By Nadav Shragai, January 19, 2001 (Excerpts).
Al- Buraq was the Prophet Mohammed’s magical winged steed. According to Islamic tradition, Mohammed tied it to one of the walls of the Temple Mount after his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. The Muslims believe the wall in question was the Western Wall, attributing even more holiness to this site than the other walls and recesses around Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount).
However, this veneration of the Western Wall as the place where Mohammed tethered al-Buraq was not unrelated to the fact that this site had became the focus of Jewish nationalist yearnings in the 19th century.
In his new book “The Wars over the Holy Places,” Dr. Shmuel Berkowitz reveals that it was actually the southern and eastern walls of the Temple Mount that were sacred to Islam. The attribution of holiness to the Western Wall began only in the last hundred years.
Berkowitz, a legal expert and respected authority on the holy places in Israel, says the motive was political. Until the 11th century, there was no agreement between Islamic scholars on where Mohammed had tethered his horse, and various spots around Haram al-Sharif were suggested as possibilities.
Over the years, some scholars reached the conclusion that Mohammed entered Haram al-Sharif through the eastern wall, south of the Mercy Gate. Others said he tethered al-Buraq outside the southern wall. No one said anything about the western wall.
In the 11th century, Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem and Muslim geographers pointed to a specific spot outside the Temple Mount’s southern wall as the place where the prophet tied up his horse, today known as the Double Gate or the Gates of Hulda the Prophetess.
Even in the 17th century – less than 400 years ago – the tethering place of al-Buraq was said to be on the outer side of the southern wall, outside the Temple Mount compound, near the southwestern corner, which is also the southwestern corner of the Western Wall. The distance from this corner to the prayer plaza of the Western Wall is about 100 meters.
Berkowitz says that in all the Islamic literature he examined from the 17th century to the 20th century, he found not a single discussion of al-Buraq’s tethering place. He claims that the association between the Western Wall and al-Buraq commenced around the time of the famous clash over the wall in 1929, when the Jews began to bring in chairs, tables, Torah scrolls and Jewish ceremonial objects, and tried to purchase the site from the Waqf Muslim religious trust. The Arabs saw this as a violation of the status quo, and responded with violence.
It was during this period that the al-Buraq mosque was built at the eastern corner of the Western Wall (today part of the Temple Mount compound), with a subterranean chamber claimed to be the place where Mohammed tied up his horse. In all the years of Arab rule over Jerusalem – 638-1099, 1187-1917, 1948-1967 – the Western Wall was never a Muslim prayer site.
Moreover, in the official guides published by the Waqf in 1914, 1965 and 1990, no such claim is ever made. Even the entry for “al-Buraq” in the Encyclopedia of Islam makes no mention of the Western Wall as a holy site or the steed’s tethering place. The entry for “Haram al-Sharif” does mention the “Wailing Wall,” which is what Jews called it over the ages, but not a word is said about it being sacred to Islam.
In talks with the Palestinians in recent months, Israel has drawn upon Berkowitz’s material, especially when the Palestinians argued that the Temple Mount was never the site of a Jewish temple and the story of the Western Wall is a “Jewish invention.”
Nineteen years of Jordanian Arab rule over Jerusalem had left their mark. Clause 8 of the 1949 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Jordan stated that Jordan would permit Jews and Israeli Christians free passage to the holy places. But for 19 years, no Jews could visit the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, Rachel’s Tomb and other sites listed in the agreement.
Moreover, 60 synagogues, many of them magnificent ancient structures, were destroyed during the period of Jordanian rule. Not only that, but Torah scrolls were set on fire, leaving only scraps of burnt parchment. The cemetery on the Mount of Olives was completely vandalized. Thousands of graves were dug up, bones were strewn over the ground, tombstones were smashed or used to build houses and pave roads.
The Jordanians were not the first to restrict Jewish access to the Western Wall.
In the early 20th century, the Mufti ordered Muslim believers to go to battle to save Haram al-Sharif and “al-Buraq” from being taken over by the Jews. The Arabs would smear the prayer site with excrement, bring their flocks there to litter the place with animal droppings, and use it as a garbage dump. The homes of the Mughrabi neighborhood were built right up to the Western Wall, and some of the toilets actually leaned against it. Such things are not done in places sacred to Islam – which could be seen as further proof that the Western Wall was not a Muslim holy place.
The laws of custodianship over the holy places passed in 1981 say nothing about the Temple Mount, the site most sacred to the Jewish people, but they do mention the Western Wall and the Western Wall plaza. These laws attribute holiness not only to the wall and plaza, but to “every building and every passageway, above or below ground, that are entered from the plaza.”
By definition, the excavated passageways and Hasmonean tunnel (whose northern entrance was opened by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996) are thus Jewish holy places, too.
At Camp David and Washington, the Israeli delegation drew the Palestinians’ attention to these laws. They also brought up historical claims.
They reminded the Palestinians that even the British commission of inquiry, established in 1929 in the wake of the riots, determined that the Muslims had never used the Western Wall as a prayer site and it was never sacred to Islam. The Palestinians preferred to dwell on another conclusion reached by this international commission, according to which the Western Wall and the prayer plaza, as property of the Waqf, should remain under exclusive Muslim control.
During these talks, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami donned his historians’ cap several times. The Western Wall, he said, was a remnant of the Temple Mount 635 years before the Al Aqsa mosque was built there in 705 C.E., and thus it was not “the western wall of Al Aqsa,” as Arafat kept insisting.
The mosque did not exist when the Second Temple was destroyed. The Israelis even cited the bill of rights bestowed upon the Jews 450 years ago by the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, which recognizes the right of the Jews to the Western Wall.
The Palestinians quoted passages from Islamic law, repeated last week by the Mufti of Jerusalem, about the holiness of Al Aqsa pervading the ground beneath it, the air above it, and every one of its walls. The Palestinians were willing to accept Israeli administration of the Western Wall and the Jewish quarter, but not Israeli sovereignty.
The Israelis, who offered the Palestinians a corridor to reach the Temple Mount at the beginning of the
talks, found themselves haggling over the width of a corridor leading to the Western Wall.
SUPREME MOSLEM COUNCIL: TEMPLE STOOD ON TEMPLE MOUNT
Although the most recent Moslem “spin” is that there is no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the Supreme Moslem Council in Jerusalem wrote in 1930 that the site’s identification with the First Temple is “beyond dispute.”
Etgar Lefkovits wrote in THE JERUSALEM POST Friday January 26, 2000, that the Council — the supreme Moslem body appointed by the British to administer Moslem and Waqf affairs in mandatory Palestine — published an English-language tourist guide that states,
“The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. 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, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”
The PA/PLO Mufti Ikrima Sabri on Friday denied the report stating it was ’taken out of context’. Sabri says the entire area, including the Western Wall, belongs to Islam. He denies that there ever was a Temple there and says the Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem.