Ramblings O'mine

Custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque – Questions for Ammar Nasir Sahab

This article was basically written as an email to Maulana Ammar Khan Nasir Sahab, who is a venerated scholar – in both the traditional and lexical senses of the word – of Islam. He has presented some unique-cum-honest-cum-audacious sentiments about the custodianship of Al-Aqsa mosque (but essentially means the temple of Solomon / the Temple Mount i.e. بيت المقدس). He has, quite reasonably I might add, posited that the Jews possess the moral right as opposed to the legal right for the custodianship of the temple mount. You can find the original articles here: Original, Replies to critique, Reply to Hafiz Zubair. I offered my dissent as in ensuing paras.

Dear brother,

I hope you’re fine and enjoying the endless bounties of our Lord. First of all…………….I have following to say:

I earnestly value the ‘moral right’ as opposed to the ‘legal right’ path you adopted. It is quite heartening to see that the Muslim Ummah is not dead yet. There are people like yourself who value ‘truth’ more than any other thing. Keeping everything in perspective and relating it with your analysis it is pretty clear, and quite incontrovertible, that much of the mess that has been created by muslims in our blatant disregard of any claims of custodianship of Al-Aqsa mosque by the Jews in our recent history has been the work of an overarching burden of history, reactionary psychology, and misplaced sentiments for our religious domination. Your demand of an explicit edict from God, your critique on Islahi and Nadwi Sahab’s opinions and declaration of mistaking divine retribution for religious injunction are all masterstrokes. The beauty and firmness of your arguments is evident. However, I feel like you have overshot the issue, just by a little bit. I wish to present an angle, that I believe to be correct. And if not, I would surely like to acquire conviction that it isn’t. The gist is that I think that the custodianship of the Temple Mount is strictly a matter of Divine Practice; it is no moral right of anybody. I’ll try and build my angle through the following queries:

  1. Should we draw a distinction between the Jewish right to Custodianship of Al-Aqsa and their Exclusive right over the Holy Land (ارضِ مقدّس)? From your arguments, prima facie, it transpires that if the right of Jews has not been revoked to the Temple Mount, and you have produced quite reasonable arguments for the same, then by the same token their exclusive rights have neither been withdrawn over the promised land. Moreover, while evidence for the former claim can at max be declared as ‘Causal’, the latter is endorsed through exclusive edicts of the Holy Quran (eg, Sign 21:Composition 5), hence all the more reasonable, on cursory sight. Thus, should the land also be vacated as a matter of a moral right for the Jews? Or, if Bible is to be trusted, Jews even have the divine right to kill any nation and people residing within the confines of their Holy Land if they defy voluntary banishment or servitude (Deutronomy 20:10-18). It sure seems so! On the contrary, if there is a distinction, could you kindly point me towards it!
  2. A confusion that has risen in my mind while pondering upon your arguments, and it might be totally due to my ineptness, is that it seems, at places, you have conflated the right of access to and worship at some place with the right of custodianship. Are both the same? Or so to say, does acceding to one unequivocally necessitates the other? I know this might be a childish query, but if so is the case, as a student, I really want to know how! If not, then doesn’t it seem that Jews surely have the right to worship in and serve the Temple Mount, but that does not validate them to be its exclusive and rightful custodians. The spirit of Quranic and Prophetic instructions seem to fit this description.
  3. It seems plausible to ask for an express decree from God’s side to declare revocation of the Jewish right over Al-Aqsa; if someone, applying the same analogy, demands a similar decree accrediting the Jewish right in the first place, would it be logical? I know, you have already presented several Signs from the Holy Quran in answer to this query, but in my humble opinion, none seems to answer it. What I mean to say is that not only is there no Sign in our scripture that unequivocally ratifies the Jewish right to the Temple Mount, our scripture, even when discussing the custodianship of our Qibla, has only mentioned piety standards that allot any right of custodianship to any body. Thus, how did we come to know that Jews – as a group – were the intended custodians? Since this point has come up as a result of a convoluted relation between various points, let me expound it further below:
    • It is pertinent to point out that your argument for Jewish right to Temple Mount analogizes to some extent how the polytheists had the right to the custodianship of Masjid al Haram which was challenged explicitly. Well, inter alia, your argument that the custodianship of Masjid al-Haram by Polytheists was not challenged till Composition 9 was revealed – seems to be incorrect. God challenged it in principle at the very start (Sign 34:Composition 8). Saying that ‘they are not (befitting to be) the custodians of it’, is a challenge to me! When and how the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) came into an actual position of power to reclaim it was only a matter of mechanics. And then saying that even after the conquest of Mecca, till Composition 9 was revealed, the custodianship remained with the polytheists seems to be an exaggeration of the presented evidence. While they were not barred from worship therein, it doesn’t necessitate that they remained the custodians too. Moreover the keys of the Ka’aba were demanded by the Holy Prophet the very day of the conquest. Secondly, according to the same Sign, the custodianship of the mosque was never befitting to them in the sight of our Lord in the 1st place. Hence it would be wrong to say that the polytheists’ right to our Qibla was cancelled – it was annulled – as in void ab initio. Hence, if the polytheists, just because of being the progeny of Ibrahim and Ismael (عليهما السلام) never had the right to custodianship, may be, the Jews, just because of being the progeny of Jacob (عليه السلام), never had it in the first place either!
    • Masjid al-Haram does not belong to the muslims – it belongs to the God-fearing (Sign 34:Composition 8)! Instead of allotting the custodianship explicitly even in case of our own Qibla, God never mentioned that it belonged to the muslims. He clearly stated a moral/spiritual standard for claim of any right over it. If the muslims in that era met that criteria, it was merely application of a divine principle by God. What I want to say is that the custodianship of ‘Qiblas’ is never allotted eternally or unconditionally. It is allotted on the basis of piety. Hence, similarly the custodianship of Bait-ul-Maqdas was also not granted to the Jews: Knowing God, it ought to have been granted to the pious in the 1st place.
    • Immediately after the Sign in which God reiterated the ineligibility of the Mushrikeen from custodianship of any mosques (Sign 17:Composition 9), God mentioned the standard in explicit terms that rendered anyone the right to their custodianship (Sign 18:Composition 9); and they were all standards of righteousness. The exact same standards were declared to be missing in the people of the Book only a few Signs down the road (Sign 29:Composition 9) in the exact same terms. Doesn’t it mean at least, that they are also ineligible for custodianship? I know you might answer this query by limiting the ambit of the people of the Book to only to that time and space. It would be a very weak argument, but I don’t want to preempt it!
    • The explicit annulment of polytheists’ right to custodianship of Ka’aba perhaps merited mention because they were the de facto possessors and custodians. Whereas, if an explicit mention of invalidation of Jewish right to Bait-ul-Maqdas was not brought about, it makes sense: coz they never had the possession! Hence, instead of decreeing the express annulment for a thing that was no longer possessed, stating of a ‘principle’ apparently seems enough. Don’t you think so? I mean of course, if you agree that there is a difference between right to worship in and the right of custodianship of some temple!
    • The Holy Quran has made it abundantly clear that salvation is no right or monopoly of any particlar group; i.e. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sabieen etc. It seems logical, and the explicit words of the Holy Quran when discussing custodianship of Masajid do apparently assert (Sign 18:Composition 9), that similarly the custodianship of Allah’s Masajid is no one group’s right or monopoly. It is only granted to true believers. Hence, as far as moral standards are concerned, it seems more ethical that we should not think any party, be it muslims, jews or christians, to be the absolute custodians of any of Allah’s (سبحانه وتعالى) particular masajid.
  4. The acts of Umar (رضي الله تعالى عنه) seem to be inclining towards non-recognition of Jewish right to custodianship; and only endorsing their right to worship. I mean, if it was in fact an ‘أمانة’, don’t you think it would’ve behooved Umar to find at least some Jews and hand the custodianship over to them exclusively? Surely, they did not go missing from the World. The argument that the Jews at that time were in no position to claim it, is a very weak explanation. If it was their moral and ethical right, a person of Umar’s calibre ought to have sought them out and handed it over to them. Or at least, give clear instructions to the Ummah that whenever they claim it, just hand it over to them. Moreover, just imagine if is was a matter of ‘right’, how and why Allah did not issue any instructions to do it, the Holy Prophet kept quiet about it, and Umar not only did nothing to hand it over, he clearly agreed to some clauses that would’ve meant the deprivation of a right to its rightful owner, may it be for a short span of time only.
  5. Doesn’t it also seem the intent of the Holy Quran that the custodianship of Allah’s Masajid should remain with those wherein it is ensured that no believer from any ‘group’ holding those Masajid Holy be denied worship in them? I mean, Muslims, apart from a small part of recent history, by virtue of their legacy and exhibited morals have always accepted the joint heritage of the Temple Mount. Whereas, it is almost certain that not only does the Jewish line of reasoning insinuate their explicit right over the temple, it is quite obvious according to their plans and claims that they would certainly stop all others from worship therein, if they get to have their way?
  6. If the Jews had the right of custodianship of the Temple Mount, doesn’t it seem logical that the right ought to have been devolved onto the Christians. After all, Jesus (عليه السلام) was a Jew (you know what I mean). Whether the Christians want it or not, if they have the right of its custodianship, they should be considered the rightful Custodians!
  7. Significant Orders and instructions that are ‘out of normal’, and cannot be unequivocally inferred, are always explicitly mentioned in the Holy Quran. Was the return of the Temple back to the Jews after retrieving it from under the clutches of Christians the ‘normal’ or was keeping it in own custody the ‘normal’ after conquering Syria? Or was the issue too insignificant for God to dilate upon at all?

I hope my ‘angle’ is clear, but I would just briefly like to summarize it. While I understand and appreciate the angle that you have taken, perhaps there exists another angle that might have eluded you. May be, the custodianship of Qiblas, is not the subject matter of religious injunctions (تشریعی امور); it is only a matter of divine practices (تکوینی امور); hence un-claimable as a matter of right. God only considers the right of worship to be of essence and has therefore declared barring it a major offence in the most unequivocal manner. Whereas, the allocation of custodianship of any of His Masajid has always been through His divine practices. If it seems at some place that He is taking it back from some, and awarding it to some, careful analysis reveals that He is only doing so as a matter of Divince Practice; and not through some imitable instructions. That is why He did not award the custodianship to muslims; just like He never awarded it to Jews or Christians. He awarded it only to the righteous! Whenever, He found some particular ‘group’ meeting this criterion of piety, He transferred the de facto custodianship to them. Thus custodianship, in effect, is neither a moral right of any group, that they can demand, nor is there any religious injunction that compels any entity to claim or acquire it through force; may it be muslims or jews. Particularly, if Jewish right to custodianship of the Temple Mount is accepted, there is no reason to refuse any and all of the rights given to them by our Lord in the Bible. Only if, we always consider such rights to be based on righteousness and piety and understand them to be strictly conditional, can we consider them to be no longer applicable. The Jews or Christians must not be stopped from worshipping at a Sanctuary, that they hold sacrosanct, owing to the letter and spirit of Quranic injunctions; but that gives neither the right to claim its custodianship; and nor to the muslims. Custodianship, is no one’s ‘moral’ right that we should accede to it; right to worship is! If this point is agreed to, there is no moral obligation on muslims to hand the custodianship of the Temple Mount over to the Jews, because the Jews don’t possess that moral right; they never had. They met a certain criteria at a certain point in time, wherein they merely possessed custodianship – not as a matter of right, but as a matter of divine principles. They were never allotted any unconditional rights to it. Then it devolved onto Christians and then Muslims; none because they had the right to or were instructed to, but because it was in God’s scheme. Now anyone can claim the right to worship therein, hold it dear to them, serve it, but no single entity can claim its inalienable custodianship – because it is not ‘up for grabs’! Moreover, what corroborates it further is the absence of any instruction, or even vague hint, in the sayings and actions of our Holy Prophet and righthly guided Caliphs that the Temple Mount is only an ‘أمانة’ of the Jews and should be returned to them.

Perhaps, if this angle is kept in mind, almost all of the religious literature and our history starts making sense. Moreover, if the matter is considered to be strictly a matter of Divine Practice, it also obviates the need for any explicit edict of the Holy Quran through which God ought to have revoked its prior custodianship. But owing to this explanation, muslims too do not have any inalienable rights to the custodianship of the Temple; just like the Jews and the Christians don’t! But conflict-resolution and mutual respect of people of the Book’s religious heritage must be, and always has been, considered a deliberate intent of God’s instructions. If the recommendations you have given drive us towards fulfilment of these intents, then there is no logical reason or religious injunction that stops us from doing so. Hence, despite my different route of approach, I agree to your recommendations in principle.

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