Muslim Incitement: The 'Al-Aksa in Danger' Lie

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The al-Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem's Temple Mount is one of Islam's most recognized structures. Just a rumor about Israel threatening the site sends Muslims around the world into a frenzy.

It's a dishonest tactic aimed at undermining not only Israel, but Judeo-Christian values as well.

A Contested Site

It's one of the most holy and contested pieces of real estate on earth: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.

For decades, Islamic leaders have incited Muslims to violence by telling them the al-Aksa Mosque is in danger.

At first they claimed that Israelis were undermining its foundations to make it collapse. Now they say it's a threat even for Jews to pray on the sacred plateau.

"The extreme movements believe that Israel is planning to build the Third Temple and to destroy their holy shrine," Islam expert Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, told CBN News.

Known in Arabic as the Haram al Sharif, or noble sanctuary, it's the place where two consecutive Jewish Temples once stood. The second was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Now Muslim mosques occupy the site.

The Golden Dome

The golden Dome of the Rock is the Muslim shrine that's most identifiable on the Temple Mount. But it's the grey-domed al-Aksa Mosque that Muslims consider the third most holy site in Islam.

Muslims believe that Mohammed took a famous night ride from Mecca to al-Aksa on his winged horse al-Buraq.

Al-Aksa was first built in 705 A.D. In Muslim theology, the site precedes the Jews and goes back to creation.

"You know Adam -- when he descended from the heaven -- he came here and he was praying here," one Muslim man told CBN News.

"There's no difference between Suleiman [Solomon] and King David and all the prophets, it's all the same. They've all been in al-Aksa Mosque," a second Muslim man told CBN News

Today, the entire Temple Mount plateau is referred to as al-Aksa.

Nadav Shragai, who wrote "The 'Al-Aksa is in Danger' Libel, the History of a Lie," says when Muslim leaders want to unite the masses, they claim it's in danger.

"The matches, the fuel that always ignites the people and brings them to the streets and brings the violence that's this libel -- al-Aksa is in danger -- and this is baseless," Shragai told CBN News.

Sifting through Debris

Archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay, with Bar-Ilan University and The Temple Mount Antiquities Rescue Committee, said there have been excavations near the Temple Mount but never under it.

"One of the cornerstones of Western civilization was never touched by the spade of the archaeologists," he said.

Barkay said it was Muslims, not Jews, who began digging in an attempt to rewrite history.

"Since the 90s there were many destructive diggings going on in the Temple Mount that were not for archaeological purposes, but the contrary, for destroying archaeological data," Barkay explained.

Around 2000, the Islamic religious authorities dug up thousands of years of history with bulldozers from under the Temple Mount to make room for a giant mosque.

Barkay headed an operation to save artifacts from the discarded material. Years later, archaeologists and volunteers are still sifting through the debris.

Incitement with a Lie

According to Shragai, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, started the libel against Israel in the 1930s. Husseini accused the Jews of wanting to collapse the mosques on the Temple Mount.

That led to Muslim rioting and murder of the Jews -- just the first of many incidents.

Reiter said the tactic hasn't lost its potency.

"They really believe in what they think that al-Aksa is in danger as long as Israel is controlling the eastern part of Jerusalem," he said.

In 1969, the Muslim world blamed Israel for the arson attack on the al-Aksa Mosque by a visiting Australian Christian. That lie continues today.

More trouble in 1996 -- the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in 30 years broke out when Israel opened an exit for visitors to the Western Wall tunnels a mile from al-Aksa.

And in 2004, rain, snow, and a minor earthquake toppled the entrance ramp to the Temple Mount. When Israel tried to rebuild the ramp, it provoked an international Islamic uproar.

West Take Notice

CBN News asked Muslims in Jerusalem what they think.

"It's in danger, to destroy them, to [take] the place, it's in danger," an Arab named Ashraf said.

"They are digging underneath it, and digging and digging and they don't find anything," another man said.

"God will save it," a third said.

Recently, Israel arrested a key Islamic figure for incitement. Sheikh Raed Salah told his followers Israel planned to break into the Temple Mount and they should use their bodies to prevent Jews from going up there.

Experts say it's important the West takes notice now because millions of Muslims believe the lie is true. They say if it brought violence in the past, it will do so in the future.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Middle East Bureau

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