On Christmas Eve before our tour to Bethlehem in the afternoon, we woke up early to see the famed Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem’s old city. Also known as Mount of the House of God, the Temple in Jerusalem, and Haram esh-Sharif, this place is holy for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for very different reasons.
One of the most contested religious sites in the world, Temple Mount is surrounded by four walls, including the Western Wall, built during the reign of Herod the Great. It contains three structures, most notably the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmark.
Dome of the Rock is home to the Foundation Stone or the Pierced Stone. The rock is the reason Jews all over the world turn to this exact location for prayer. It was from this rock that God created the world. It was from this rock that God created Adam, and later Cain and Abel and Noah. It was from this place that Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac before God.
Temple Mount is where Solomon was said to have built the first Jewish temple, which was destroyed, along with the second temple, also destroyed. Jewish tradition states that the third and final temple will be built here.
Contended Jewish history states that Temple Mount is the place where King Solomon kept the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. There is some debate within scholars that this area is also the location of the Holy of Holies, or the spiritual junction of Heaven and Earth. The Holy of Holies is also where the High Priest communicated directly with God.
Seen as the place where God’s divine presence is manifested more than anywhere else in the world, Jews do not walk upon its sacred area, as to avoid accidentally enter the area where the Holy of Holies stood.
While the significance of the Old Testament and much of what Judaism says holds true, this site is also the place of several events in the life of Jesus. The destruction of the first temple was due to the sins of the Jews at the time. The destruction signifies the victory of Christianity over Judaism with the New Covenant put in place by Jesus.
For Sunni Muslims, this site is considered the third holiest in the world. As the Noble Sanctuary, this site is listed as the final destination of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and his ascent to the heavens. The Dome of the Rock, a beautiful gold mosque, built in 692 CE is one of the oldest surviving Islamic structures in the world.
The site of the “Farthest Mosque,” Muhammad’s miraculous night journey, Isra and Mi’raj, took him to the Al-Aqsa Mosque where he led other prophets in prayer before ascending to the heavens. This event is one of the most significant in the Islamic calendar. Interpretations of the Quran agree that this is the site of a temple built by a prophet, Sulayman, in Islam that was later destroyed.
The Foundation Stone also has significance to Islam. It is thought to be the place where an angel will sound his horn on Resurrection Day.
The Western Wall
I also was able to see the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, supports the outer portion of the Temple Mount. Jews come to bring their prayers to God.
Divided by gender in traditional Jewish fashion, this place welcomes bar mitzvah’s every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. Bar mitzvahs are the celebration of a Jewish boy’s coming of age, where he takes responsibility for his own religion. I was lucky enough to see several of these birthday parties. Held on the edge of the male side, women stand on chairs to reach over the wall and throw candies at the birthday boy.
Contrasting these celebrations to the quiet murmurs of prayer, the Wall exposed religion’s beautiful fusion of joy and devotion.
Reflections of a tourist
Walking around the area, I was reminded of my visit to the Taj Mahal. Security guards heavily patrol the area, ensuring all visitors are in accordance to the strict regulations held by the Islamic faith, knees and arms covered, only respectful photographs taken.
Unsurprisingly crowded, hundreds of tourists flocked amass that day to learn about this historic and religious place. Only the seriousness of the guards overpowered the typical nonchalant nature tourists unwittingly bring with them.
It was a breathtakingly beautiful place. I felt the simple feeling of awe in its overwhelming reverence and I am glad we took the time to enjoy this holy area.