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F. E. Peters, Nada Unus, Allen Fromherz
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


One of Islam 's three holiest cities, Jerusalem is most widely believed to have originated as an old Canaanite settlement where David, king of Israel, built his capital and David 's son Solomon built the Temple. Considering the importance of Jerusalem to millions of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, it is extraordinary that the city was is not particularly ancient when compared to the venerable cities of Damascus and Jericho. The archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon discovered some of the earliest evidence of settlement on the Ophel, a hill near the Gihon Spring, dating to only 1800 B.C.E., many millennia after the beginning of human settlement in the Levant. Jerusalem, the English rendition of this pre-Hebraic Canaanite word of possible Jebusite origin, is not mentioned by name in the Qurʾān. Generally called simply “the Holy” (al-Quds) by Muslims, the Islamic tradition unanimously sees a reference to it in the allusion in surah 17.1 in which the Prophet Muhammad was borne by night from Mecca to “the Distant Shrine” (al-Masjid al-Aqṣā). Al-Quds also figures prominently in the hadīth literature, in which it is also referred to by the terms “the Sacred House” (Bayt al-Maqdis) and “the Holy Land” (al-Ard al-Muqaddasah). Muslim armies took Jerusalem without resistance in 635 CE and immediately set to refurbishing its chief holy place, the neglected Temple Mount of the “noble sanctuary” (al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf). They first built at its southern end their congregational mosque (al-Aqṣā), and, by 692, had completed at its center the splendid shrine called the Dome of the Rock, revered both as the terminus of the Night Journey and the biblical site of Abraham 's sacrifice and Solomon 's Temple. Jerusalem and surrounding areas would remain in Muslim hands almost continuously until its loss by the Ottomans during World War I.

Excavations of extensive buildings south of the Ḥaram suggest that the Umayyads may have had ambitious political plans for Jerusalem, which they apparently aborted when Damascus became their new capital. It was the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al- Malik who constructed the Dome of the Rock. During the Crusades Christians and Jews (Jerusalem was filled with Christians and Christian holy places, and the Jews had been permitted by the Muslims to return to the city for the first time since their ban by the Romans in 135 CE) may have outnumbered the Muslims. The Egyptian ruler al-Hākim bi-amr Allāh had the Christians ’ Church of the Holy Sepulcher burned down in 1009, one of the events that provoked the Europeans ’ invasion of Palestine and their occupation of Jerusalem in 1099. According to their own chronicles, the Crusaders killed a large proportion of Jerusalem’s Jewish, Christian, and Muslim population, famously wading in blood up to their knees after their successful siege. The Latin Christian interregnum in Jerusalem lasted a scant century before Ṣalāh al-Dīn (Saladin) drove them out in 1187, long enough, however, for the Crusaders to convert the Dome of the Rock into a church and al-Aqṣā into the headquarters of the Knights Templar.

Under Ṣalāh al-Dīn, the Muslim holy places were restored to their original use, and it was he, aided by popular preachers, who raised Muslim appreciation of what was, after Mecca and Medina, the third holiest city in Islam. The Frankish Crusade appears to have taken the Muslims by surprise, but, thereafter, they were well aware of European intentions toward Jerusalem. In the centuries after the Crusades, the level of hostility between the Muslims and the indigenous Christian population, and particularly the European pilgrims who continued to visit the city (and whose accounts graphically document life there) rose appreciably. Ṣalāh al-Dīn also wished to make Jerusalem a safely Sunnī city; the Shī ʿah were regarded as far more subversive enemies than the Christians. His goal was realized under the Mamlūks, his family 's successors in Egypt and Palestine. From their accession in 1250 they invested heavily in Jerusalem; many of the Sunnī colleges (madrasahs) and Sūfī lodges (khānaqāhs) they constructed around the northern and western margins of the haram still retain some of their expensive elegance, although they are now empty of the students and Ṣūfīs who used to inhabit them.

The Ottomans, who inherited the city in 1517 from the Mamlūks, continued their predecessors ’ generous support of the holy city. The walls that still set off the “Old City” today were built by the Ottomans, somewhat uselessly, perhaps, because the greatest threat to the city came from abroad, not in the form of armed warriors. The might of the Ottomans was tested and broken in the Balkans during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries; consequently, their control of their own affairs in their own dominions was progressively eroded. Even before the Crusades, the Christians of Jerusalem, the Latins, Greeks, and Armenians, had learned the benefit of invoking the protection of the more powerful of their coreligionists; somewhat later, the European powers learned what benefits might accrue to them from manipulating those invocations.

The disintegration of Ottoman sovereignty was nowhere more evident than in Palestine and Jerusalem in the nineteenth century. The city began to fill up with European consulates, European missionaries, and, finally, European archaeological missions, many of them instruments of national policy and all of them far beyond the reach of the Ottoman authorities in what was by then an exceedingly poor city. Even the Jews, always the least considerable and most hapless of Jerusalem 's medieval population, discovered that they, too, had powerful friends and benefactors in Europe. With the aid of those benefactors, the Montefiores and Rothschilds chief among them, the lot of the Jews of Jerusalem improved, and their numbers began to spiral upward. By 1900, there were 35,000 out of a total population of 55,000 (Muslims and Christians numbering 10,000 each).

Ottoman Turkey joined Germany in its unsuccessful war against the Allies in 1914; in December 1917 Jerusalem fell, without damage, to General Edmund Allenby and a British Expeditionary Army. It rested under the uneasy control of British governors during the entire Mandate period (1922–1948). When the British withdrew in 1948, the Jordanians hastened to occupy the Old City, despite the United Nations ’ recommendations for internationalization. It remained a part of Jordan until the 1967 war, when the Israelis took it after fierce fighting. The whole city has since been integrated into the State of Israel, and proclaimed its capital, though this has been declared in violation of international law by UN Resolution 478. In June 1967, the Israeli minister of defense, Moshe Dayan, acknowledged the entire al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf to be the possession of the Muslims. The policy has been repeatedly rendered meaningless. In September 2000, Israeli prime minister Arial Sharon visited the Temple Mount with a sizable police escort and reportedly asserted it and the Islamic holy sites thereafter and permanently to be in Israeli control, sparking the Second Intifada. The building of the Israeli West Bank barrier wall since 2002 has also complicated questions of Palestinian rights to Jerusalem.

The status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and questions regarding who should exercise sovereignty over portions of each continue to be contested issues between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Indeed, as the firestorm surrounding the publication of Nadia Abu El-Haj’s Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Abu El Haj, 2001) attests, this dispute can be seen especially in the fields of archaeology and historical research as both groups claim historic rights to specific parts of the city. It is repeatedly invoked as one of the main issues on which the acceptability of a peace agreement is hinged, and has figured prominently in peace talks including the Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David of July 2000 and the Taba Summit in January 2001. Various suggestions were proposed but not adopted, including a proposition that the city serve as capital to two states and Arab and Israeli neighborhoods be given to the jurisdiction of their respective communal authorities.



  • Abu El Haj, NadiaFacts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
  • Armstrong, Karen. Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1996.
  • Bazian, Hatem. “Al-Quds in Islamic Consciousness: A Textual Survey of Muslim Claims and Rights to the Sacred City.” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2002. Intelligent and intellectual examination of the history and concept of Jerusalem in Islamic theology, literature, and language.
  • Ben-Arieh, Yehoshua. Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century: The Old City. New York, 1984. Charts in detail the rapid and radical changes to Jerusalem in the nineteenth century.
  • Benvenisti, Meron. Jerusalem: The Torn City. Jerusalem, 1976. Generally balanced account of the fate of Jerusalem, its Muslim population, and its Muslim holy places, after 1967.
  • Burgoyne, Michael. The Architecture of Islamic Jerusalem. Jerusalem, 1976. Inventory of the chief Islamic monuments of the city.
  • Busse, Heribert. “The Sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam.”Judaism17 (1968): 441–468.
  • Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York, 2006. Firsthand account of a U.S. president 's experience with the Middle East peace process.
  • Goitein, S. D.“al-ḳuds: Part A. History.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., Vol. 5, pp. 322–339. Leiden, 1960–. Succinct yet detailed account of the history of Muslim Jerusalem.
  • Grabar, Oleg. “al-ḳuds: Part B. The Monuments.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., Vol. 5, pp. 339–344. Leiden: Brill, 1986 . The best brief survey of the monuments of Muslim Jerusalem.
  • Johns, Jeremy. Bayt al Maqdis. Part 2, Jerusalem and Early Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Peters, F. E.Jerusalem and Mecca: The Typology of the Holy City in the Near East. New York, 1987. Comparative study of two of Islam 's holiest cities.
  • Peters, F. E.The Distant Shrine: The Islamic Centuries in Jerusalem. New York, 1993. Shaping of the city of Jerusalem from the seventh to the nineteenth century.
  • Silberman, Neil Asher. Digging for God and Country: Exploration, Archeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land, 1799–1917. New York, 1982. Informative and entertaining account of the archaeological “invasion” of Jerusalem in the nineteenth century.
  • Thompson, Thomas L.The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past. London, 1999. The influence of biblical history and chronology on academic discourse.
  • Tibawi, A. L.Jerusalem: Its Place in Islamic and Arabic History. Beirut, 1969. Muslims ’ accounts of the importance of Jerusalem.
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