(CNSNews.com) – Islamic critics of Israel have for years alleged that “al-Aqsa is in danger,” but Israel’s installation of metal detectors that could prevent weapons or bombs entering what Muslims call the “Noble Sanctuary” – the third holiest site in Islam – has sparked an uproar that prompted threats of violence.
Palestinian leaders are up in arms over Israel’s decision to enhance security at entrances to the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, with one PLO representative calling fitting of metal detectors and security cameras “intrusive and dehumanizing.”
Israel took the decision to step up security after three Arabs shot dead two Israeli police officers last Friday, using firearms apparently smuggled into the revered area.
Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic trust that administers the mosque, said the Israeli measures “harm world peace.”
Protests linked to Friday prayers are being held today in the city and beyond, days after a Palestinian shari’a judge declared it “forbidden” for Muslims to enter the al-Aqsa compound through metal detectors.
In fact, in an age of global terrorism security measures at mosques are generally uncontroversial – when the authorities overseeing them are not Jewish.
The Saudis typically deploy thousands of closed-circuit security cameras at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, during the annual hajj, and during other parts of the year numerous cameras are visible too.
After a suicide bomber in 2015 killed 27 people in an ISIS-claimed attack at a Shi’a mosque in Kuwait, news photographs showed metal detectors at the entrances virtually identical to those installed by the Israelis at the al-Aqsa compound.
A non-exhaustive search on the photo-sharing site Flickr finds pictures of security metal detectors at the entrances to mosques in countries from India to Russia.
A news photo search show armed security personnel frisking worshippers entering mosques from Lahore to Baghdad.
“The metal detectors and security measures at the Temple Mount prevent terror and protect worshippers – like at religious sites everywhere,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tweeted on Wednesday.
Visitors to the Western Wall – the closest observant Jews can get to their holiest site, the Temple Mount – have long walked through metal detectors as they enter the plaza in front of the wall.
Metal detectors and X-ray scanners have also been used at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the world’s most visited Christian site.
CAIR wants Trump to intervene
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Thursday waded into the dispute, urging President Trump to intervene.
CAIR, which calls itself “the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization,” wants Trump to “call on the Israeli government to allow unimpeded access to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque and to uphold religious freedom in the city.”
“This matters to the United States because the Israeli government has restricted religious freedom using military resources paid for, in part, by American taxpayers who contribute billions of dollars to the Israeli economy each year,” said the group’s executive director Nihad Awad.
He said the Israeli measures “limit universally-accepted religious rights and practices,” and charged that they “represent just the latest in a decades-long effort by Israeli authorities to change the historic character of the city and its holy sites.”
“Given that the United States sends billions of dollars to Israel each year and routinely provides political cover for the Israeli government’s violations of international humanitarian law and U.N. Security Council resolutions, our nation has the right to demand that religious freedom for members of all faiths be protected in Jerusalem.”
Awad provided background to the importance of the city to Muslims, claiming that “Jerusalem is mentioned in the Qur’an, Islam’s revealed text, and in Islamic traditions.”
Jerusalem is not, however, referred to by name in the Qur’an.
The Islamic claims to the city are based on the belief that Mohammed rode on his winged steed, al-Buraq, from “the sacred mosque” in Arabia to “the farthest mosque” during his “night journey” (sura 17, the Qur’an).
Scholars say the “farthest mosque” became identified with Jerusalem, and specifically the location today of the al-Aqsa mosque – built after the 7th century Islamic invasion on the site of the first and second Jewish Temples.
Apart from the reference to the “farthest mosque,” there is no mention in the Qur’an to Jerusalem. It does appear more than 600 times in the Old Testament, and more than 150 times in the New Testament.