“Exalted is He (Allah) who took his bondsman (Muhammad) for a journey by night from Masjid-il-Haram (Ka’abah) to Masjid-il-Aqsa (the Mosque in Jerusalem), the neighborhood whereof we have blessed, in order that we might show him our signs…” (The Qur’an 17:1)
“and great perfection, who once rose to ˹his˺ true form. while on the highest point above the horizon” (The Qur’an 53:6-7)
The Dome of the Rock is a mosque in Jerusalem that sits above a large rock (The Foundation Stone), which is believed to be the location where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Ismail (Isaac in the Judeo/Christian tradition). This rock, and the area around it called the Temple Mount, play an integral role in two Surahs of the Qu’ran, the Israʾ and Miʿraj (Arabic: الإسراء والمعراج, al-’Isrā’ wal-Miʿrāj):
- Israʾ: Muhammad journeys astride Burāq, a mythical winged creature, in the company of the archangel Gabriel to al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem (“the farthest mosque”, where the rock is located). There Muhammad meets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, he then officiates as imam of the ritual prayer for all the prophets assembled, thereby establishing his primacy among God’s messengers.
- Miʿraj: From the rock Muhammad then ascends¹ into heaven with the angel Gabriel and meets a different prophet at each of the seven levels of heaven; first Adam, and lastly Abraham. After Muhammad meets with Abraham, he continues on to meet Allah. Allah tells Muhammad that his people must pray 50 times a day, but as Muhammad descends back to Earth, he meets Moses who tells Muhammad to go back to God and ask for fewer prayers because 50 is too many. Muhammad goes between Moses and God nine times, until the prayers are reduced to the five daily prayers, which God will reward tenfold.
While my visit to the Temple Mount on December 13, 2017 was not as eventful as Muhammad’s, it was still quite interesting.
First of all as a non-Muslim, I was only allowed access through the Mugrabi Gate during non-Muslim visiting hours. A few days earlier after getting lost in the Old City (it’s actually not that difficult²), I accidently tried to enter the Temple Mount via (I think) the Iron Gate, but was prevented by an Israeli policeman. When I asked why, he said “Moslems only” (how to did he know?). When I did enter through the Mugrabi Gate I was asked my religion. I have no idea why, but did find it unsettling³.
There are a list of rules for behavior on the Temple Mount, but one of them must not be the “hawking of tours” as we were approached by a well turned out gent named Bishara⁴, who offered to give us a tour. While bargaining over the price (we were in Jerusalem after all), he mentioned he was a Palestinian Christian. Bishara showed us all around the Temple Mount, but when we approached the Dome of the Rock, he told us only Muslims could go inside. I think he sensed our disappointment and volunteered to enter himself and take some photos with my camera. When I mentioned to him that he was also a Christian, he gave me a look that said “who’s going to know?” (see below photos).
Soon after we met a group of Palestinian women eating lunch. Through Bishara, my wife asked if she could take their photo and they then asked that we join them for hummus, radishes, dolmas (Arabic: mahshi), cherry tomatoes, and conversation. It was a Tony Bourdain moment that I will never forget.
¹ I had always assumed that Jesus ascending to heaven in the New Testament was unique, but beside the above, numerous prophets in the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible, Lehi in the Book of Mormon, The Virgin Mary (called by most Catholics, the Assumption), Arjuna (who ascended in BCE 3227) and numerous other Hindus, Peshotanu (a Zoroastrian figure) and Apollonius of Tyana (a contemporary of Jesus) have also ascended. You know something may be a banality, when Wikipedia has a whole page on the subject (understatedly titled “Entering Heaven Alive“).
² If you’ve never became lost in the Old City of Jerusalem, then you’ve never really visited it.
³ While the Temple Mount is open to all, it is not open to Christian or Jewish religious artifacts or articles, or to the practice of Christian or Jewish prayer. As mentioned above, non-Muslims are NOT permitted to enter into the Dome of the Rock (unless they can pass for Moslem). Note: Sometimes regulations can do what religion can’t.
⁴ Bishara, our guide’s name (in Arabic بشارة) is a common one in the Middle East. It is particularly prevalent with Arab Christians as it means “good news” regarding Jesus. Though in our case he was less than good news, as after providing a perfunctory tour, he took us to a restaurant that overcharged us, which forced me to end his employment. He left a rather unchristian taste in my mouth, that not even copious amounts of fresh pomegranate juice and hummus could wash away.