Al-Quds (Jerusalem) lies at the heart of Islam and the Islamic movement. Masjid al-Aqsa was the first qibla of the Muslims until the direction of prayer was changed by a revelation from Allah to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, during the first year of the hijra. It is also significant because it was from Masjid al-Aqsa that the Prophet went on the mi’raj after he was transported at night from Masjid al-Haram in Makkah to al-Quds (al-Qur’an 17:1). Muslims took possession of Masjid al-Aqsa and Palestine in the fifteenth year of the hijra (638CE), after which time — except for a brief period when the Crusaders occupied it between 1099 and 1187CE — it remained under Muslim control until the British colonialists arrived in the heartland of Islam in 1918. By political intrigue, and in league with the tribal chiefs of Arabia, the British engineered the defeat of the Uthmaniyyah khilafah, leading to the dismemberment of the Ummah into small and weak nation-States. When the British colonialists finally left, Palestine was handed over to the zionist colonialists from Europe.
During the Muslim administration of al-Quds, both the Jews and Christians enjoyed complete religious freedom; their places of worship were respected and protected. The Crusaders, on the other hand, permitted neither Muslims nor Jews any such freedom; the Jews were not even allowed to enter al-Quds. Since the zionist occupation of Palestine and al-Quds, religious persecution and desecration of places of worship have again become the norm. Both Muslims and Christians have suffered the zionists’ brutality and persecution.
We need to consider how Muslims ended up in this sorry state, but first a little digression is necessary. The zionist occupation of Palestine was preceded not only by the dismemberment of the Ummah but by the injection of the poison of nationalism, a concept totally alien to the Qur’anic concept of the Ummah, the single faith community, into the body politic of Islam. It was the ideology of nationalism—Arab nationalism to be precise—that fragmented the Muslims when they were confronted by zionist nationalism in a conflict over control of Palestine. This was inevitable; Arab nationalism was alien to the ethos of the Muslims masses; they could only be mobilized on the basis of Islam, not on the basis of an alien ideology imported from the West. Zionist nationalism, on the other hand, was merely a convenient cover to maintain Western imperial control over a key part of the heartland of Islam. This explains why it continues to enjoy the full backing of the colonial powers.
The Western powers pursued a long-term strategy; they first defeated the Uthmaniyyah khilafah, and then planted their agents in the fragmented body of the Ummah in the Middle East. Muslims ended up with such rulers as Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in the Arabian peninsula, Abdullah ibn Husain in Jordan and Faisal ibn Husain, first in Syria and then in Iraq. These traitors, who were nurtured by the colonialist powers and are therefore loyal to them, were given crumbs for helping to break up the Ummah. When these dictatorships were created, their primary purpose was — as it remains to this day — to protect the zionist state of Israel that was established in Palestine. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, candidly admitted that the Arab regimes are “Israel’s first line of defence.” This is true in more ways than one. These regimes have continued to suppress the Islamic movement, the only vehicle capable of mobilizing the Muslim masses against foreign invaders; and they have fed their populations a steady diet of Arab nationalism to keep Islam at bay. Subservience to the West is a fundamental policy of all these regimes.
It was in this grim situation that the Islamic Revolution succeeded in Iran in 1979. Soon thereafter, Imam Khomeini, as the first truly Islamic leader to emerge in the Ummah in the post-colonial period, took a number of decisions that had far-reaching implications. The zionists, who had maintained an embassy inTehran during the Shah’s regime, and had close relations with the Shah’s repressive institutions, were expelled from Iran. The Islamic State severed all links with the zionist state and handed over the property previously occupied by the zionists to the Palestinians. The Imam then proclaimed that only the mobilization of the Muslim masses would liberate the first qibla of Islam from the clutches of zionism. Towards this end, he declared that the last Friday of Ramadan should be marked as Yaum al-Quds, the Day of al-Quds, on which Muslims throughout the world should reaffirm their determination and commitment to end the continued occupation of al-Quds and Palestine by the zionist invaders.
Imam Khomeini did not appeal to the Palestinians to rise up on the basis of Arab or Palestinian nationalism; nor did he call for the regimes in the Muslim world to pool their resources to liberate al-Quds. Imam Khomeini located the struggle of the Muslim masses in the very roots of Islam, in the month of Ramadan when Muslims worldwide fast together from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is also significant as the month of the Qur’an; it was in this month that the Qur’an was first sent from the Lawh-e Mahfuz (the Well-guarded Tablet); then the first ayaat were revealed to the noble Messenger of Allah (saw) in the Cave of Hira. The revelation of the Qur’an unfolded over the next 23 years until its completion, but what is significant is that the first revelations occurred in this month.
Ramadan is also the month of struggle; it was in Ramadan that the Muslims fought their first battle, Badr, culminating in a resounding victory; it was also in Ramadan that Makkah was liberated from the clutches of the mushrikeen. It was therefore highly appropriate that Imam Khomeini should place the symbol of the struggle for the liberation of Palestine and al-Quds in this month. Since Yaum al-Quds was first proclaimed, Muslims worldwide have observed this day, drawing attention to the sacrilege of zionist vandalism and desecration of Islam’s first qibla, as well as their continued occupation of Palestine and their repression of the Palestinian people.
As recipients and purveyors of Allah’s final message, Muslims are the only people who can grant and guarantee the freedoms of all peoples—be they Jews, Christians or others. Only Muslims recognize the earlier faiths and Prophets; indeed, they are all also Prophets of Islam, and belief in their missions is an article of faith for all Muslims.
By observing the day of al-Quds, Muslims not only begin to fulfil a political obligation, they also acknowledge a religious obligation. The protection of Islam’s sacred places is a duty that is incumbent upon all Muslims. As long as al-Quds remains in the clutches of zionism, this duty remains unfulfilled, and mobilizing the Muslim Ummah toward this objective becomes a religious obligation.
Director, the Institute of Contemporary
Islamic Thought, Toronto, Canada,
Ramadan 1426 AH (October 2005 CE).