King's Evangelical Divinity School

2 April 2010

We Only Hear One Side of the Story

Today's Independent reports an attempt by Muslims visiting the cathedral in Cordoba, Spain (formerly the Great Mosque of Cordoba under the Moors), to pray there despite it being forbidden by the Catholic authorities for Muslims to do so. Now compare this story with oft-heard attempts by religious Jews to pray in the Temple Mount compound (known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary) where the Dome of the Rock is located. It is not permitted for them to do so.

Now some will respond by arguing Muslims can't have it both ways. Either they must accept that people of other faiths should be allowed to pray in Muslim holy sites which also have religious significance to Christians and  Jews, or else they can't militantly demand to pray in former Muslim sites like the cathedral at Cordoba now under the control of another faith.

But this is not really the point I'm trying to make, and the issue is more complex than this. It is true some Muslims riot when there is a rumour that Jews seek to enter the Temple Mount compound and pray. But interestingly, it is the Israeli authorities which forbid Jews praying there in a bid to keep the peace. Moreover, the Jewish religious authorities have also issued religious pronouncements forbidding Jews to pray in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Thus, while in Cordoba the Catholic authorities prohibit Muslims from praying in the cathedral, in Jerusalem the Israeli state and religious authorities forbid their own people from praying at the Temple Mount, which is under Mulsim control, this despite three thousand years of Jewish religion and history there inextricably intertwinned. How different the two approaches are.

Yet I still haven't yet quite made the point I'm driving at, which is this. Israel won't allow non-Muslims near the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount enclosure. I have often been stopped from walking through the Muslim cemetery on the eastern wall during Friday prayers by Israeli soldiers. Also, I was once on a tour of Jerusalem which included a young British Muslim woman who wanted to visit the Dome of the Rock. At first, Israeli soldiers at the gate wouldn't let her in because given her secular, Western  appearance they didn't believe she was a Muslim. Only when she could prove her Islamic credentials was she allowed in (while the rest of us had to wait outside). Meanwhile, the Temple Mount has remained under the control of the Islamic waqf since Israel took control of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War.

And this is precisely my point. We often hear how, after Friday prayers, Palestinian youths are provoked by rumours that orthodox Jews plan to storm into the Temple Mount to pray and respond by throwing stones over the Western Wall to Jewish worshippers below. But have you noticed how we hear very little about this other side of the story, the efforts by the Israel state and religious authorities to stop Jewish religious activity in the Temple Mount area? You'll have to spend time in Jerusalem to hear and understand the full narrative.

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