Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus

"Al-Aqsa Mosque: Islamic Theology and Hashemite Custodianship"
Prof. Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway


Jerusalem, 23 November, 2016
Paul Phuoc Trong Chu, SDB and John Paul Vemo, SDB
Prof. Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway is the first holder of the Integral Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali's Work at the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University (HM King Abdullah II Endowment). He is dean of the Da`wah and Usul Al-Din College, and College of the Qur’an and Islamic Sciences at Al-Quds University. He has taught in International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, and Bard Collete, New York. He is a member of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and a member of the Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem. Dr. Sway was invited by the STS as part of its “Focus on Islam Lectures.” Dr Sway spoke on “Al-Aqsa Mosque: Islamic Theology and Hashemite Custodianship”.

Dr. Sway shared with us about the history of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered as the third most holy site for Sunni Muslims. Al-Aqsa literally means the “farthest mosque”. The Mosque does not refer only to the current building but the whole surrounding area. The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have been transported here while he was praying in Mecca. According to Dr. Sway, during the time of Muhammad, there was no actual mosque building but only a “sacred space”. For 17 years after Muhammad’s migration to Mecca, the orientation of prayer was toward Jerusalem, which was marked by this “sacred space”.

The magnificent Dome of the Rock, which is situated a few meters away from the modern day Al-Aqsa mosque building, was built at the end of the 7th century. This building enshrines the rock where Abraham took his son to be sacrificed in absolute obedience to God’s command. The Old Testament identifies this child as Isaac, whereas Muslim tradition says that the child was Ishmael; though, according to Dr. Sway, the Qur’an does not mention the name of the child. Nonetheless, Dr. Sway reasoned that Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old and Isaac when he was 100 years old. So for 14 years Ishmael was the only son and when God asked Abraham to offer his only son it refers to Ishmael and not Isaac.

Regarding the importance of the Qur’an in relation to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, Dr. Sway said that Jews have the Old Testament, Christians have the New Testament, and Muslims have the Final Testament. He highlighted Muslim’s respect for the Christian and Jewish Scriptures by giving examples of prominent Muslim individuals who named their children according to the figures mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Though respecting the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, Dr. Sway said the Qur’an has the “upper hand” for Muslims. The Quran mentions three important places: Mecca, the Holy Land, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Holy Valley (its location is uncertain). In addition to this list, the Hadith mentions Medina as another holy place. In regards to the geographical boundary of the Holy Land, Dr. Sway said that the Islamic understanding of the Holy Land is not limited to the modern day territory of Israel/Palestine but includes Lebanon and Syria in the North, Egypt in the South and Mecca in the East.

After his lecture, Dr. Sway took up some questions from the STS student body and professors in the audience. One student asked, “Why can’t non-Muslims pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque?” Dr. Sway said that this is not a matter of theology or jurisprudence; that is, there is nothing in Islam that forbids non-Muslims from praying in a mosque. He said that even the Prophet Muhammad invited non-Muslims to pray in a mosque. The current rule of forbidding non-Muslims from praying at Al-Aqsa has to do with administrative and political reasons. To help us understand the implication of these reasons, Dr. Sway cites the incident of the Caliph Omar who, after conquering Jerusalem, refrained from praying inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher because, out of respect for Christianity, he did not want Muslims of later generations to claim the Church as a Muslim mosque. Nonetheless, Omar prayed a few meters outside the Church and, because of this event later Muslims built what is now called the Mosque of Omar which now stands facing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.




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