Sadaf Azhar – Sub Editor Hiba magazine
During the Makkan period of the Prophet’s (sa) life, in 614, the Persians took Jerusalem from the Romans. They had no regard for the city because, for the Zoroastrians, it wasn’t a holy city. However, they knew that it was the religious and cultural center for the Romans so they decided to make an example out of it.
The Persians killed 90,000 inhabitants, desecrated all the Christian holy sites and stole the True Cross from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This sacking and horrific bloodshed broke the Romans mentally and emotionally. The Khusro, an arrogant man, rubbed in the defeat, claiming ‘whatever god you worship, couldn’t protect Jerusalem’. That’s when Allah (swt) revealed Surah Ar Rum. He informed the Muslims about the defeat of the Persians at the hands of the Christians in future.
Jews and Christians vie for Jerusalem
The Jews allied with the Persians (Zoroastrians) because of their animosity with the Christians. In return, the Jews were allowed to establish their religious life in Jerusalem. So, during the incident of Isra wal Mairaaj (the night journey and ascension of prophet (sa)), Jerusalem was a neglected city.
Upon the return of the prophet’s (sa) journey, Al Quds was shown to the Prophet (sa) while he stood in front of the Kabah while the Quraiysh cross-questioned him and he was able to describe it perfectly. The Makkan polytheists did not believe the prophet (sa) had travelled from Makkah to Jerusalem on Burraq (his white riding animal) that flew by Allah’s (swt) command.
However, in 624, Heraclius fought back, defeated the Persians and recaptured Jerusalem, as revealed in the Quran earlier. This was the same day that the Muslims defeated Quraiysh at Badr. Heraclius destroyed the birthplace of Zoroastrians in retaliation for the desecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
They, however, did not consider the area of Aqsa holy and so as a punishment to the Jews, they turned the area of the Dome of the Rock into a dumpster, throwing even rotting corpses in it on Heraclius’s instruction.
Heraclius rescued the Cross in 628 and was hailed as a Saviour, despite his theological disagreements with the Church. When he returned to his capital, he found Abu Sufyan waiting for an audience with him. This meeting occurred after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, and Abu Sufyan was still an enemy of Islam. Heraclius questioned him about the Prophet (sa) – a sign that the message of Islam was on its way to Jerusalem.
The Prophet’s (sa) Vision
In Madinah, the Prophet (sa) saw a vision of Al Quds while digging the trench to defend the city at the time of Ghazwah al Ahzaab. He prophesied that the Muslims would conquer Jerusalem, Yemen, Abbysinia, Mosul, and Damascus. The Companions who narrated this Hadith were the Companions who lived to fight for and conquer these cities.
The Companions were well aware of the significance of Jerusalem as one of the three Holy cities of Islam. It had been their first Qiblah and the Prophet (sa) had instructed that Muslims should journey to only 3 Masajid- Masjid Al Haram, Masjid Nabawi and Al Aqsa. According to a weaker narration, if Muslims can’t go themselves, then they should at least send some oil to light its lamps. Hence, the Muslims planned to conquer Jerusalem. In a Hadith, the Prophet (sa) tells the Muslims that Salah in Al Aqsa is rewarded 500 times more.
The Seige of Jerusalem by Muslims and their exemplary Human ethics
During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (rta), Muslims made inroads to the Perisan and Byzantine Empires, but it was during the caliphate of Omar bin Khattab (rta) that the Muslims destroyed the arrogant Persians, following the Battle of Qadissiyah.
After the Battle of Yarmuk, the Roman Empire crumbled too. The Muslims laid siege to Al Quds from all directions. The Muslims surrounded it but did not attack it for fear of spilling blood in the Holy Land. When they finally entered Jericho, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius (who was anointed a Saint by the Catholic Church) secretly sent the True Cross to Constantinople. He tried to evacuate the relics of Christianity for fear of treachery by the Muslims, remembering the destruction wrought by the Persians.
The siege lasted 4 months and Sophronius finally realized that the Muslims wanted a bloodless transfer. The leader of the Muslim army, Abu Ubaidah bin Jarrah (rta), sent a written missive assuring them that the Christians would be allowed to practice their religion, control their churches, retain their relics, and protect them if they paid the Jizya (which was less than Zakat payable by Muslims). This Jizya exempted the Christians from joining the muslim army and fighting for Islam, a religion that they didn’t believe in.
Sharhabeel bin Hasana (rta), an eminent muslim commander serving under Abu Ubaidah (rta) thought the enemy were making too many demands, especially the last demand that the Caliph himself should come and take the keys of Jerusalem, because he was ‘spoken about’ in the Scriptures.
Sharhbeel (rta) suggested that Khalid bin Waleed (rta) should be sent instead since he resembled the Caliph. But Khalid bin Waleed (rta) was well known as the commander who won Yarmuk and other battles in Ash Shaam.
Kaab ibn Ahbaar (rta), a Muslim revert who used to be a Rabbi, explained to the Muslims that the ‘follower of the Prophet to come would take the keys to Jerusalem’ and ‘he would come in patched garments and with high ethics’.
Sophronius insisted that Omar (rta) himself should come because he had heard much about his judgment. Also, he was aware of a pact that Amr bin Al Aas (rta) had made in Egypt, where he guaranteed the protection of ‘the lives, religion, wealth, churches, Crosses, land, sea and the one who sign[ed] this treaty [was] protected by Allah (swt) , His Messenger (sa), the Caliph and muslims in general’. He knew that Christianity throve under muslim rule.
Therefore, Abu Ubaidah (rta) wrote to Caliph Omar (rta) and conveyed Sophronius’s demand. Omar (rta) was 60 years old now and journeys weren’t easy for him.
He consulted Uthman (rta) and Ali (rta) (a sign of the Divine transfer to come). Uthman (rta) wasn’t in favour because he felt it would leave Madinah vulnerable to enemies. Ali (rta), the person Omar (rta) consulted most, was in favour of this decision because the Prophet (sa) had great ambitions for Jerusalem. Also Ali (rta) felt this was important if there had been a mention in the Scriptures.
Ali (rta) was made the substitute Caliph while Omar (rta) went to Jerusalem. This was the only journey he took apart from Hajj during his Caliphate, for he loved Madinah and wanted it to remain the center of Islam.
The ‘spoken of’ Caliph Omar arrives in Jerusalem
Omar (rta) made the entire journey with just his sword, his camel and his servant- he had no large posse. Omar wore neither a turban nor helmet- he was bald. He wore a white garment with 17 multi-colored patches on it. The most powerful man on earth, by Allah (swt)’s command, at the time travelled alone with a servant and nothing of the dignitary about him.
He divided the riding time equally with his servant. One of his Duas was: “O Allah purify my garment from being made of the money of the Muslims’. This division was the practical application of his Dua- a manifestation of Amanah. When they reached Jerusalem, it was the servant’s turn to ride the camel and he tried to a talk Omar (rta) into riding instead. Omar refused, saying: ‘Honour is to the one who fulfills his trusts’.
While leading the camel into Jerusalem, which his servant was riding, Omar (rta) accidentally stepped into a puddle of mud that soiled his garment. The streets were lined with spectators waiting for the great man they had heard so much about. He arrived in modern day Golan Heights and some of the companions came to welcome him.
Abu Ubaidah (rta), Yazid bin Abi Sufyan (rta), Amr bin Al Aas (rta) all tried to make him change his garment or wear a helmet because this was a momentous occasion and as a political strategy, they believed that the Muslims should present an impressive sight. Omar refused again saying: ‘We are a people whom Allah honoured through Islam. When we seek it through anything else, Allah will humiliate us’.
The people were stunned. They started to praise his humility and Sophronius exclaimed: ‘To a man like this, Jerusalem is handed over’. He also remarked: ‘With a leader like you, your people will never be defeated.’
Pact of Omar (rta) (Shuroot al Omarriyah)
Omar (rta) and Sophronius signed a Treaty on behalf of the Muslims and Christians. It opened with Basmallah and assured that ‘this is a promise given from the slave of Allah, the commander of Muslims’.
The gist of the pact was of concessions by Christians in exchange of security and protection extended by Muslims to them. However, one of the conditions that the Christians put was that the expelled Jews would not be allowed to settle back in Jerusalem but Omar (rta) allowed the Jews to visit and resume worshipping at their holy sites.
Sophronius then took him to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and handed him its keys. Omar (rta) accepted it as a trust and to this day, the children of Nusaibah bint Kaab (Umm Ammarah), Aal Nusaibah, open the Church for the Palestinian Christians. This solved a lot of inter-Christian disputes. This incident echoed the incident of the Prophet (sa) handing keys of the Kabah to a particular clan after the Conquest of Makkah, an honour which continues to this day.
Echoes of the Prophet’s (sa) TIme
By this time, it was time for Dhuhr prayers so Sophronius offered his Church as a place of prayer. Omar (rta) was far-sighted so he said: ‘If I pray here, the Muslims will turn it into a Masjid one day. So let me pray outside.’ Where he prayed, a 100 feet from the Church, is now Masjid Omar.
This day was a reunion of Sahabah- Omar (rta), Bilal (rta), Amr bin al Aas (rta), Khalid bin Waleed (rta) , Sharhabeel (rta), Abu Ubaidah (rta), Muadh bin Jabal (rta), Abdur Rahman bin Awf (rta)- hadn’t met in years. They had prayed toward Jerusalem in Makkah and had heard the Prophet (sa) describing it after the Mairaj journey. Omar (rta) embraced Bilal for a long time and cried: ‘O Bilal, this is one of the days of the Days of Allah (historical moment). Can you make Adhaan for us, O Bilal?’
Bilal replied: ‘I had promised to myself that I would not make the Adhaan for anyone after the Prophet (sa).’ Omar (rta) pressed him saying: ‘This would make the Prophet (sa) happy and if he were here, he would have ordered you to do the same.’ This was how the first person to make Adhaan in Madinah, in Makkah and in Jersualem was Bilal (rta). In Madinah, Omar (rta) had dreamt of the Adhaan that Bilal (rta) called out. All the companions cried upon hearing Bilal’s (rta) call to prayer. Omar (rta) wept so much that he fell to his knees, remembering the Prophet (sa).
Omar (rta) then wanted to pray in the exact spot where the Prophet (sa) had prayed. Kaab (rta) pointed to the area of the Dome, but Omar (rta) refused. Since this whole area was a dumpster, the Muslims started cleaning it with their hands and found the spot.
Omar (rta) was the first to lead the prayer in Jerusalem after the Rasool (sa) and he recited Surah Saad (which mentions Dawood (as) ruling with justice and not following desires- a verse that shook Omar rta) and Surah Isra.
The Ummah today needs such matchless servitude of Allah (swt) and Ittabah-e-Rasool in action. We need to take the Sahabah as our real heroes in our life. Quran and Sunnah must be the ultimate guide for our choices. We need to learn what it means to be a muslim in heart and soul.
From Allah (swt) we come and to Him we shall return.