Historical Horse Sense

Palestinians have waged a long campaign to deny that Jews have any historical ties to Jerusalem and the the New York Times took up their cause recently

The Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. The current wave of stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks on Israeli citizens are motivated in part by a dispute about who has the best claim to the Temple Mount. As Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently said, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and the Jews have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.”

Palestinians have waged a long campaign to deny that Jews have any historical ties to Jerusalem. Recently, the New York Times took up their cause by publishing an article questioning whether the First and Second Temples ever stood on the Temple Mount. Archaeologists were quick to criticize the story, and others questioned the timing and intent of the piece. Why exacerbate an already volatile situation?

Having raised the issue, however, does the Times have any responsibility to explore the issue in more depth? Historical and archaeological evidence provides strong support for the Jewish case. So does common sense. Since the Jews were in Jerusalem for about 2,000 years before Islam came into existence, they would seem to have the better of the argument about who has the best claim to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. But what, exactly, is the Muslim basis for claiming the Temple Mount?

Well, to put it in a nutshell, the Mount is holy to Muslims because Muhammad supposedly flew there on a mount—a flying horse named Buraq. It had a human head and eagle’s wings and it carried Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and back in one night.

Even though there is only a fleeting reference to the journey in the Koran and even though Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran, this story is the foundation of the Islamic claim to the Temple Mount. The full account is provided in the Hadith and in the Sira (Life of Muhammad). Upon reaching the “farthest Mosque” in Jerusalem, Muhammad ascends through the seven levels of Paradise, meeting various prophets along the way. Adam is on the first level, Jesus is on the second (only the second?), and Abraham (“never have I seen a man more like myself”) is on the seventh. Then Muhammad has an audience with Allah, bargains with Him about the number of daily prayers required of Muslims, and then returns to the Mosque and flies back to Mecca courtesy of Buraq.

The incident is referred to as the “Night Journey” and sometimes as the “Dream Journey,” since Muhammad seems to have backed away from his initial claim that it was a bodily journey. As his wife, Aisha, explained, “The apostle’s body remained where it was but God removed his spirit by night” (Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, 183).

At the time of this revelation, the pagans of Mecca scoffed at the whole idea: “By God, this is a plain absurdity! A caravan takes a month to go to Syria and a month to return and can Muhammad do the return journey in one night?” (Ishaq, 182-183). The question is, are we allowed to express similar doubts today or are the forces of political correctness too strong to allow for dissent?

The New York Times carried a piece questioning the historical ties of the Jews to the Temple Mount. Are the Times editors willing to do a similar piece examining the evidence for the Muslim claim to the same space? As Daniel Greenfield suggests in a short, satirical piece for FrontPage Magazine, the Times should give equal time to dissecting the Buraq legend. For example, says Greenfield, could the Times’ staff investigate the following:

• “Can we get any verification that such a creature [as Buraq] ever existed.”

• “Buraq flew from Mecca to Jerusalem and back in one night…Please provide independent verification of the existence of a flying horse with a woman’s head that can travel faster than the speed of sound.”

If the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount was based on such flimsy evidence, the liberal media would make mincemeat of it. Why is the Buraq legend off-limits? Osama bin Laden famously said that “When a man sees a strong horse and a weak horse, he will, by nature, favor the strong horse.” Compared to the Jewish case, the Muslim claim to the Temple Mount is the weak-horse argument. Buraq was reportedly strong enough to carry Muhammad on a 1,500-mile round-trip journey, but the Buraq rationale for expelling Jews from the Temple Mount shouldn’t carry much weight with fair-minded people.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how weak the weak-horse claim may be if the Western media establishment is filled with weak-horse journalists unwilling to venture beyond the pastures assigned to them.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About William Kilpatrick 59 Articles
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, The Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Aleteia, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. Professor Kilpatrick’s work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com.