Karen Armstrong’s book, ‘History of Jerusalem’ introduces us to a difficult and complex place, the cross-roads and too often battleground of the world’s three greatest religions. History of Jerusalem shows that suffering doesn’t necessarily make us better nobler place. After Babylonian exile, the persecution at the hands of Rome didn’t make Christians more sympathetic to the sufferings of others and al-Quds became much more aggressively Islamic city after Muslims suffered at the hands of Crusaders. Fear of destruction and extinction was one of the main motives that impelled the people of antiquity to build holy cities and temples. In their mythology the ancient Israelis told the story of their journey through the demonic realm of the wilderness –a non-place where there was no-one and no-thing ---to reach the haven of the Promised Land. The Jewish people endued annihilation on an unprecedented scale in the death camps. Not surprising that Israel founded after the catastrophe of Holocaust fails to implement the policies of sweetness and light.
Israelis may not be the worst conquerors of Jerusalem, not comparable to what was carried out by the Crusaders nor have they permanently excluded their predecessors as the Byzantines banned Jews from the city. Crusader’s Jerusalem was a cruel city, established in slaughter and dispossession. Like the Israelis today, Crusaders had founded a kingdom that was a foreign enclave, dependent over overseas help and surrounded by hostile states. Crusaders shared the Israeli passion for security. Their religion of hatred was ingrained and therefore self-destructive. Crusaders lost their state. Islamic conquests of Jerusalem made possible for Jews to return to their holy city. Caliph Hazrat Umar (ra) & Salah-u-din both invited Jews to settle in Jerusalem when they replaced Christian rulers there. Hazrat Umar (ra) expressed the monotheistic ideal of compassion more than any previous conqueror of Jerusalem with the possible exception of Hazrat Dāwūd (as). He presided over the most peaceful and bloodless conquest that the city had yet seen in its long and often tragic history.
If a respect for the previous occupation of the city is a sign of the integrity of monotheistic power, Islam began its long tenure in Jerusalem very well indeed. By the end of the seventh century a Hebrew poem hailed Arabs as the precursor of the Messiah and looked forward to the ingathering of the Jewish exiles and the restoration of the temple. Even when the Messiah failed to arrive, Jews continued to look favorably on Islamic rule in Jerusalem. In a letter written in the eleventh century the Jerusalem rabbis recalled the ‘mercy’, God had shown His people when He allowed the ‘kingdom of Ishmael’ to conquer Palestine. They’re glad to remember that when the Muslims arrived in Jerusalem ‘there were people from the children of Israel with them; they showed them the spot of the temple and they settled with them until this very day’.
During Muslim rule Jews enjoyed all the privileges in al-Andulus. The loss of Spanish Jewry was mourned throughout the world as the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Israel since the destruction of Temple. The fifteenth century had seen escalation of anti-semantic persecution in Europe, where Jews had been deported from one city after another. The conquest of Jerusalem by the Ottomans, who had befriended the Jewish exiles, sent a tremor of excitement through the communities of the diaspora that would continue to ferment for over a century. Suleiman, the Ottoman king, who’d probably merely hoped to attract more Jews to Jerusalem, was hailed as the friend and patron of Israel. In Jewish legend he’s said to have helped to clear the site himself and to have washed the wall with rose water to purify it as Hazrat Umar (ra) and Salah-u-Din had done when they reconsecrated the Temple Mount. They lived peaceful life in the Turkish rule when the European Christians were hostile towards them.
Why on earth, then the Jerusalem-question has grown explosive? Amidst the catastrophes which have befallen the Jewish and the Palestinian people it’s not surprising that myth has come to the fore. For Jews 1967 conquest (return to Zion) is mythical occurrence and its symbolism overpowering. From the Jebusite period, nearly 2000 years back, Zion was revered as a city of peace and earthly paradise of harmony and integration. The Israeli psalmists/ prophets also developed this vision. Ever since Crusades permanently damaged relations between the three religions of Hazrat Ibrahim (as), Jerusalem has been a contentious place. If the psalmists/ prophets insisted that Zion must be a refuge for the poor and that devotion to sacred space was pointless if Israelis neglected to care for the vulnerable people in their society, why aren’t Palestinians welcome in Zion today?
Difficulties arise when we see religion primarily as a quest for identity. World religions insist on the importance of transcending the fragile and voracious ego, which so often denigrates others to win its yearning for security. Leaving the self behind isn’t only mystical objective; it’s required also by the disciplines of compassion, which demands that we put the rights of others before our own selfish desires. For over 2000 years Jerusalem has been a focus for the apocalyptic hopes (fantasies) of Jews, Christians and Muslims…..a city of holy war, the place of a conflict in which compromise is impossible and the only solution is the kind of total victory that we have found to be in the course of the troubled 20th century. If after bloody strife, the Israelis and Palestinians could achieve a coexistence of wolf-and-lamb, as was the millennium vision of prophet Isaiah; Zion would indeed become beacon of hope. As the long history of Jerusalem shows nothing is permanent or guaranteed, the societies that have lasted the longest in the holy city have generally been the ones that were prepared for some kind of tolerance and co-existence in the holy city. That rather than a sterile and deadly struggle for sovereignty must be the way to celebrate Jerusalem’s sanctity today.Like · ·