Temple Mount in the Umayyad period reconstructed by Leen Ritmeyer and copied from http://www.ritmeyer.com/ the best source on the physical history of the Temple Mount.
This week huge Muslim crowds surged around one of the holiest sites in Christendom, held back by guards refusing to allow them to enter for prayer. (Photos here) Hagia Sophia was built by the Emperor Justinian in 532, replacing a cathedral destroyed by soccer hooligans. It was the greatest church in Christendom; work did not begin on St. Peter’s basilica in Rome until 1506, some decades after Hagia Sophia was taken over by Islam.
Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. The Parthenon in Athens was converted into a mosque in the same conquest. Far to the west, the expulsion of Muslims from Cordoba in 1236 meant that a Cathedral nave was built into the center of the eighth century mosque considered too beautiful to tear down. But the eight-century mosque had itself been built upon an even older Visigothic church. Claims to the “right” to worship here are complicated, not least because of the claim by some Muslims that all of Iberia is lost Muslim territory that Muslims have a duty to repossess. Meanwhile, Cordoba is a cathedral that welcomes tourists and visitors of every faith, although only Catholic worship services may be held. Recent years have seen a series of violent incidents in which Muslims attempt to hold group prayer in the cathedral.
Ataturk had a moment of great wisdom in 1945 when he turned Hagia Sophia into a museum. Neither Christian nor Muslim can kneel in prayer, and neither group can assemble for prayer. But everyone, Atheists, Greek priests, even pagans, can walk freely into the great, domed building and marvel at the glory that was Rome.
The Parthenon, built as a Temple to Athena, used as a Christian Church, then as a mosque, is now used as a museum.
Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is different from the Cathedral of Cordoba because the Muslim religious authorities in control of the site do not permit free access to people of other faiths. Non Muslims are admitted to the Temple platform only at certain hours on arbitrarily announced days, are often turned away even on days when opening hours have been announced, and are refused entrance into the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, although non-Muslim tourists were welcome to enter these holy places only a few years ago. At Cordoba, the Catholic Church allows non-Catholics to enter during regular hours and explore the building. As do the authorities at the Parthenon and Hagia Sophia.
The Temple Mount is regularly used as a base from which to launch violent attacks on worshipers praying at the Western Wall plaza.
But beyond the political and religious aspects of mismanagement by the Waqf, there is the issue of physical destruction. The Waqf has carried out a series of highly destructive projects, removing deep strata of ancient material in an effort to create more underground Muslim worship space for use on the major holidays.
Ataturk had a better idea. He turned Hagia Sophia into a museum. This has enabled people of all faiths and of none freely to visit and experience the glories of the great church. But it has also enabled teams of expert conservators and scholars to study the ancient building, with its layers of Christian and Islamic decoration, recording and preserving it for future generations.
It is time for Israel to do what Ataturk did. Remove the Temple Mount as a perpetual flashpoint between contending groups by making it into a museum, open to everyone to study and to visit, but open to no one as a space to hold public services of worship.
When the messiah arrives, we can let him (or maybe her) take charge.