Sacred sites shared by more than one religious group can often be a source of conflict, sadly nowhere more so than that most holy city, Jerusalem. But a recent rapprochement in the Christian community could also signal a way forward for Jews and Muslims
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, located in a plaza covering just under 150,000 square metres, is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. It stands on the grounds of the destroyed biblical temples and alongside the al-Aqsa mosque, “the farthest mosque”. The term “al-Aqsa” is often used to refer to the entire area.
For Muslims, the significance of this site derives from the Qur’anic account of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven, which started here. The al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and today the site is administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the religious trust responsible for the buildings as well as prayers.
Although funded by the kingdom of Jordan, the Waqf mainly employs Palestinians. The Waqf Ministry of Jordan controlled al-Aqsa from 1948 to 1967, but after the Six-Day War, Israel occupied the Old City of Jerusalem, and transferred control to an Islamic Waqf trust. This is independent of the Israeli government. However, Israeli Security Forces are now permitted to patrol and conduct searches within the perimeter. Ownership is a contentious issue: Israel claims sovereignty over the whole area but the Hashemite royal family remains a custodian of the site. It is a complicated picture.