According to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, a believer is one with whom one can trust one’s life and property. That is because Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur’an calls its way ‘the paths of peace’ (5:16). It describes reconciliation as the best policy, (4:128) and states quite plainly that God abhors disturbance of the peace (2:205).
Yet, in this world, for one reason or the other, peace remains elusive. Differences—political and apolitical—keep on arising between individuals and groups, Muslims and non-Muslims. Whenever people refuse to be tolerant of these differences, insisting that they be rooted out the moment they arise, there is bound to be strife. Peace, as a result, can never prevail in this world.
One recent example is the ever-recurring conflict over Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a very ancient, historic city with a unique value for all the millions of people of different religious persuasions who believe it to be their very own Sacred Place. Jerusalem is, indeed, a symbol and centre of inspiration for the three great Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Jews, it is a living proof of their ancient grandeur, and the pivot of their national history. For Christians, it is the scene of their Saviour’s agony and triumph. For Muslims, it is the first halting place on the Prophet’s mystic journey, and also the site of one of Islam’s most sacred Shrines. Thus, for all three faiths, it is a centre of pilgrimage, while for Muslims it is the third holiest place of worship.
Now the question arises as to how, when it is a place of worship for all three religions, it can be freely accessible to all. How can the adherents of all the three religions have the opportunity there to satisfy their religious feelings?
What is the solution to this problem? Its solution lies in a practice (sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad: to separate the religious from the political aspect of the matter. This would enable men of religion to solve the problem by applying what is called ‘practical wisdom,’ that is, to avoid the present problems and grasp the available opportunities. By following this process, they would be able to fulfill their cherished religious desire of which they have been denied unnecessarily so far. In the process, they would be able to avoid confrontational situations. Here are some telling examples of this sunnah of the Prophet.
1. The Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Makkah to Madinah in July 622. For the first year and a half in Madinah (i.e. till the end of 623) he and his companions prayed in the direction of al-Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. At the beginning of 624, the faithful, were enjoined, by Qur’anic revelation, to face in the direction of the Sacred Ka‘bah at Makkah to say their prayers (2:144).
When this injunction regarding the Qiblah (direction of prayer) was revealed, 360 idols were still in position in the Ka‘bah, at that time a long-established centre of polytheism. The presence of these idols must certainly have made Muslims feel reluctant to face in the direction of the Ka‘bah at prayer time. How could believers in monotheism turn their faces towards what was, in effect, a structure strongly associated with polytheism? It is significant that along with the change of Qiblah came the injunction to treat this problem as a matter requiring patience, and not to hesitate in facing the Ka‘bah: “O believers, seek assistance in prayer. God is with those who are patient” (2:153).
As history tells us, this state of affairs continued for six long years, till the conquest of Makkah (630) when the Ka‘bah was cleared of idols. This establishes a very important principle of Islam which may be termed as Al-fasl bayn al-qaziyatayn, that is, the separation of two different facets of a problem from each other. According to this principle, the Ka‘bah and the idols were given separate consideration. By remaining patient on the issue of the presence of the idols, believers were able to accept the Ka‘bah as the direction for prayer.
2. Another such example is the above mentioned heavenly journey (Isra or Mi‘raj) undertaken by the Prophet before the emigration in 622. At that juncture, Jerusalem was ruled by Iranians, that is to say, by non-Muslims. The Iranian ruler, Khusroe Parvez, attacked Jerusalem in 614, wresting it from the Romans, who had governed it since 63 B.C. This political dominance of the Iranian empire ended only when the Roman Emperor Heraclius defeated the Iranians and restored Roman rule over Jerusalem in 629.
This means that, before his emigration, the Prophet Muhammad entered Jerusalem on his Mi‘raj journey to say his prayer at the Masjid al-Aqsa at a time when the city was under the rule of a non-Muslim king. From this we derive the very important sunnah of the Prophet that worship and politics practically belong to separate spheres, and, as such, should not be confused with one another.
3. The third example took place after the Hijrah in 629. At that time, Makkah was entirely under the domination of the idolatrous Quraysh. In spite of that, the Prophet and his companions came to Makkah from Madinah to spend three days there to perform Umrah (the minor pilgrimage) and the circumambulation of the Ka‘bah. This was possible solely because the Prophet did not mix worship with politics. If the Prophet had thought that Umra could be performed only when Makkah came under Muslim political rule, he would never have entered Makkah for worship along with his companions.
In the light of this sunnah of the Prophet, the solution to the present problem of Jerusalem lies in separating the issue of worship from that of political supremacy. Muslims belonging to Palestine, or any other country, should be able to go freely to Jerusalem in order to pray to God in the Aqsa Mosque. Worship should be totally disassociated from political issues.
To sum it up, the only practical solution to the problem of Jerusalem, in present circumstances, is to apply the above principle of Al-fasl bayn al-qaziyatayn to this matter, that is, to keep the two aspects of a controversial issue separate from one another. There is no other possible solution to the problem of Jerusalem. We ought to keep the political aspect apart from its religious aspect so that no ideological barrier comes in the way of worship by the people, and the faithful are able to go to Jerusalem freely in order to satisfy their religious feelings.