For us, Mecca is the heart of the world of existence and Medina is the center of civilization while Jerusalem is a model of coexistence for diverse religions and beliefs. Mecca and Medina are forever forbidden to polytheists and non-Muslims. Jerusalem is the abode of peace (Dar al-Salam) where three religions can coexist. Peace relies on veneration. “Mounts are not saddled for except to [travel to] three Masjids: Al-Masjid Al-Haram, this Masjid of mine [Masjid al-Nabawi], and Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa,” (Bukhari, Sawm: 67) our Prophet said for a reason.
Our Prophet’s ascension to heaven (Miraj) is closely related to perceptions of time and date. This ascension that occurred “horizontally” from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa and then “vertically” from Masjid al-Aqsa to heaven indicated how the world of existence functioned under God’s command and in compliance with the rule and principles God ordained for the universe. In this way, God ensured that a human being, i.e., our Prophet, participates in Ayn al-Yaqeen and Haqq Al-Yaqin dimensions of the truth (Haqq).
The generally accepted view is that the night journey was from Mecca to Jerusalem and the journey to heaven occurred from Jerusalem. “He [the Prophet] came out of Bayt Al-Maqdis and rode on Al-Buraq,” (Bukhari, Bad al-Halq: 6; Muslim, Iman: 258).
This wonderful route has certain implications: the historical journey of mankind is linear as is the short distance between Mecca and Jerusalem while the real journey, i.e., from earth to heaven occurs in the form of a rise. Man cannot walk along a line forever; he walks vertically to God by rising step by step with every moral development. The modern Western historical conception is that the linear journey will last forever, but when we walk 40,000 kilometres in any direction, we come back to where we started. So it follows that the everlasting line on this planet is imaginary. If we want to change, we have to change our dimensions and this is possible only with a vertical, i.e., spiritual and moral, journey. Moreover, if we insist on walking on a straight line instead of upwards, we will not be able to follow a straight line forever, but fall down from the very level we are on. Thus, one’s history will not be upwards, but downwards. After this fall, one becomes “lower than the animals” (Surah al-Araf, 7:179) and finds oneself in Asfal al-Salihin (the lowest of the low) (Surah at-Tin, 95: 5).
Symbolically speaking, Mecca represents the spirit and the reason” while Medina represents the city civilization governed and shaped by this spirit and the reason. Jerusalem is the universe of “veneration” which occurred in history and which is expected to occur until the Day of Judgment.
There are three historical periods in which Muslims managed to prove that practitioners of three religions can coexist peacefully. First, Umar assigned a special status to Jerusalem with an edict. Second, after capturing the city from the Crusaders, Salahuddin Ayyubi established a system in Jerusalem. The third one is the peace of Jerusalem which the Ottomans established in the city and which lasted until the first quarter of the last century.
Today, Jerusalem is far from being an abode of peace. It is not impossible, but very difficult to turn this city into a place where practitioners of three religions can worship God in veneration for each other. There are two possibilities to this end: either the practitioners of three religions come together and establish dialogue to reposition the city as a place for veneration or Muslims achieve unity among themselves before building peace following in the footsteps of Umar, Salahuddin Ayyubi and the Ottomans before the advent of the Community of Union and Progress (CUP).
As I visited Jerusalem and distressing Palestinian cities, I realized that we are far from these two possibilities, to our dismay.
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