Temple Mount Part 5 – The Mount as we know it today.
This is the last in my series on Temple Mount. We last left the story of the mountain in the year 705 CE with the construction of Al Aqsa Mosque. The Dome of the Rock was built 15 years previously. While the city of Jerusalem now became a Muslim majority city, Christians and Jews continued to reside there under Muslim rule. The Temple Mount now became an exclusively Muslim site. While the Jews did not ascend the Mount for fear of treading on the spot where the Holy of Holies stood during Second Temple times, Christians had little interest in the place.
However, that all changed in 1099 when the Crusaders invaded the Holy land. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a military campaign to retrieve lands lost to Christendom in the Middle East and to recapture the holy sites in Jerusalem. They conducted a siege in Jerusalem, eventually forcing the Muslim defenders of the city onto the roof of Al Aqsa Mosque. Once in control, they told the Muslim soldiers to surrender and come down from the roof. When they did, the Crusaders proceeded to massacre them all. So ended Muslim rule in Jerusalem. All the Jews in the city were slaughtered and Jews were forbidden to enter the city. Nice guys, the Crusaders – no?
Temple Mount was now in Christian hands. The country was renamed “The Kingdom of Jerusalem”. The Crusaders renamed Al Aqsa as Solomon’s Temple and used it first as the king’s palace and later as horse stables! In 1119 the structure became the headquarters of the Knights Templar. The Dome of the Rock meanwhile was turned into a church.
Crusader rule of Jerusalem was ended by Saladin and his forces in 1187. Within one week, the Dome of the Rock ceased to be a church and Al Aqsa was returned to be a mosque. Jews were allowed to enter and live in the city and Christians remained. Turkish speaking Mamluks from Egypt ruled until they were overthrown by the Ottoman Turks in December 1516. Many structures were placed on Temple Mount by the various Ottoman sultans which can be seen today. They also continued the practice of not letting any non-Muslims enter the site.
In November 1917 the British conquered Jerusalem, returning the city to Christian rule for the first time in over 730 years. While the shrines and mosques on Temple Mount remained under Muslim religious auspices, non-Muslims were allowed up. During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 the Kingdom of Jordan captured the eastern part of the city including Temple Mount. In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel captured the area from the Jordanians. The site has been a point of contention ever since between Israel and the Moslem world.
Not all has been peaceful in the modern era, even under Jordanian rule. In 1951 King Abdullah I of Jordan was shot and killed on Temple Mount by a Palestinian assassin. In 1969 a Christian evangelical tried to burn down the Al Aqsa Mosque in the hope that this would bring about the second coming of Christ. The arsonist was subsequently found mentally unstable and placed in an institution. In the 1980’s Jewish radicals planned to blow up the mosque. Their scheme was discovered, and they were sent to jail.
Today the Temple Mount is under Israeli sovereignty but under the auspices of the Islamic Waqf. The status quo is that non-Muslims may visit during certain hours on certain days. Only Muslims are permitted to pray on the mount.
When in Jerusalem let me take you to this amazing site – full of history, religion, politics, architecture and beauty.