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29 Dhu al-Hijjah 1435 AH  

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III - HISTORY OF PALESTINE

Ancient Roman HelmetRoman - Byzantine rule, 63 BC - 638 CE

...So when the second of the warnings came to pass, (We permitted your enemies) to disfigure your faces, and to enter your Temple as they had entered it before, and to visit with destruction all that fell into their power." < Quran Bani Israel 17:6>

In 63 BC, Romans incorporated Judah into their empire, as the province of Judea, and placed the Jewish lands under kings. The Herodian dynasty, a family of Jews who gained favour with the Romans, was appointed to these kingships. They ruled over Palestine from 40 BC until around 100 AD. The most famous member of this family was Herod the Great, who ruled from 37 to 4 BC. He rebuilt Jerusalem and many fortresses in the land and temples in Gentile territories and promoted Hellenistic culture. But his most notable achievement was the building a temple in Jerusalem, which was begun in 20/19 BC and finished in 63 AD, long after his death.

Herod was an ideal medium for the empire. His Jewish ancestry gave him identification both with Jewish culture, and through his close friendships with the Romans, the Romans as well. His rise to power came through many intricately designed connections to the Romans and was spurred on by his desire to be the "king of the Jews." It was during his rule that Jesus of Nazareth (Prophet Eesa, pbuh) was born between 6-4 BC, he would spread his message of monotheism up until around 30 AD when, according to Muslim tradition, he was raised up to heaven. After gathering apostles and supporters in the Galilee whose views often conflicted with the contemporary Jewish religious establishment - Jesus made his way to Jerusalem. As his teachings were judged subversive he was to be put to death. "......But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for a surety they killed him not." <Quran, The Women 4:157> And so it was that the Jews who showed stiff-necked resistance to God's messenger, Jesus, brought about the inevitable doom which followed in the complete destruction of their Temple under Titus in 70 AD.

Masada mountain top fortress Following Herod's death, Roman oppression, and with it Jewish resistance, intensified. Although the Jews could still practice their religion, the Romans reserved the right to appoint priests and enforced regulations that seemed to violate the law given them by Yahweh. This led to subversion and rebelliousness, but the Romans were far too powerful to resist militarily. Subsequently the Judeans revolted in 70 AD, a desperate revolt that ended bloodily. The Romans crushed the Jewish revolt, destroying the temple and laying siege to Jerusalem. It took another three years and 10,000 Roman soldiers to destroy the last Jewish resistance at Masada, a mountain fort, with 960 men, women, and children inside. In desperation, the Jewish revolutionaries chose to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. Between 132-135 AD there was a second Jewish revolt. Subsequently many Jews were executed and a large number were sold into slavery. The remainder were forbidden to visit Jerusalem and many were systematically driven out of Palestine or fled, but Jewish communities continued to exist in Galilee, the northernmost part of Palestine.

In 135 CE the Emperor Hadrian declared a new city on the site of Jerusalem, called Colonia Aelia Capitolina. A new municipal plan was introduced which bore hardly any resemblance to the former city. Indeed the Roman influence is felt to this day: the main streets of the Old City still follow the Roman grid. Jerusalem was no longer the country's capital nor its economic centre. Its religious status also declined: Jews were not permitted to enter, while Christianity was still a forbidden religion. In approximately 313 AD, however, Constantine's assumption of power as sole ruler of the Roman Empire wrought a transformation to the status of Christianity. No longer was it an outlawed and persecuted faith; in fact, it would soon become the Empire's official religion. These developments had a significant impact on Jerusalem. Churches were built on sites identified as sacred to Christianity, attracting large numbers of pilgrims from all corners of the Empire.

By order of the Emperor Constantine and under the auspices of his mother, the Empress Helena, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Resurrection were built in Jerusalem. Another great church, erected on Mount Zion and known as the "Mother of Churches" -- commemorated the site of the Last Supper and the"dormition" of Mary. A golden age of prosperity, security and culture followed and in in time Christianity spread with many Jews as well as Pagans converting to Christianity. It was also under Romans rule that the country was re-named Palaestina, from Philistia. The name Palaestina became Palestine in English. By the 5th Century, Jerusalem's official status within the church hierarchy was also enhanced. Coinciding with the appointment of the city's bishop, Juvenal, as Patriarch, Jerusalem was made a patriarchate, joining Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria.

Numerous influences thus laid claim to Palestine; Hellenistic, Christian and Byzantine during this period. And although Palestine fell briefly to the Persians in 614, fifteen years later, in 629, the Emperor Heraclius restored Byzantine rule. But within a decade, in 638, Jerusalem surrendered again, this time to the forces of a rising power on the stage of history -- the Muslim Arabs.

Muslim Palestine, 638-1099 CE

The Umayyads, 638-750 CE
With the rise of Islam, Palestine was soon acquired by Muslims under the Umayyads in 638 CE. For the first time in its long history, Jerusalem had been spared a bloodbath. Eager to be rid of their Byzantine overlords, whilst recognising the Muslims reputation for mercy and compassion, the people of Jerusalem handed over the city after a brief siege. Only one condition was made: that their terms of surrender be negotiated by the Caliph Umar (RA) in person. In return for surrender, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius, was granted a writ of privileges which guaranteed the right of Christians to maintain their holy places and pursue their customs unhindered. Umar entered Jerusalem on foot. There was no bloodshed. Those who wanted to leave were allowed to do so with all their goods, whilst those who chose to stay were guaranteed the protection of their lives, property and places of worship. Thus began 1300 years of Muslim presence in what became known as Filastin.

Umayyad PalacesThe new rulers did not impose their religion upon the indigenous Palestinians but most of them converted to Islam in little over a century, whilst those Christians and Jews that chose not to, were allowed considerable autonomy their own affairs along with religious freedom and security. Under Muslim rule, the Jews were permitted back into Palestine with Jewish communities and were allowed to prosper. It was in this first century of Islamic rule in Jerusalem, that Abd Al-Malik ibn Al Marwan, a leading caliph of the dynasty, built the Dome of the Rock, inaugurated in 691.

Jerusalem was recognized as the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and as a destination for pilgrimage. This was so because the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had first designated his followers to face Jerusalem when praying (which later changed to Mecca). It is also the site where the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) ascended to Heaven on his night journey (al-Miraj) from the area in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock was later built. The city was therefore, after Makkah and Medina, the third holiest city of Islam. Thus Palestine in being part of the expanding Muslim empire, ruled from Damascus by the Umayyads, profited from both trade and from its religious significance.

The Abbasids, 750-1099CE
The Umayyad Dynasty was and succeeded by the Abbasids (approximately 750 CE), who transferred their capital from nearby Damascus to distant Baghdad. Jerusalem's political and economic importance, which in part had derived from its proximity to the centre of power, thus declined. The population shrank and with it the size of the city. Jerusalem's importance as a religious centre, however, was still remained intact. Palestine shared in the golden age of Islam and all benefited from its message of tolerance with all three monotheistic religions perceiving Jerusalem as a holy city, yearned for it and pilgrimaging to the sacred sites within its walls.

The Crusades, 1099 CE

On 15 July 1099 Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders after a five-week siege and the victors proceeded to massacre the city's Muslims and Jews. After 460 years of Muslim rule the Crusaders restored Jerusalem to Christian hands, and declared the city the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The city's populations underwent a significant change. Western culture now took centre-stage, with French the day-to-day language and Latin the language of prayer. The Jewish and Muslim inhabitants were replaced by European and Eastern Christians, and Jerusalem once more assumed a Christian character, as Christian traditions were renewed and churches and monasteries rebuilt. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the prime destination of the Crusaders, was magnificently restored in stone, in Romanesque fashion.

The palace of the Patriarch ofJerusalem stood west of the church. To the south was the quarter occupied by the Hospitalers (warrior knights who initially undertook to protect and guide pilgrims, and to lodge them in their vast Jerusalem hospice, and eventually became part of the Kingdom's defences). The holy sites on the Temple Mount were declared Christian. The Temple Mount was the seat of the Templars, an order of monastic knights whose names derived from their location.

Muslim Rule, 1187-1917 CE

Salah al-DinSalah al-Din ibn Ayyub, 1187 CE
In 1187 Jerusalem fell to Saladin (Salah-al-Din ibn Ayyub), putting an end to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The great golden cross that rose above the Dome of the Rock was toppled and shattered, to be replaced by the crescent, the symbol of Islam. The city was gradually restored by Saladin, who built numerous public structures. Saladin rebuilt the city fortifications and expanded them to include Mount Zion. In 1212 his nephew Al-Mu'azim Issa, ruler of Damscus, continued the building and added inscriptions in his honour in the walls. Seven years later, however, in 1219 he pulled down the walls, fearing that the Crusaders were liable to return to Jerusalem and make use of the fortifications. Jerusalem remained an unprotected, unwalled city until Sulayman the Magnificent rebuilt its defences. Following Saladin's victory Jews returned to Jerusalem, and were joined by immigrants from the Maghreb, France and Yemen.

The Mamelukes, 1250-1517 CE
In 1260 the Mameluke rulers of Egypt conquered Palestine and became the new masters of Jerusalem. While Mameluke Jerusalem bore prime religious importance, politically it was insignificant. The Mamelukes were soldiers who had been brought to Egypt as property of the ruler from the Central Asian steppes. Since they had been brought into the fold of Islam, they felt a deep commitment to that religion. This was reflected in intensive building in Jerusalem, which has left its mark on the Old City to this day, particularly around the Temple Mount.

Sulayman the MagnificentThe Ottomans, 1517-1917 CE
When the Ottoman Turks defeated the Mameluke forces in 1517, Palestine came under the rule of an empire that was to dominate the entire Near East for the next 400 years. At the outset, particularly during the reign of Sultan Sulayman, better known as Sulayman the Magnificent, Jerusalem flourished. Walls and gates, which had lain in ruins since the Ayyubid period, were rebuilt. The ancient aqueduct was reactivated and public drinking fountains were installed. After Sulayman's death, however, cultural and economic stagnation set in, Jerusalem again became a small, unimportant town. For the next 300 years its population barely increased, while trade and commerce were frozen; Jerusalem became a backwater.

The 19th century witnessed far-reaching changes, along with the gradual weakening of the Ottoman Empire. Political change in Jerusalem and indeed throughout the country was accelerated under a policy of Europeanization. European institutions in Jerusalem, particularly those of a religious character, enjoyed growing influence. Foreign consulates, merchants and settlers, grew in both numbers and power, which led to further innovations and modernizing in Palestine.

For the first time in more than a thousand years, settlement began outside the city walls with many Jewish and Muslim neighbourhoods taking springing up. The city's skyline portrayed a new Palestine at once depicting European influence: European-style buildings, bell towers, and monumental structures such as the Russian Compound and the Notre Dame de France Pilgrims' Hostel.

(Source:© Richard Hooker, World Civilisations; http://www.crystalinks.com/masada.html; The Jerusalem Mosaic )

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