Temple Mount

NPR offers a series on what a radically Hindu-ized India will look and feel like

NPR offers a series on what a radically Hindu-ized India will look and feel like

Imagine if the state of Texas decided it didn’t like any reminder of its once proud independent past (it was its own nation from 1836-1845) and decided to rename Houston. Henceforth, the title, which had reflected General Sam Houston, president of the short-lived Texas republic, would become known as Bushville, after the last names of the 41st and 43rd American presidents.

The scenario may sound ridiculous, but this is close to what happened in India recently. Residents of Allahabad, a city in the northeastern part of the country that has roughly the same population as Houston, woke up one day to find out they were living in a place with another name.

NPR, which is running a series this week on how India is redefining itself through the Hindu faith, told how this happened.

Tens of millions of Hindus took a ritual dip in the Ganges River this winter as part of the largest religious festival in the world — the Kumbh Mela. For centuries, the festival has been held in various cities in northern India, including Allahabad.

But when pilgrims arrived this year for the Kumbh Mela, Allahabad had a different name.

Last year, officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj — a word that references the Hindu pilgrimage site there. The name Allahabad dated to the 16th century, a legacy of a Muslim ruler, the Mughal Emperor Akbar. "Today, the BJP government has rectified the mistake made by Akbar," a BJP official was quoted as saying when the name was altered.

Name changes for cities aren’t entirely unknown. After all, in 2016, Barrow, Alaska, residents voted to change the name of their municipality back to Utqiagvik, its original Inupiaq name.

But the folks in India are onto something much deeper. This isn’t simply the renaming of Indian cities to reflect pre-British colonial heritage. This is erasing the region’s Islamic history.

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Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict over control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif appears over. It ended well short of its worst possible outcome, but without any finality — again.

By “worst possible outcome,” I mean a terribly bloody escalation. By “without any finality,” I mean that sooner or later the situation will again heat up because the core of the conflict -- which side has the final word on physical control of the site -- remains unsettled.

But that’s how both sides want it for now -- save for each camp’s most radical elements who would relish an explosive fight to the finish. That’s because neither side's leadership Is capable of making the tough political compromises necessary to really defuse the situation.

So this slow-boiling tribal war over land continues. (Need to catch up with recent events?  If so, read this piece from The Economist, written part way through the episode.)

Religion reporters: Jews this week observed the solemn commemoration of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destructions of the First and Second Jewish temples (plus other Jewish tragedies across history) that stood on the Old City esplanade from which the site takes it Jewish name.

While the commemoration ran from Monday evening to Tuesday evening, it's not too late to tie Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew calendar’s month of Av)  to the current state of affairs. You might want to refer to this handy Religion News Service “‘Splainer."

I'm not qualified to speak definitively about just how the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif dispute breaks down along religious, nationalistic and political lines among ordinary Palestinians and other Muslims that support them -- as opposed to the statements of Palestinian leaders who always stress religious claims in rallying global Muslim support.

Suffice it to say that traditional Islam, far more than do contemporary Christianity or rabbinic Judaism (rabbinic, meaning post-Temple), makes little differentiation between the religious and political realms, and that for many Muslims living under undemocratic governments religion is the only outlet for political expression on any level.

However, I do know enough about the Jewish side to suggest that reporters consider the following.

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Wave of distressing news underscores intersection of issues for American and Israeli Jews

Wave of distressing news underscores intersection of issues for American and Israeli Jews

A Yiddish word came to mind as I mentally organized this post about the Jewish world’s recent run of distressing news. The word is fakakta, which, out of respect for my audience, I'll politely translate as “all messed up.” It was one of my mother’s favorite rebuttals.

Yiddish terms tend to sound humorous when plopped into English conversation. But for Jews such as myself who are deeply connected to the tribe, there’s nothing’s humorous about the current spate of headlines.

They include the religious turmoil between and within Judaism’s traditional and liberal movements -- plus, of course, the deadly violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinians over political control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif.

One slice of this balagan (a Hebrew-Russian word translated as “chaos”) was recently covered — and admirably so -- by The Atlantic magazine. The piece probed North American Conservative Judaism’s internal and ongoing struggle over the place of non-Jews within in the center-left (doctrinally speaking, that is) movement.

I’ll say more about this below.

The quickly evolving Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif story is, undoubtedly, as much a political issue as it is religion story. I'll give it its own post once the situation solidifies.

For now, suffice it to say that for many Jews and Arabs and Muslims, even for whom the issue is more political than religious, the site is a powerful symbol of their side’s just rights in the entire Israel-Palestine conflict. To underscore just how fixed the sides are in their narratives, you might read this piece from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and this piece from Al Jazeera.

Then there’s the ongoing conflict between Jewish Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment and Judaism’s more liberal Diaspora movements over prayer space at the Western Wall. I wrote about this a few weeks back, while in Israel.

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From Jerusalem to Standing Rock, victors recast past to reflect their religious worldviews

From Jerusalem to Standing Rock, victors recast past to reflect their religious worldviews

Jerusalem's Temple Mount -- as Jews call it in English, or the Noble Sanctuary, the English version of its Muslim name -- is arguably the world's most fought over bit of sacred land.

Today, the area is under Muslim control and houses the magnificent shrine known as the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Of course these Muslim structures are only the latest in a long line of religious sites that have graced the leveled hilltop.

Over the many centuries, Jews, Romans, and Christians preceded Muslims in claiming the site as their own, as I'm sure most GetReligion readers are well aware.

If so, why reiterate this history?

To make the point that dedicating a location to whatever God or gods are favored by the faith of whoever happens to hold political sway over the site at any given moment is a time-honored way to humble the vanquished and exalt the victorious.

In other words, constructing churches atop the ruins of synagogues, and mosques atop the ruins of churches, or -- as happens in India -- Hindu temples atop the ruins of mosques, and vice versa, seems to be just another bit of human nasty disregard for those who are different from us but over who we have power.

Now to my question of the week.

Was the just concluded (for now, anyway), months-long Standing Rock Dakota Access pipeline protest a contemporary example of -- no pun intended -- literally lording it over Native American spiritual beliefs about the intrinsic sacredness of ancestral lands?

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Has the United Nations become a tool for advancing Muslim nations' religious agenda?

Has the United Nations become a tool for advancing Muslim nations' religious agenda?

It's a journalistic truism that mixing biblical archeology and religious claims with contemporary Middle East politics generally condemns a story to a tar pit of irreconcilability. But of course it's done all the time by all involved parties, with deadly consequences. It's standard fare in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some Palestinians argue that they're indigenous -- and hence the rightful political heirs -- to what today is Israel/Palestine. Their claim -- dubious, I'dsay, given the scarcity of provable evidence -- is that they descend directly from the ancient Canaanite tribes that once roamed the area. That, despite the region's thousands of years of history involving marauding armies and cultural upheaval -- not the least of which was the 7th Century C.E. Arab Muslim conquest of the Levant.

Most traditional Jews (supported by some Christians but not by some anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects) point to the biblical Book of Genesis that says God promised Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) to the patriarch Abraham, making Israel the rightful political power.

This takes us into the realm of theology; either you believe it or or you don't.

Islam, of course, has its own narrative about the land -- and in particular Jerusalem -- further complicating the picture.

Get the United Nations involved and it becomes even more of a briar patch -- which is what's happened of late with the UN's chief cultural agency, the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organizational (UNESCO).

I'm referring to the recent series of votes by UNESCO and its World Heritage Committee that referred to what Jews -- and, hence, Israel -- call (in English) the Temple Mount, and what Muslims -- and, therefore, the Palestinians -- call the Noble Sanctuary. In addition to criticizing Israeli actions there, the resolutions referred to the sites using only their Muslim names.

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Jerusalem crisis: Jews keep offering secret, generic prayers on holy Temple Mount

Jerusalem crisis: Jews keep offering secret, generic prayers on holy Temple Mount

Let me state my journalistic prejudice right up front.

If I am covering an event, in any faith, that centers on worship then I think it is relevant to quote some of the words being said by the worshipers. More often than not, in my experience, there are references in the worship texts themselves that are linked to the theme or event that has made this particular worship service newsworthy.

Does this make sense? If a worship rite followed a great tragedy, what were the prayers said in mourning? Were scripture readings chosen that offered some kind of commentary on the event? Using quotes from these texts can serve as a way to pull readers into the story.

I would argue that this principle would certainly apply if the worship itself is considered controversial. And what if the prayers are controversial or even -- imagine this -- illegal?

This brings me to a recent USA Today story -- focusing on the most controversial piece of land in the world's most controversial city -- that left me shaking my head. Here is how the story opens:

JERUSALEM -- In a move that could further inflame recent Palestinian violence, Jewish activists are defying Israeli law by secretly praying at a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.
On a recent Sunday at the hilltop complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, dozens of religious Jews shoved ahead of a line of tourists. While being closely monitored at the site by security guards, who questioned anyone suspected of engaging in prayer, a number of visitors from a group of about 15 mumbled prayers quietly as they pretended to speak on their cellphones and cupped their hands over their mouths. They recited the prayers from memory, as they had been instructed to leave behind their prayer books before entering.

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The New York Times blows it, gets sucked into Israeli-Palestinian Temple Mount quagmire

The New York Times blows it, gets sucked into Israeli-Palestinian Temple Mount quagmire

There is no long-running conflict more closely covered today than the struggle-without-end between Israelis and Palestinians. The Website of the Foreign Press Association in Israel says some 480 correspondents from around the world currently work in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

That number swells, of course, when the conflict heats up, the simmer becomes an explosion, and more people die, as -- sadly -- is currently the case as Israelis cope with a wave of Palestinian knifings and other attacks. Adding to the total number of journalists writing about the situation are those doing so from outside the conflict zone -- like those churning out stories from the Manhattan headquarters of The New York Times.

Which brings me to a story about Jerusalem's Temple Mount (as Jews call it)/Haram al-Sharif (as its known in Arabic) produced by the Times' home office last week that provoked an angry backlash from Jews and other Israel-supporters to a degree I've not seen in a very long time.

The piece was headlined "Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem's Holiest Place." It was a mess of a story about what is arguably, as the cliche goes, the world's most contested piece of real estate, a site Jews consider their holiest, and Muslims call their third holiest.

The piece focused solely on the historicity of the two biblical-era Jewish Temples. Given the ferociousness of the conflict, such stories easily become about way more than archeology and whatever may be scholarship's current version of history. That's because they go to the very heart of the clashing Israeli and Palestinian narratives -- historically, theologically and, probably most importantly, politically. 

Even getting such a story "factually" correct is not enough, as fact and fiction concerning the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif vary in accordance with which partisan is talking. Still, this piece could claim no such cover.

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Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for The Washington Post to believe it, too? 

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classic model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem." My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete or lacking in context. Could it have been written from an editorial mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here?

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It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

IRA ASKS:

Both Jews and Muslims lay religious claim to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, which has long been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is the basis of their competing claims?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This uniquely and deeply revered religious site in the eastern sector of Jerusalem’s Old City is called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”) by Muslims. Smithsonian magazine says this tract “has seen more momentous historical events than perhaps any other 35 acres in the world,” while The Economist magazine considers it “one of the world’s most explosive bits of real estate.”

That second assertion has been amply underscored in recent months. An expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace tells huffingtonpost.com that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has developed a religious character that was not as explicit in the past.”

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