense of the word.
If the condition for visiting this sacred place were that only that person or group could visit it who enjoyed political dominance there, Jerusalem would be turned from a place of peaceful worship into a battlefield. As political power can be wielded by only one religious group at a time, the other two groups, who are not in power, will constantly be in opposition to it. In this way, a place which should remain perfectly ‘tranquil’ will be eternally rent by clash and confrontation. As a result, not even the group in power will have the opportunity to perform its religious rites in peace.
This is indeed a very practical and important question which demands a serious rethinking. I would like to deal here briefly with the position of Islam in this matter.
The first indirect reference to Jerusalem appears in the 17th Surah of the Qur’an. It says: ‘Glory be to Him who made His Servant go by night from the Sacred Mosque to the distant Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, that we might show him some of Our Signs’ (17:1). Prior to the emigration in early 622, the Prophet Muhammad went on an extraordinary journey called Mi‘raj (Ascension) in the history of Islam. Through God’s unseen arrangement, this journey took the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem. There, according to the belief of the Muslims, he performed a prayer in congregation with all the Prophets who had been his forerunners at the holy site of al-Masjid al-Aqsa (al Bayt al-Maqdis).
Another reference to Jerusalem appears in one of the sayings of the Prophet recorded in all the six authentic books of Hadith with minor differences in wording. According to this tradition, there are only three mosques to which a journey may be lawfully made for the purpose of saying one’s prayers—al-Masjid al-Haram of Mecca, al-Masjid al-Nabi of Medina and al-Masjid al-Aqsa of Jerusalem. (Certain traditions use the name Masjid Ilia for the Masjid al-Aqsa in Palestine.) Yet another tradition tells us that there is a far greater reward for praying in these three mosques than in any other mosque.
We learn, however, from the Qur’an that in no part of the world can political power be wielded indefinitely by the same nation or group: ‘We bring these days to men by turns’ (3:140). Given that power changes hands from time to time between different communities, how are believers to worship at al-Masjid al-Aqsa? Whereas each Muslim has a natural desire to enter this mosque and prostrate himself before God as the Prophet Muhammad and the other Prophets did.
According to the Qur’an, political power, by the very law of nature, cannot forever remain with one nation. In that case, if this act of worship is linked with the notion that a Muslim can receive God’s blessings only when this land is under Muslim political rule, millions of Muslims would have had to bury this desire in their hearts and leave this world wit