Renowned Egyptian scholar Youssef Ziedan, a specialist in Arabic and Islamic studies, has given a series of interviews to Egyptian television stations of late, the purpose of which appears to be to anger his Muslim colleagues.
His main point has been to say that there is actually no connection between Jerusalem and ancient Islam. When Islam was founded during the 7th century, he says, Jerusalem was a holy city to the Jews, while the Mosque of Omar was not even built until 74 years after Muhammed's death. The reason it was built, Ziedan says, is because the builder wished to detract from the centrality of Mecca in Islam.
Prof. Ziedan is the director of the Manuscript Center and Museum in the Library of Alexandria. He is a public lecturer, university professor, columnist and prolific author of more than 50 books. He won the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his work Azazeel, which was also translated into Hebrew.
Jerusalem was not known as Al-Quds (City of the Sanctuary) during Muhammad's times, Ziedan says.
"Al-Aksa is not ours," he emphasizes, "and though the word comes from the word 'extreme,' it does not refer to the far mosque on the Temple Mount, but rather to a mosque that is the "further" of two mosques in Mecca.
According to Ziedan, Muslims are purposely and falsely turning a political struggle between Israel and the Arabs into a religious one. "The religious aspect of the conflict is nonsense… The only reason why Muslims insist on the sanctity of Jerusalem is simply politics."
Sheikh Hashem Abdul Rahman Mahajeina, of the Islamic Movement in Israel, is among many to attack Prof. Ziedan. While others call Ziedan a "heretic," Mahajeina told Army Radio on Sunday simply that Ziedan was "talking nonsense…. Allah told the prophets to build a mosque in Jerusalem. It was built during Muhammed's times, and he even prayed there." He then retracted somewhat: "It's not a matter of a building, but rather the location. It could be that other nations built [the mosque], it could be it was destroyed in an earthquake… What counts is the location."
Just last week, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that it had unearthed further evidence of Jewish history in Jerusalem, from centuries before the founding of Islam. An impression of the royal seal of the Biblical King Hezekiah, who reigned between 727–698 BCE, was discovered at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
In a related study, the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, a Temple Mount expert and Chief Rabbi of the IDF and later of Israel, wrote that Omar built the Dome of the Rock sanctuary to serve as a house of prayer – not for the Moslems, but for the Jews.
Prof. Ziedan's claims support knowledge long held by Jewish historians. Muslims have historically attached themselves to Jerusalem only when political expedient, beginning with Mohammed himself. In a barefaced attempt to win over the Jews living near him, the founder of Islam decided to announce that prayers would be directed towards Jerusalem – but when the Jews scorned his advances, he slaughtered many of them, and proceeded to direct his followers' prayers towards Mecca instead.
Not only did Mohammed never mention the city in the Koran, but later, when Moslems conquered the Holy Land, they totally ignored Jerusalem and established their capital in Ramle.
Today, once again, it is often overlooked that as recently as 1964, the original PLO charter did not even mention Jerusalem.