The world has many sanctuaries, but the Temple Mount comes out on top. Mount Moriah, as it is also called, is more than impressive. That isn’t due to its height or beauty, but because of the three world religions thronging on that mountain.
The busiest time of the week is Friday afternoon. When the sun is setting, an endless procession of Jews heads to the foot of the Temple Mount. Among them, the Hasidim stand out: black-clad men with imposing fur hats, wide beards, shiny cloaks, and white cloths. The procession ends at the Western Wall – also known as the Wailing Wall – in the section dedicated as a synagogue. There they pray and worship God.
At the same time, the muezzins call the Islamic believers to prayer. In pious cloaks and dresses the Muslims flow through the gates leading to their Dome of Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. They are strictly separated from the Jews because their route is one floor higher. Their sanctuaries are not at the foot but on top of the Temple Mount.
While the Jews and Muslims reach their places of worship, the Christians gather on the north side of the Temple Mount. There the Via Dolorosa starts – the Passion of Jesus. Guided by Franciscan monks, the pilgrims follow the route that Jesus took with his cross. And on their way, they stop at all the fourteen chapels that mark the stages of Jesus’ path.
the Temple Mount, the holiest site for Judaism
According to Jewish tradition, the Temple Mount is where Abraham built an altar to offer his son Isaac to God. When he took up the knife to kill the boy, God intervened and sent him a ram caught in the thicket by its horns.
Some thousand years later, King David ordered his son Solomon to build the first Jewish temple on Mount Moriah. This temple was the house of God, who had decided to live among the Jewish people. After the Babylonians had sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, the Jews built a second temple on the same site.
The second temple was destroyed also. Now by the Romans. That was in 70 CE. Since then, the Jews hope to build a third temple on the Temple Mount. So far their hope has not been fulfilled. And building a temple on another spot is out of the question for them. If God comes back to live among the people on earth, it will be on Mount Moriah, they believe. That is why it is the holiest place on earth for them.
Islam and the Temple Mount
Islam has three very sacred sites. The first is the Great Mosque of Mecca, which is built around the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the house of God, that Abraham (Ibrahim in the Qur’an) founded. The second sacred site is the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. And the third is the Temple Mount.
Just as the Bible, the Koran tells the story of Abraham’s ordeal. Both versions differ though. In Islamic tradition, not Isaac had to be sacrificed, but Abraham’s Arabic son Ishmael. And the event did not take place on Mount Moria, but in Mina, a place near Mecca.
For Muslims, the Temple Mount is sacred because their Prophet Muhammad underwent a journey to heaven from the mountain. During that trip, he received the instructions for prayer, which prescribe that Muslims pray five times a day. During the first years of Islam, Mount Moriah was also the Qibla. That is the place to which a worshiper should turn when praying.
the Temple Mount and Christianity
Also for Christians, the Temple Mount is one of the holiest places on earth. The Bible refers to it often. This starts of course in the Old Testament, which the Christians adopted from the Jews. But in the New Testament as well, many scenes are set on Mount Moriah.
After entering the city of Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple. There he drove out the merchants and money changers, reproved the Sadducees and Pharisees, and healed the blind and lame. He also predicted the destruction of the temple.
The temple was not the only building on the Temple Mount. North of the temple stood the fortress Antonia. That building is essential to Christianity because in the fortress Jesus was imprisoned before he was crucified. In his dungeon there began the agony that led to what Christians believe to be the most important event in the history of mankind: Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.