I spoke recently with Middle East scholar and expert on Islam, Harold Rhode. The entire interview is fascinating but this section particularly so.
Rhode describes how Jerusalem was not important in early Islam, and relates a story of Ka'ab al Ahbar, an early Jewish convert to Islam, and Caliph Umar who conquered Jerusalem.
Ka'ab al Ahbar accompanied Umar to the Temple Mount, which was a trash heap, and the question came up of where would be the best place to pray from. Al Ahbar suggested the north side of the Mount, because that way they could be praying in the directions of both the Jewish temple and Mecca.
Umar bristled at this suggestion, saying that Ahbar is still acting like a Jew and accusing him of trying to Judaize Islam. Instead, Umar said, the proper place for prayer would be the southern end, where when they bow down they would deliberately show their backsides to Judaism's holiest spot.
Rhode goes on to say that one of the most important early Islamic scholars (who is particularly important to Wahhabi Islam today) Ibn Taymiyyah, who lived in the 12th century, considered Jerusalem to be Jewish and not Muslim at all, and hated Jerusalem for what it represented, saying that Muslims who venerated Jerusalem were following a corrupt, Judaized version of Islam.
So why do the Saudis, who are Wahhabis, consider Jerusalem important today? Because, as a Saudi diplomat told a friend of Rhode, they are frightened of Palestinian terrorism themselves.
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