The Temple Mount in Jerusalem was once the platform on which the great Temple of the Jewish people had stood – destroyed or severely damaged in turn by pharaohs from Egypt, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greek and finally by the Romans.
Recognising the holy nature of the site, the conquering Muslims of the 7th century AD built a structure we now call the Dome of the Rock. The Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik constructed the Dome staking a decisive claim by Islam to Temple Mount.
Before this caliph, it is believed that the second or Rashidun (righteous) caliph after the prophet Mohammed built a small prayer house on the mount that was later expanded into the Al-Aqsa mosque.
The reason for Islamic veneration was that Mohammed was believed to have been transported to this place from Mecca during the so-called “Night Journey”, which took only a single night to achieve. It was here that Allah commanded Mohammed to tell Muslims to pray facing Mecca and not Jerusalem.
Successive Abbasid and Fatimid caliphs rebuilt the mosque until the year 1099 when Christian crusaders audaciously took the city. After 450 years of Muslim rule, Christians were back in charge. The last Christian rulers had been the eastern Roman (or Byzantine if you prefer) emperors governing from Constantinople.
The mosque was immediately regarded as the Temple of Solomon built on top of his stables and it was soon suspected that secret treasures of the great king lay underneath the structure. A new order of knights dedicated to protecting Christian pilgrims took over the building and called themselves the Knights Templar. Our very own Templars then set about extensive building work to convert it to a church and include military installations.
When the Muslim ruler Saladin seized Jerusalem back in 1187, he undid much of the Templar work though the large stone extensions remained and today are the Womens’ Mosque and Islamic Museum. Saladin installed a new minbar and for the centuries that followed it reverted to being a functioning mosque.
After 1967, Jerusalem came totally under Israeli control and in 1969, a fire swept through the mosque incinerating the minbar of Saladin and other decorative features. At first, Palestinians blamed Israelis while some Israelis wondered if the Palestinians had done it themselves. But then it emerged that the real culprit was an Australian called Denis Michael Rohan.
Rohan claimed that he believed if the mosque was destroyed, it would hasten the building of the third Temple – one that would replace the second Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans. This, he asserted, would hasten the coming of Jesus Christ.
Jesus didn’t come. And Rohan was detained in a psychiatric facility until he died in 1995.