Muslim history in Palestine

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Muslim history in the Palestine region began in the 630s with the Early Muslim conquests. The Roman region of Palestine was conquered by the Muslim armies of the Caliphate (Islamic Empire) under Caliph Umar. Muslim presence in the region has continued to the present time for nearly 1400 years. Throughout the majority of the era Muslim rule existed in the region of Palestine, except for the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099–1291), the British Rule (1917 - 1948), and after the 1948 Palestine War, which led to the creation of the State of Israel and Israeli sovereignty over a majority of the territories of the British Mandate for Palestine.

The region of Palestine has a special significance for Muslims, as it contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Muslims call it the third holiest site in Sunni Islam . According to the Islamic tradition the Al-Aqsa Mosque (sometimes called: the "Haram Ash-Sharif") is the site from which the Islamic prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to Heaven.


A 16th century Persian miniature painting celebrating Muhammad's ascent into the Heavens

According to the Muslim tradition, during a single night around the year 621, the Islamic prophet Muhammad was carried by his mythological steed "al-Burāq" from Mecca to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to the tradition, from there he ascended to heaven where he spoke with Allah.

The Muslim conquest and Islamization of the region (638–1099)[edit]

ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb's empire at its peak, 644
The Dome of the Rock is established c. 687–691 (photograph from 1856)

Islam first came to the region of Palestine in the 630s during the great Muslim conquests in which the Caliphate (Islamic Empire) conquered vast areas of Asia and Africa, including the region of Palestine. The Caliphate armies under the leadership of ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb defeated the armies of Persia and the armies of the Byzantine Empire and conquered Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, the region of Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and Spain. Although the Koran does not clarify from where exactly Mohammad ascended to Heaven, following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century this site became recognized and identified by all Muslim believers as the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Muslim conquests of the 7th century started a long and steady process of Islamization of many nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa regions. This gradual process, which began with the formation of the Muslim empire, lasted for several hundred years. In addition, in the Middle East region and the region of Palestine in particular, indigenous peoples in various regions who until then spoke mostly Greek, Aramaic-Syriac, Coptic and Berber, began adopting the Arabic language and the culture associated with it. Through time many of the indigenous people merged with the Arab tribes, until a vast region, including the historic region of Palestine, became dominated by the Arabic language and the Arab culture.

Following the Muslim conquest of the region of Palestine, the Caliphate decided to build a grand mosque in Jerusalem - the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In addition, during that time many other Muslim structures were constructed throughout Palestine. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered nowadays as the world's oldest Islamic building still in use.

Rival dynasties and various conflicts which occurred later on, led to a split within the Muslim world. Eventually, during the 9th century, Palestine was conquered by the Fatimid dynasty. During that time the region of Palestine became again the center of violent disputes followed by wars, since enemies of the Fatimid dynasty attempted to conquer the region. At that time, the Byzantine Empire continued trying to recapture the territories they previously lost to the Muslims, including Jerusalem. The Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem who expressed their support to the Byzantine Empire were killed by the Muslim authorities.

Due to the growing importance of Jerusalem in the Muslim world, the tolerance towards the other faiths began to fade. The Christians and the Jews in Palestine were persecuted and many Churches and Synagogues were destroyed. This trend peaked in 1009 AD when Caliph al Hakim of the Fatimid dynasty, destroyed also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This provocation ignited enormous rage in the Christian world, which led to the first Crusades from Europe to the Holy Land.

The Crusader period and the Ayyubid Period (1099–1291)[edit]

Illustration of the Battle of Hattin in a medieval manuscript

In 1099, the Christian Crusaders, under the support of the Roman Catholic Church, launched the First Crusade campaign with the aims of regaining control of Jerusalem from the Islamic Empire, and helping the Byzantine Empire fight the Seljuk Turks. During the campaign, the Crusaders launched an assault on the city of Jerusalem, captured it in July 1099, massacring many of the city's Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, and established the first Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Crusaders transformed the Dome of the Rock into the "Shrine of the Lord" (Templum Domini) and the Al-Aqsa mosque into the "Hall of Solomon" (Templum Solomonis). The local Muslim reaction was to try to find an accommodation with the Crusaders. During this era, the larger Muslim world looked upon the setbacks in Jerusalem with indifference.[1][2][3][4]

In 1187, the Ayyubid Sultan Salah ad-Din led his armies to win a great victory over the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin.[5] As a direct result of the battle, Islamic forces once again became the dominant power in the region, re-conquering Jerusalem and several other Crusader-held cities.[6]

The Christian defeat led to a Third Crusade aimed to regain the lost territories in the Holy Land. Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) launched a siege upon the city of Acre, after which he conquered the city and killed 3,000 Muslims. After a second victory won in the Battle of Arsuf, the Crusaders arrived to Jerusalem, but withdrew without trying to conquer the city. Following another military clash in Jaffa, which wasn't won by either side, Saladin and Richard the Lionheart signed the Treaty of Ramla in June 1192. Under the terms of the agreement, Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control but the city would be open to Christian pilgrims. The treaty reduced the Latin Kingdom to a strip along the coast from Tyre to Jaffa.

In 1250, the Ayyubid Egyptian dynasty was overthrown by slave ("Mamluk") regiments, and a new dynasty - the Mamluks - was born.

At that time, the Crusade Campaigns were not seen by the Muslims as a conflict between Western and Eastern civilizations; rather, they were considered as "the intermittent fighting that had been raging between the Byzantine and Islamic empires for centuries."[7] In the parts of Palestine ruled by the Crusaders, the local population adjusted to the new occupation just as they had to previous foreign Muslim occupations.[8]

Eventually, in 1291, the forces of the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt al-Ashraf Khalil forced a long siege upon the city of Acre, which was the final Christian landhold in the Holy Land. The Mamluks captured the city on May 18, 1291, killing most of the Christian local inhabitants, thus ending the second Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.[9]

The Mamluk period (1260–1517)[edit]

On September 3, 1260, at the Battle of Ain Jalut held in the Jezreel Valley, the Muslim Egyptian Mamluks under Baibars defeated the Mongols and stopped their advance. His successor Al-Ashraf Khalil completed the victory by sweeping the last of the Crusaders out of Palestine. The Mamluks were to rule Palestine for the following two centuries (1291-1516). The Mamluks, ruling from Damascus, brought some prosperity to the area, particularly to Jerusalem, with an extensive programme involving the building of schools, hospices for pilgrims, the construction of Islamic colleges and the renovation of mosques. The ascendency of the Burji over the Bahri Mamluks, together with recurrent droughts, plagues and pestilence like the Black Death and taxation to cover the costs of wars against Crusaders and Mongols (the last of which was "Tamurlane's horde") brought about both growing insecurity and economic decline. By the end of their reign, with the decay of internal control and massive population losses due to plagues, Bedouins moved in to take advantage of the decline in defenses, and farmers abandoned their lands. They sacked Ramla in 1481 and annihilated a Mamluk army that had been raised in Gaza to repel them.[10][11] By the end of the 15th century, Jerusalem's population amounted to approximately 10,000, mostly Muslims, with roughly 1,000 Christians and 400 Jews.[12]

On August 24, 1516, at the Battle of Marj Dabiq, the Ottoman Empire forces defeated the Mamluk sultanate forces and thus the Ottomans became the new rulers of Syria. On October 28 they defeated the Mamluk forces once more in the Battle of Yaunis Khan and they annexed the region of Palestine. By December of that year the entire region of Palestine was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed]

Under the Ottoman rule (1516–1917)[edit]

As a result of the Ottoman advance during the reign of Selim I,[13] the Sunni Ottoman Turks occupied the historic region of Palestine. Their leadership reinforced and ensured the centrality and importance of Islam as the dominant religion in the region. Swamps with the risk of malaria made it difficult to settle and farm on the coastal plains and in the valleys throughout most of the Ottoman era.[14] In 1834, a popular uprising erupted against the rule of Wāli Muhammad Ali. The main cause of the uprising was indignation at being drafted by the Egyptian army. At first the rebels managed to take over many cities, including Nablus, Jerusalem and Hebron. In response, Egyptian military leader Ibrahim Pasha commanded an army force of 40,000 people against the rebels and managed to put an end to the rebellion, conquering Gaza, Ramleh, Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and Acre. Ibrahim Pasha's conquests had a significant demographic change as the region of Palestine had an influx of Muslim tribal immigrants.[15] Ibrahim Pasha, in wresting control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, clashed with the regional ambitions of the European Great Powers and, in order to assuage their unease, he reversed Ottoman policy and opened the country up to both foreigners and non-Muslim populations. Despite the brevity of Egyptian overlordship, since the great powers restored the fortunes of the Ottomans and their sovereignty over Palestine, the long term effect was to lay the groundwork for the development of extensive European activities and interests in Palestine.[16]

In modern times[edit]

In the late 19th century, the Zionist movement called for the establishment of a nation-state for the Jewish people in the region of Palestine, which would serve as a haven for the Jews of the world and in which they would have the right for self-determination.[17] As a result, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund encouraged immigration and funded purchase of land, both under Ottoman rule and under British rule, in the region of Palestine.[18]

British rule[edit]

In 1917, at the end of the First World War, the British Empire conquered the region of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire. The United Kingdom was granted control of Palestine (today's Israel, West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan) by the Versailles Peace Conference which established the League of Nations in 1919 and appointed Herbert Samuel, a former Postmaster General in the British cabinet, who was instrumental in drafting the Balfour Declaration, as its first High Commissioner in Palestine. The British occupation of the region brought an end to hundreds of years of successive Muslim rule in the region of Palestine.

During World War I, Britain had endorsed and promised to foster a Jewish national home as laid out in the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The declaration was met with no Arab opposition until Faisal of Syria raised an objection a full year after the declaration was made. Faisal and his brother, Abdullah of Jordan, tried to implement conflicting visions of pan-Arab monarchies in Palestine and the Balfour Declaration stood in the way of both monarchs.[19]

Following multiple severe manifestations of violence against the Jewish population in Europe, large waves of Jewish immigrants were turning towards the region of Palestine during those years. The gradual increase in the number of Jews in Palestine led to the development of a proto-Arab-Palestinian national movement, influenced and inspired by Muslim leader and Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini. Zionism, the ideology advocating the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, was increasingly identified as a threat by the Muslim-Arab population in Palestine. This anti-Zionist trend became linked to a fierce anti-British resistance (like in the 1920 Palestine riots and during the 1936–39 Arab Revolt).

The High Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel, issued an order in December 1921 establishing a Supreme Muslim Council with authority over all the Muslim waqfs and sharia courts in Palestine. In addition, in 1922 the British authorities appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini as the Mufti of Jerusalem. Until the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine took place, the Council operated as the Governing body of the Arab community under the British Mandate, and co-operated with the British government in Palestine. All along its operation, the Supreme Muslim Council advocated an active resistance against the Jewish "Yishuv", supporting the Arab underground anti-British movements in the country.[20]

In 1937, the British suggested to solve the dilemma of the two national movements by dividing Palestine into two states linked economically: one Arab state and one Jewish state. The Jewish yishuv accepted the proposal. The Arabs of Mandatory Palestine rejected the proposal.[21]

1948 Palestine War[edit]

In 1947, following the rise of violent manifestations in the British Mandate for Palestine, the British government decided to withdraw from the region. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 proposed to split the territory of the British Mandate for Palestine into two separate Jewish and Arabic states. Immediately after the Partition Plan was approved by the UN General Assembly, the Arab leadership rejected the plan and opened a 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine.[21]

On May 14, 1948, one day before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine led by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, made a declaration of independence, and the state of Israel was established.

Contingents of Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi armies invaded the territory of Palestine, thus starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The nascent Israeli Defense Force repulsed the Arab nations from part of the occupied territories, thus extending its borders beyond the original UNSCOP partition.[22] By December 1948, Israel controlled most of the portion of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River. The remainder of the Mandate consisted of Jordan, the area that came to be called the West Bank (occupied by Jordan), and the Gaza Strip (occupied by Egypt). Prior to and during this conflict, 711,000[23] Palestinians Arabs fled their original lands to become Palestinian refugees, in part, due to a promise from Arab leaders that they'll be able to return when the war is won. However, leaders of the invading Arab armies made it clear that had the Arabs won the war, Palestine would have been divided up among the Arab states and Palestinian Arabs would have been subservient to the ruling foreign monarchs.[24]

Most Israeli-Jews refer to the 1948 Palestine War as the "War of Independence", while most of the Arab citizens of Israel refer to it as the Nakba (catastrophe), a reflection of differences in perception of the purpose and outcomes of the war.[25][26]

Modern state of Israel and the Palestinian territories (1948 onwards)[edit]

The Dome of the Rock (photograph from 2005)

Because the Jordanian Legion captured the Temple Mount during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and as a result Jerusalem's division after the war, the Temple Mount as well as the rest of the Old City of Jerusalem were now under the control of the Kingdom of Jordan. In addition, following the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank during the war, King Abdullah I of Jordan removed Amin al-Husayni as Grand Mufti and appointed Sheikh Hussam ad-Din Jarallah as the new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on 20 December 1948. The Supreme Muslim Council was eventually disbanded in 1951 by the Jordanian authorities.[citation needed]

Upon conquering the West Bank, the Jordanians removed all traces of Palestinian Arab identity, annexed the territory into Jordan, and did their best to integrate the Arabs who lived there into Jordan's social structures. The Egyptian government did not annex the Gaza Strip, but instead ruled it as a foreign occupying power. The Palestinian Arabs of the Gaza Strip were denied Egyptian citizenship, kept in squalid refugee camps, and any Palestinian national identity or aspirations were ignored by the Egyptians, at best. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser used the Palestinian Arabs as political tools with which to harm Israel's image among Western countries while at the same time rally support behind his pan-Arab vision among the Arab countries.[27]

On July 20, 1951 king Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated while visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque. The assassination was carried out by a Palestinian from the Husseini clan. The Palestinian gunman, motivated by fears that king Abdullah would make a separate peace with Israel, fired three fatal bullets into the King's head and chest.[citation needed]

In 1964, Palestinians in Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).[28] In 1967, as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were preparing to conquer Israel, the IDF struck first and within days, captured massive territory from all three combatants.[29] After the conquest of the Temple Mount, the Chief Israeli Rabbinate announced that Jewish people are forbidden of entering the Temple Mount. Since 1967, Israel controls the security on the Temple Mount, but the Muslim Waqf controls administrative matters just as it did during the Jordanian occupation.[30]

During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the PLO, under the direction of Yasser Arafat, had been trying desperately to convince the Arab world to wage war against Israel on the Palestinians' behalf. In 1990, Arafat met with Saddam Hussein to express support for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait because Saddam was prepared to link the Kuwait invasion with what he referred to as "the liberation of Jerusalem."[31] The Arab world felt betrayed by Palestinian support for Saddam and denied the PLO millions of dollars they would have received.[32] During the 1990s and 2000s (decade), suicide attacks were the method of choice among Palestinians. Saddam rewarded the "families of the suicide bombers to the tune of $25,000."[33] At the same time, Islamist factions of Palestinian society, most notably Hamas, gained popularity with goals of the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamist Palestine that would eventually grow into a new pan-Arab, pan-Islamic, worldwide empire. From the Islamists' point of view, the Arab–Israeli conflict is not a conflict between two populations over the area of Palestine, but rather a jihad to prevent infidels from establishing a state in what they consider to be Muslim land.[34][35]

Today Islam is a prominent religion in both Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Israel's Muslim population accounts for 16.1% of the population in the country (as of 2005),[36] making them the second largest religious group in Israel after the Jewish population. Most of the population in Gaza and the West Bank are Muslims (80% in the West Bank and 99% in the Gaza Strip).[37][38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Esposito, John L., ed. 'The Islamic World:Past and Present 3-Volume Set: Past and Present 3-Volume Set. Google Books. 2 February 2013.
  2. ^ Karsh, Efraim. Islamic Imperialism: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. p. 73
  3. ^ Wasserstein, Bernard. The Politics of Holiness in Jerusalem. 21 September 2001. 2 February 2013.
  4. ^ Siddique, Tahsin. "Locating Jerusalem in Theology and Practice During the Crusades." University of California, Santa Cruz History. 21 March 2009. 2 February 2013.
  5. ^ Madden 2000
  6. ^ "Battle of Ḥaṭṭīn." Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 February 2013.
  7. ^ Karsh, 72
  8. ^ Karsh, 76
  9. ^ Fromherz, Allan James. Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times. Google Books. 4 February 2013.
  10. ^ Laura Etheredge, Historic Palestine, Israel, and the Emerging Palestinian Autonomous Areas, The Rosen Publishing Group 2011 p.43.
  11. ^ Michael Avi-Yonah, A History of Israel and the Holy Land, A&C Black, 2003 pp.279-282.
  12. ^ Richard G. Neuhauser, 'Jerusalem,' in John Block Friedman, Kristen Mossler Figg (eds.),Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, Routledge 2013 pp.300-302, p.302
  13. ^ Parkes, James (1970) [1949]. "Turkish Territorial Divisions in 1914". Whose Land?: A History of the Peoples of Palestine. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 187. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Ruth Kark and Noam Levin, ‘The Environment in Palestine in the Late Ottoman period, 1798-1918,’ in Daniel E. Orenstein, Alon Tal, Char Miller (eds.),Between Ruin and Restoration: An Environmental History of Israel University of Pittsburg 2012 pp.1-28 p.11.
  15. ^ Prof. Gideon M.Kresser; Dr. Reuven Aharoni. "Egyptian emigres in the Levant of the 19th and 20th centuries" (PDF). Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. 
  16. ^ Alex Carmel 'A Note on the Christian Contribution to the Development of Palestine in the 19th century,' in David Kushner (ed.) Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social, and Economic Transformation, BRILL, 1986 pp.303-304.
  17. ^ Hattis Rolef, Susan (Sheila) and Avraham Sela. "Zionism." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 928–932.
  18. ^ Mark Tessler. A History of the Arab–Israeli Conflict (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 53.
  19. ^ Karsh, 137–138
  20. ^ "al-Husseini, Hajj (Muhammad) Amin." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 360–362.
  21. ^ a b Sela, Avraham. "Arab–Israeli Conflict". The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 58–121.
  22. ^ Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the Arab Israeli Conflict: A History With Documents. Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston. (2004). Pg. 198
  23. ^ GENERAL PROGRESS REPORT AND SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONCILIATION COMMISSION FOR PALESTINE, Covering the period from 11 December 1949 to 23 October 1950, GA A/1367/Rev.1 23 October 1950
  24. ^ Karsh, 139
  25. ^ Amara, Muhammad; Marʻi, Abd el-Rahman (2002). Language Education Policy: The Arab Minority in Israel. Springer. p. xv. ISBN 978-1-4020-0585-5. 
  26. ^ Masalha, Nur; Said, Edward W. (2005). Catastrophe Remembered: Palestine, Israel and the Internal Refugees: Essays in Memory of Edward W. Said (1935–2003). Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-623-0. 
  27. ^ Karsh, 140
  28. ^ Karsh, 158
  29. ^ Karsh, 162–165
  30. ^ Sela. "Jerusalem." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia. Sela. pp. 491–498.
  31. ^ Pierre Salinger and Eric Laurent, Secret Dossier: The Hidden Agenda behind the Gulf War (London: Penguin, 1991), p. 160. qtd. in Karsh, p. 178.
  32. ^ Karsh, 179
  33. ^ Karsh, 182
  34. ^ Sela. "Jihad." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia. Sela. pp. 500–502.
  35. ^ Karsh, 214
  36. ^ [1]
  37. ^ "The World Factbook." CIA. 19 December 2015. West Bank
  38. ^ "The World Factbook." CIA. 19 December 2015. Gaza Strip