UNESCO Backs Muslim Narrative on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

By Patrick Goodenough | July 9, 2015 | 4:26am EDT
Pope Francis prays in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, as Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall stands by, on Monday, May 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

(CNSNews.com) – A key committee of the United Nations cultural agency adopted a resolution this week whose language implicitly endorses the legend underpinning Islam’s claim to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount -- the assertion that Mohammed tied his winged steed there while en route from Mecca to heaven.

Famed as a place of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer, the Western or “Wailing” Wall is the remnant of a retaining wall on the western flank of the platform that once housed the biblical Temples. As such it is the closest point observant Jews are usually able to get to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

But for Muslim leaders wanting to deny Jewish historical and religious claims to the site, it is dubbed the al-Buraq wall, and the area in front of it the al-Buraq plaza. This is based on the belief that the founder of Islam stopped there during his “night journey” from Mecca to heaven, and tethered his legendary steed, al-Buraq, there while he led prayers with a congregation of “Islamic prophets” including Adam, Noah and Joseph.

Now the World Heritage Committee of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has adopted a resolution which refers to the area below and to the west of the Temple Mount as the “Buraq plaza.”

The resolution, proposed by three Arab countries, Qatar, Algeria and Lebanon, refers to the Temple Mount itself as a “Muslim holy site,” with no reference to its importance to Jews.

It slams Israel for various actions in Jerusalem’s Old City, including construction and excavation work. A light railway system whose route passes near – but does not enter – the Old City is said to be damaging the “visual integrity and the authentic character of the site.”

The resolution’s introduction at the World Heritage Committee’s session in Bonn, Germany, brought criticism from Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, who said it was “full of distortions and is totally disconnected from reality on the ground.”

Gold said in a statement the measure “deliberately ignores the historical connection between the Jewish people and their ancient capital,” and also does not acknowledge Christianity’s links to Jerusalem.

He accused the UNESCO committee of hypocrisy, at a time when jihadists were destroying ancient heritage sites across the region.

“As the historical heritage sites of this area are being systematically destroyed by jihadist forces, such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, UNESCO’s adoption of utterly false allegations about Israeli archeological practices is misplaced and hypocritical, at best,” Gold said.

UNESCO in 2011 became the first U.N. agency to admit “Palestine,” a decision that triggered a U.S. funding cutoff mandated by a 1990 law barring financial support for “the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”

Until then, American taxpayers accounted for 22 percent of UNESCO’s operating budget, and the cutoff sparking a financial crisis for the Paris-based agency.

Since then the Obama administration has repeatedly sought waiver authority to enable it to resume funding, without success.

‘An Islamic endowment … till Judgment Day’

The Temple Mount marks the location of the temple built by Jewish King Solomon almost 3,000 years ago (recounted in 2 Chronicles 3) and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The second temple, built on the site by the decree of Cyrus and improved later by Herod – the temple in which Jesus taught – was razed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century and mosques were subsequently built on the site, which Muslims call al-Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”). One of them, al-Aqsa, is revered as the third holiest in Islam, based on the “night journey” legend.

Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and there is no historical record of Mohammed having visited the city. But the Qur’an (sura 17) says that he traveled from “the sacred mosque” in Arabia to “the farthest mosque” on his way to heaven, and Muslim scholars generally contend that that refers to Jerusalem. (Masjid al-Aqsa is Arabic for “the farthest mosque.”)

The Temple Mount area has been under overall Israeli control since 1967, although an Islamic trust administers the site.

The Palestinians want parts of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, as capital of a future independent state, and Palestinian and Islamic figures have long challenged Jewish historical and religious claims to the mount.

For instance, fatwas attributed to former grand mufti of Jerusalem Ikrama Sabri and former mufti of Egypt Nasr Farid Wasil, dispute Jewish claims to the Western Wall.

“Al-Buraq Wall is part of al-Aqsa Mosque and it is an Islamic endowment,” Wasil said. “Hence, it is not permissible in shari’a for any non-Islamic quarter to claim or possess it. The wall would remain part and parcel of Islamic heritage and endowment forever.”

“Al-Buraq Wall is part of al-Aqsa’s western wall and the whole walls of al-Aqsa are Islamic endowments,” said Sabri. “Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, had honored and blessed the place by tying al-Buraq to the wall, during his Night Journey and Ascension to the Heaven.”

“Hence al-Buraq Wall belongs to Muslims alone in the four corners of the earth and will remain so till Judgment Day. We neither admit nor acknowledge that Jews possess it (al-Buraq Wall) and, also we stress that there is no stone there dating back to Hebrew history.”

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