Friday, November 19, 2010

Rachel's Tomb--And Other Muslim Attempts To Usurp Jewish Holy Sites

Alex Joffe, research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, explains "Why Rachel's Tomb Matters". Here is an excerpt:
...Islam reached Jerusalem in 638 C.E. Though scholars debate whether and to what the event qualifies as a "conquest," there can be little doubt that it brought about a cultural disjuncture. Earlier conquerors and regimes, most notably the Romans and Byzantines, had wreaked their havoc, but they had acknowledged the past even as they erased it. Thus, in renaming the land "Palaestina" in order to sever the Jewish link, the Romans were ironically driven to a term derived from the Bible that simultaneously affirmed that link. They were similarly unsuccessful in renaming Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolia and denying Jews the right to reside there; Jews lived and worshiped elsewhere, but Jerusalem continued to be the center of their faith.

As for the Christian Byzantines, they built churches over the remains of Jewish shrines and synagogues. This was theft, but the linear connection of Judaism to Christianity was never denied; even though church fathers from Paul onward devised practical and theological ways to increase the distance between the two faiths, the connection remained strong.

Islam, however, was different.
In setting out to remake the world in large ways and small, it enjoyed a singular advantage over the Romans. As an offshoot of both Judaism and Christianity, and one purporting to be the final revelation, it not only incorporated the parent traditions but claimed them as its own, mining the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels for stories and personalities that were then Islamified. Abraham, for instance, became the first Muslim, a prophet and ancestor of Muhammad through Hagar. The brief word for this is usurpation. In a concluding step, the originating communities were then accused of having corrupted their own texts.

So too with the landscape itself. The building of mosques on the Temple Mount was the most salient act, planting the flag of Islam on Judaism's holiest site and making it forever irretrievable. This was standard procedure. In India, thousands of Hindu temples were destroyed and thousands more converted into mosques. The Parthenon in Athens went from Byzantine and Orthodox church to Ottoman mosque and then Ottoman ammunition dump. Zoroastrian temples and Jewish synagogues met the same fate. Even the Kaaba in Mecca was originally a pagan shrine. Few of these are likely to be returned to their original owners.

Rachel's tomb marks a partial exception to the rule. The Russian deacon Zosimos, who visited the site around 1421, described the building as a mosque, but in 1615 Mohammad, Pasha of Jerusalem, rebuilt it on behalf of the Jews and issued a firman granting them exclusive use. In modern times, as chronicled recently by the Israeli journalist Nadav Shragai, Jewish possession was confirmed more than once by the Ottoman rulers; in 1841, Moses Montefiore gained official Ottoman permission to renovate the site.

Then, during the period of the British mandate, Muslim claims were again put forward and taken seriously. And in the 1990's, during the Oslo period, the tomb became a bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). As Shragai points out, the PA largely ignored the site in its official publications, but in 1996 it began to refer to the tomb as the mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah—the name of an Ethiopian slave in Muhammad's household who according to Islamic tradition was buried in Damascus. Which brings us back to the present.
Read the whole thing.

The record of Muslim usurping of holy sites is exceeded only by the West's willingness to be deceived.

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