This episode has a transcript so that you can read along. You can find it on the Buzzsprout site if you click on Transcript (next to Description) Or find it on the website:
I recorded this interview after I visited the Dome of the Rock and Aqsa mosque on the Haram al Sharif (the Nobel Sanctuary) in the old city of Jerusalem. We made a special arrangement with the 'Awqaf' so that we could enter into the different mosques on the platform.
Then I met with Dr Yousef Al Natsheh, an Islamic art historian who served in the Awqaf for 40 years and who wrote several books on Jerusalem. I recorded this interview in the heart of the old city very close to the Aqsa Mosque.
It is important to understand that the whole area on the top of the hill, enclosed by a wall, is referred to as the Aqsa mosque. The area comprises around one sixth of the size of the old city. The two most famous buildings are the Dome of the Rock with the golden dome and the Friday prayer mosque, also called the Aqsa mosque or the Qibly mosque, on the southern end of the platform. There are other mosques, such as the Marwani mosque and the Omar mosque. Furthermore the area has a lot of small domes, platforms, fountains, schools, arches, four minarets and several other structures that all together form the Haram al Sharif, the Nobel Sanctuary.
We talk about the history of the location, Jewish claims to the site, Islamic architecture, Mamluks and the end of times.
If you want to see some videos I made then check out the social media pages, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and sign up for the mailing list. You can find all the links here:
YouTube video 'Haram al Sharif in 9 minutes'
For a great online (PDF) guide to the Al Haram al Sharif click here
The website that comes with the great walking trails through the old city of Jerusalem by Dr Yusef Al Natsheh is worth exploring. http://enjoyjerusalem.com/
If you are interested in our Travel to Palestine programs please visit the website and if you want to request more detailed information, send us your e-mail address!
Kristel: [00:00:00] Maybe before we get into the questions, can you briefly introduce yourself who you are and what is your relation with the Al Aqsa compound?
Dr Yousef: [00:00:10] With the adhan in the background?
Kristel: Yes, nice background sound.
Dr Yousef: [00:00:14] Lovely. Nice to meet you. Thank you for your interest and I wish you and your audience enjoyable and informative listening. Simply my name is Yusef Natsheh, not Nietzsche.
Kristel: [00:00:37] Haha, well good way to remember it.
Dr Yousef: [00:00:39] Because though I live under occupation, but I am still optimistic. And I consider myself, or I see myself as an art historian, especially historian for Jerusalem architectural developments. And that makes me really involved in history. So to understand architecture, you need some history, you need knowledge, because the stones also can speak.
If you can address them really, they can tell you many hidden stories. I consider myself also a lucky person because I grew up in the old city of Jerusalem. I keep visiting all my childhood memories and I left the city just for two reasons for my personal travels and for my education, which occurred to be in Cairo university for my BA and MA and London for my PhD.
My thesis was about Jerusalem 16th century public building. So to some extent I am an Ottomanist. But you know, I teach at Al Quds University right now. I used to teach in many Palestinian Universities, but all of them in part-time basis. So this is more or less my background, but also I compiled books. You have one of my favorite books, it's 'Around Jerusalem'.
And what is interesting that there is a special tour for Women architecture in Jerusalem in order to please my wife, my daughter. Haha.
So that's something really, I consider that Jerusalem needs more light for women activity. Because you know, Islam, Arabs in general are most probably is a patriarchal society, but mothers, sisters, female actually is more than half of the society by what they are doing in the Palestinian society, not in Islam just, but through Jerusalem history, we have really many many intellectual women who love Jerusalem and give Jerusalem best of its architecture. In Islam, we have Khassaki Sultan, we have Sitt Tunshuq, we have the mothers of many princes, khalifes. In Byzantian period we have Helena, before even we have Eudokia, we have Melisenda. So it's a long series actually of this, but unfortunately these names are hidden and not well known and not even well represented.
So how we can speak about a culture or a society without even giving the right share for the female, the woman. So, this is my intention that there is something to add for this reason, but one of my books, which I consider as one of my sons or a family member, and it is now 24 years old. Is a big book, which is named 'Ottoman Jerusalem, the living city;. It's two big volumes, written by many scholars, but I compiled the second volume and I shared also in a great part of the first volume. And as I told you, I consider it one of my family members. So whenever someone asked me, how many kids do you have? I say five. So, name them, Ottoman Jerusalem is one of them.
So more or less as you can see, or you can recognize, actually, I wear many hats.
Kristel: [00:05:10] Yeah, you do. And what is your relationship, because we're going to talk about the Haram al Sharif, Al Aqsa, I just came from a beautiful visit there with the Awqaf, and I think you also were part of that. Can you say a little bit about that?
Dr Yousef: [00:05:26] Once again, I consider myself a lucky person.
Why? Because when I was six years or seven years old, the mosque, Il Mashad Il Aqsa, Il Haram is-Sharif, used to be my daily route to go to my elementary school. So I used to live just 200 meters from here and my school used to be just about 400 meters. So almost every day I should pass through Suq el Qatanin going there. Then I will go to my school, which is occurred to be what we called Al Madrase al Omariyya.
That means Omar ibn el Khatab. But it is more than this and that. It is really where is the Antonia fortress. It is where is Pilates residential when he judged Jesus Christ. It is really the first station of the cross. It is also a mausoleum from the Ayyubid period. It is a theological school from the Mamluk period. And all of this history, it is in my elementary school.
So the route to the mosque or the Golden Dome or whatever you will see, this is a part of my identification to the extent that sometimes you pass it without really big recognizing what is going around you. I mean, the beauty. The simplicity, the arrangement, the whole picture, that you are so accustomed to it, that it's routine work.
You don't pay attention to what it must be really recognized. So this is my childhood. This is my teenagers. But going for my BA and MA to study Islamic art, Islamic architecture really, coming back it's like a person who was sleeping and then he woke up seeing few things that why, how come I don't pay attention for such an architecture element or a beauty.
Now I understand why Western tourists used to stop to imagine, to photograph, to ask. There is something in this too. First, my relation with the site as a person, normal one, feel attached. But without comprehending what is behind the beauty or the design or the significance. It is like this that suddenly you are attached. This is part of yours.
Later, the attachment is becoming more logical, to reasoning, to see what sort of a beauty, what is really behind such an approach in the architecture or in the site itself that really augmented or continued that when I finished my MA, I got a position in the Awqaf administration. The Awqaf, it means literally in Arabic to dedicate or to make some charity according to specific provisions. But the moment you own something and you give it a waqf it will not be your property. It will be for the sake of the God, it will be for the benefit of the public or according to your conditions. So I worked with the Awqaf as an institution who are responsible for the administration of the whole compound which is called Aqsa mosque.
That also really strengthened my understanding of my specialization. I was so lucky that I got a position where is the oldest Islamic monument still exists all over the world. It is the Dome of the Rock. It was constructed in 691 by Abdelmalik ibn Marwan and as Richmond say, as other scholars, we are so lucky that we see the Dome of the Rock as it was constructed by Abdel Malik.
What does that mean? It means that the Dome of the Rock, since its construction up till now almost, though there was almost in every 30 years, half century, a restoration project, but it kept its authenticity. We see it as Abdel Malik constructed it, it is really a reflection of how Muslims really appreciate art, how they convey their ideas, their respect in artistic way, whether it is abstract or it is in spiritual way.
Or if it's something a repetition and that is so important and rare cause where we could find such an important building associated with the most important miracle of prophet Muhamad, the night journey? And its implication. And you see it in the same size, in the same plan, in the same location. Almost with the similar or the same decorative elements. However, one should be aware that certain minor changes took place such as a changing of the mosaics, which used to cover the upper part of the exterior walls with tiles by Suleiman the Magnificent and other project also maintain the Dome of the Rock, but most, probably all of these projects touches the surface, never ever reaches the skin.
So we have the same number of columns, the same number of eyes. The two octagons, the same area as I mentioned. And where one could find a timber dome, which really dates back to 1000 years as a structure, surely in certain museum maybe we found a piece of wood, timber as a souvenir, as a work of art, but not as a structure.
So the Dome of the Rock has actually, is made up of two domes, an inner dome and outer dome, both are of timber, which dates back to the Fatimid period. That means 1000 year. But the Umayyads, since they are from the seventh century, almost 1400 years old. So that adds to the value of the building itself. Also one should remember that in addition to the Dome of the Rock we have, what is considered Al Aqsa compound.
Al Aqsa, first of all, it's not a building. It is an open space. It is a living space because it includes the dome of the rock, Al Jami'a al Aqsa, more than 30 theological schools, many fountains, aisles, minarets, platforms, domes, whatsoever, so I am lucky that I have the chance to work in the Awqaf administration as early as 1977. And I served there for 40 years. This is one of my best
Kristel: [00:13:53] 1977 is the year before I was born.
Dr Yousef: [00:13:57] So this is history. So gradually you will start to understand the significance you would say, oh my goodness, how come I didn't notice this beautiful script. What it's the implication? And so with your inner attachment, heartly attachment, you need to support it with your mind, with your analysis, classification and I'm not really, it became for me as a place, which I feel really that sort of integration, sort of identification. It is for me as a Palestinian boy, as a Palestinian resident, whenever the Dome of the Rock is mentioned, it means part of my heritage. Part of my past. It is really a reflection of my existence.
And for my future, this is really worrying me always what is going to be in this site? The oldest standing Islamic monument all over the world, with its values. This building along with Al Aqsa mosque really has many universal human values. If one, just for one moment, you will see that here it is the oldest Islamic structure. So we have historical value. Religiously, prophet Muhammad prayed in this spot before any buildings was constructed. So there is an attachment, there is a connection to Islam.
One could wonder why, what is the reason? What is behind that, that according to Muslim belief that Allah ascended Muhammad from Jerusalem? Could not he do that from Mecca or from another spot, why?
So it is that intention really to connect between Jerusalem as a historical city, as a religious city to be as part of Muslim faith. Here you will see, I keep saying in my books, in my most recent one, that surely Jerusalem is a unique city where one could find a very tidy city, which is just less than one square kilometer, where the three monotheistic religions are competing, are proud, they would like to own, would like to govern parts of Jerusalem. Surely so difficult to find, there is Mecca, Medina, but this for Muslims. There is Varanasi, but this is for the Hindus. There is Lhasa, but this is for the Tibets. So you have the Vatican, but Jerusalem is something. So I keep saying Jerusalem is a city on the ground, but its roots go to heaven.
Why? Because whenever you approach a Muslim or Jew or a Christian, whenever he would like to prove his attachment to the city, his right, his objective, his priorities, he will keep telling you religious stories. So heaven, it is the city of God, the city of peace, but whether peace is here or there....
So this is how you will see that Jerusalem with Al Aqsa mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with other places, really are really deflected, imagined, in the person of people. They rarely, unless he is a scholar or he is aware, will speak about his social life or his secular life. All of them will go directly to religion, whatever miracles or whatever, and this is the city of God. This is the city on ground, but it's heaven. And believe me even Jerusalem, I think before the three monotheistic religions really succeeded to seize the city for their heritage, even in pagan times, Jerusalem used to have more than its locality. It used to be a sacred city in its regional concept, a regional pretext. So surely the city is unique. It's not that big city, but it is really a spiritual one.
Kristel: [00:18:57] Could you say something for people who are not so aware of Jerusalem as a city? We are at the temple Mount, they call it. Can you say something about that? Like the history of that mountain? Why is it important for the three religions and how do people here see the claims maybe of the Jewish people of this mount?
Dr Yousef: [00:19:20] Look. First of all, from academic point of view, we were taught in our universities and our ethics, whenever you name a place you name it according to its existence, to its present reflection. You can't name a place which was given 2000 years ago, without any implication. For a Palestinian, for a Muslim to name the area The Temple Mount instead of saying al Haram al Sharif, especially when you speak about its recent history, it's Islamic history, it is an eradication. It's replacement really. It's like calling someone, his name is Smith call him Mohamad or whatever. So names in Jerusalem, in Palestine, in the holy land are so sensitive.They have implications.
Names, it means the ownership. It means the right of a place. So how come that you will ignore all the 1400 years of architectural development? And you will keep naming it before 2000 year as a Temple Mount. It used to be a Mount, it used to be a temple, we really understand such a development that temples were built over temples, all over the world.
On a charming or a strategic place or a good place. It really changes hands really. But while you have the Dome of the Rock, you have the beauty of the architecture, you have the living site. You keep taking it back to the past, that's really, really …. IF someone speaks about early bronze age or Roman period, it could be comprehended that he would use it, but to insist that, to name the mosque Al Masjid al Aqsa as the temple Mount, that really not accepted, it is not academic. It is, it really bears a smell of politics, the smell of really distortion.
So one should be aware and you can even consult Keith Whitelam and his book about the silencing of Palestinian history, the reinvention of Israel, how he speaks about names and its implication. He says, names in the Holy Land, in Palestine and Jerusalem, never, ever being a neutral.
So one should be aware about what is it. Suppose that someone would like to name you according to his judgment? That doesn't mean we are negating or we are ignoring the complicity of architectural development of that era exchange had, but how come if I would go to Varanasi to see Hindu temple and I will give it another name or something, I will go to the Vatican and I will give it another name.
However, this is how Palestinians really see this issue, it used to be so important, so sensitive that the UNSECO even really tackled with it in almost the last few sessions and councils. And you can see this is Al Aqsa mosque. This is how we name it. Really. This is how it is known through 1400 years. So. This is one thing.
Concerning the other claims, really it's so difficult that certain Israelis are being, what we call ideological visits or provocation visits. From our point of view, as Awqaf, as Muslim as academics, we are not against anyone to come to visit, regardless of his ethnics, color, religion, nationality, provided that he will behave as he will do in any religious site, all over the world.
We are not asking more than respect, but to come for justification, or to come for having new plans, for replacement and to provoke. And to say that the Dome of the Rock should be dismantled, should be changed, should be converted to Saudi Arabia. That is in order to pave the way for the reconstruction of the third temple, that is something which touches the nerves of all the Palestinians, the Muslims, the Arabs, really, and that what makes certain young Palestinian really feeling that they are the protectors of the mosque. Whenever they hear a rumor or a press leakage that a penetration or a provocation visit or really an attack from right-wing are planned for Al Aqsa mosque, all of them will come and will really do their best to defend that.
So this site, though it is supposed to be peaceful, spiritual, but it is also the place from which the spark of any turmoil or confrontation, it could start from here. So it seems for any visitor in this day that it is calm, it is peaceful it is beautiful, this is a false picture.
Kristel: [00:25:07] yeah. I was aware of that when we were just walking there that it felt so peaceful. And I saw a lot of women sitting and studying the Qur'an and just reading. And then I realized that in any moment, if some settlers decided to come and attack the place or walk there, it can change. I would like if you can take the, the listeners because it's audio a podcast, on a quick, sort of a visual tour over the Haram al Sharif.
We talked a bit about the Dome of the Rock and there is the mosque we learned that we call it the Qibly mosque. There's the Marwani mosque. And then there are some other important domes. Maybe you can mention a few of the most important ones.
Dr Yousef: [00:25:55] Al Aqsa mosque, which sometimes is named or called al Haram al Sharif, the Nobel Sanctuary, or the Jerusalem holiest mosque, al Haram al Qudsia Sharif. All of them it means the whole compound, which is located in the south Eastern part of the old city of Jerusalem
It comprises almost 144 Dunams, which makes about one sixth of the old city of Jerusalem. It has three levels as a result of the topography of the area. We have the underground one where you will found al Marwani, old Aqsa mosque, Bab el Rahma, Bab el Tawba, the Golden Gate, Al Buraq mosque and other cisterns. So this is the underground. We have the level of al Jami'a al Aqsa which some call al Qibly mosque, but it's not that famous. It is a new name to differentiate between what is Jami'a what is Masjid. But both are translated in English literature to mosque or congregational mosque or a mosque.
And we have the third level, which is the platform of the Dome of the Rock. So it is three layers, three levels. As I mentioned, this is the reflection of the topography. As I paid your attention before, it is a living site. It comprises of mosques, halls, we have a library, a good one. We have the museum. We have a center for the restoration of the Arabic Muslim manuscripts. We have the Awqaf administration, we have the guards. Also, we have many offices and also we have what we call Sufi foundations, cells for retreat, domes, monumental domes. We have arcades, we have fountains, minarets really upstairs, downstairs. It is not a building. It is a vivid site, a complex.
So we have theological schools which are constructed around the Aqsa mosque especially in the Northern and Western sites. There are also open spaces for retreat, for prayer, for gathering. We have platforms. So really it is so difficult to convey it without seeing certain photographs, but I depend on the insight of your listeners.
Kristel: [00:28:48] Yeah, I will definitely on social media, I will share some of the videos and the photos that I took. There was one, especially that caught my eye, which is the dome of the chain, which is right next to the dome of the rock. And it's beautiful. And it almost looks like it's a mini version of the dome of the rock. Can you say something about that?
Dr Yousef: [00:29:10] This is older than the Dome of the Rock, by one year. And we have two theories about it. The first it is, as you mentioned, a prototype or a maquette or an example or something that Abdul-Malik will understand how the big project will be or a plan or something. But there are two main difficulties to accept such an opinion.
First of all, the dome of the rock has the walls are closed, while the dome of the chain are open. It's like an aedicule. Also the dome of the rock, it has eight octagonal sides. While the chain has eleven sides. So there are minuses.
Other people consider it, that this is the place where the treasury used to be. But that means you have to be escorted for 24 hours.
So exactly we don't know, but we have other folklore stories or legendary stories to explain why it is the dome of the chain. And the story says that there was once a chain hanged from the heaven and people used to go there for the blessing. And even whenever they have to do certain transactions or commitments, they wouldn't be doing it there.
And once, this is a biblical story, actually, but people would like to hear such stories, but surely it's so difficult to found the foundation or to be accepted as logical, but it's something to convey what in certain times was used to believe. So it says that a certain man entrusted another fellow with a big sum of money, gold. And when he asked for his honesty or 'amana' or treasures, the man denied that. And he said, no, I gave it to you. Why you ask it for the second time? He said, no, you didn't. So he said: I will go to swear beneath the chain and it used to be a sneaky and cheating person so the story says that he melted the gold coins in a wooden stick and the moment he was there, he gave the stick to the person in order to hold the chain. And he swear that I swear that I gave you your money. Because it is unjust and it is false and it is cheating. So the chain dropped from heaven. So this is a story but it has no basis whatsoever, but this is a
Kristel: [00:32:01] But this is a story that more people like to hear.
Dr Yousef: [00:32:05] Even they forget that it is a myth or it isn't, they will keep it
Kristel: [00:32:11] the reality, the truth.
Dr Yousef: [00:32:15] This is a myth
Kristel: [00:32:17] People need stories.
Dr Yousef: [00:32:19] Yes surely and so
Kristel: [00:32:20] There are no written accounts, anything about the dome of the chain?
Dr Yousef: [00:32:28] There is but whether it reflects the reality or it is the historic fact, or it's not a historic fact this is something else. We know that it is constructed by Abdel Malik, we know it is adjacent to the Dome of the Rock.
We know that it could be a maquette, it could be an example. It could be something to be followed, but it could be a treasury also. Because there are certain also evidences that in other Syrian mosques, the treasury used to be in the open courtyard. So you have to accept that in Jerusalem the most beautiful things, it's like a good movie without a specific end.
You never know. You have to figure, you have to really choose what end you prefer.
Kristel: [00:33:19] Most of the sites there is always that like, could be, they say that. Yeah, it is true.
Dr Yousef: It's like a twin. I consider them as a mother and daughter. For me, really? This is another story.
Kristel: [00:33:34] Another very beautiful thing that we saw today with also an unfortunate history. We went into the Aqsa mosque and we saw the 'minbar'. You walk in and you walk towards the 'mihrab' which is the prayer niche. And there was the minbar, it's completely made of wood. And then we went to the museum and we saw that the original one was burned. Can you say something about the history of the original one and what happened?
Dr Yousef: [00:34:02] Actually, this is one of the tragic events which took place in Aqsa mosque in the 21st of August 1969 when an arosed fire by Michael Dennis Rohan, an Australian subject, put the fire in Aqsa mosque. So he destroyed that pulpit or that minbar, that minbar really was so significant. And it really held many values.
The story behind that, that many people think that it is the Saladin pulpit, minbar. But the truth about this minber, it is made by the Lord of Salaedin, the leader of Salaedin, the warrior Nur ed Din Zinki. Zinki was the master of Salaedin and he is the son of Ebad id Din. He is from Seljuk dynasty and Nur ed Din used to have a vision.
He fought against the Crusaders. He was Mujahid, warrior. He defended Islam. He was believing in his task. He used to be a righteous person and he even pressed Salaedin to come and to cooperate in order to seize the existence of the Crusaders in Palestine and in Syria. So his vision was that Jerusalem should be liberated and believing in that he ordered in advance, twenty years in advance to make a gift, to be presented in al Aqsa the moment he will took it from the Crusaders.
And he ordered from Aleppo, where is the wood and the timber. The workshop used to be very advanced. This pulpit really used to have hundreds of thousands of pieces without any nails, without any glue. And it is like joggling together.
So it is really a piece of art with its decorative elements with its architectural design, with it's script, with the tiny things. So that minbar, when Salaedin took Jerusalem, liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, he ordered that the mosque should be restored. He restored the mihrab and ordered a pulpit to be built.
But the colleagues of Salaedin said, oh Salaedin, Nur ad Din, your master has already prepared this pulpit. He said if it's so please stop working on the project of the pulpit and he ordered that the pulpit should be brought from Aleppo to be installed in Jerusalem. So it has a spiritual value. It has an artistic value. It has a historical value. It is really something, it's not just a piece of wood. No, it is a dream. It is a vision. It is a project and all of this mental values really were destroyed by burning the minbar.
We have a new replica but surely the same from technique point of view but where can you find the dream of Nur ed Din, the reflection of how the Crusader was here, what is the response of the Muslim who were against them and what circles of fighting really used to be here. Nur ed Din is in the middle, the last is Salaedin, the first is the Artokid. And also we have the Mamluks. So the pulpit really it has a different meaning and Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians never ever accepted Israeli verdict in the court that this gentleman is mentally ill. No they believe that he had the intention. He planned his work. He had a plan. He put his plan in work and his intention was really to destroy the mosque in order to be in accordance with certain people who would like to see the mosque destroyed in order to pave the way for the rebuilding what the fanatic Israeli consider the third temple.
Kristel: [00:38:50] And maybe we can make a bridge here to another question I had regarding the wailing wall, because we always see on TV that Jewish people are coming to the Plaza, which I know used to be the Moroccan quarter and it was destroyed so that they can have a Plaza to the wailing wall, which they make it sound like the wailing wall was part of the temple of Solomon.
So what is this wall that we see around the Haram al Sharif?
Dr Yousef: [00:39:19] First of all, The name is Al Buraq wall. And Buraq, according to Muslims, carried the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem at the night journey. So it's Al Buraq. It's an animal with a human face. This is the tradition. This is the story. And it says that on certain course [layer of the wall] that used to be at that time, prophet Muhammad tied Al Buraq there when he performed his night journey inside Al Aqsa mosque. And it is a Muslim Waqf, really.
The first few courses [layers] surely they are Roman, from Roman period, as is the corner of the mosque, but the upper courses, it's the rebuilding of Abdel-Malik ibn Marwan. How one could imagine that a mosque will be constructed with big huge, without taking care of the walls. So it is understandable through engineers, architects that the present wall or the Western wall or what the Muslims call Al Buraq wall, it is reconstruction of the Umayyad period.
And it is very memorable and still really alive, the incident in the fourth decade of the last century, which we call Al Buraq revolution. When a dispute arose between the Palestinians and the Israeli community that they owned, or that wall belongs to the temple or belongs to the Jewish heritage. So we have the league of nations that they sent, a committee with three persons and they investigated the whole area, which is the committee of Shaw, and they, later after investigation, providing proofs, documents, declaring that Al Buraq mosque is a Muslim property. And it's part of Al Aqsa mosque.
When the Israelis came here, in 1967, they destroyed completely the Moroccan quarter, the destruction of a complete neighborhood.
So now it is becoming the newly invented icons, symbols of the Israelis that soldiers are going there to swear. It's becoming really the most visited sites, according to the newly Israeli approach, tradition, but that will not really deny that the United Nation, the League of Nations, sorry, in 1930s, it used to be a clashes and they investigated historically the area and Muslim provided them with many, many documents, which prove that it is a Waqf, it is a Muslim property and Jews never, ever in their history owned that wall as it's architecture fabric represented in these days.
Kristel: [00:42:45] There is one more place, and it also connects to, I just want somebody on the podcast to explain this. We just passed by one of the ablution fountains of Qaytbay, and this is a Mamluk leader, a Sultan, Qaytbay. And we see a lot, so we have from the Umayyad period from the Fatimmid period, and then later we have Mamluk and Ottoman, for many people, all these names don't necessarily mean anything and especially Mamluks. So in Jerusalem, as well, as in, for example, Hebron, you see so many beautiful buildings in the Mamluk style. Can you explain who were the Mamluks and what is so specific about their building style?
Dr Yousef: [00:43:31] The Mamluks, originally they were slaves. You can buy, you can sell these persons, it's what we call the slavery. We called in Islam 'Riq', 'Abd' 'Jaria' and their formation really dates back to the last Sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty, Saleh Najm ad Din Ayyub, who, in difficult circumstances, where rivals between families untrusted armies from the 'Khawarizmiya', the chaos with the Crusaders, internal, external, reached a conclusion that he needs soldiers, an army, which be loyal to him.
So he started to gather young warriors and to train them for the basic of Islam and how to be a good soldier and fighter. I am not exaggerating if I told you that the Mamluk military school or training could be easily likened like Westpoint or Sandhurst College. That time they were dedicated to learn the techniques of besieging, of fighting, confronting, being flexible and energetic as youngsters. So after twenty years something, these youngsters grew up knowing their master and they were loyal to him. And that moment really reached when Louis the ninth from France succeeded to attack Egypt, to take Damiat, to take the coast coming from France through the Mediterranean to be stationed in Cyprus and coming with believe in his mission that he is going to liberate the holy lands from the infidels, from the barbarism. And he reaches the Mansura, Al Mansura which is very close to Cairo. At that moment really, the Mamluks as a trade people, succeeded to stop Louis the Ninth and even to take him as a prisoner and the last Mamluk dynasty died, his son was not capable.
So the Mamluks started, or their State is coming from the Ayyubid, with this turmoil with this conflict. So they did three main things in the Muslim world. First, they succeeded to win the Mongols in Ain Jalut. They succeeded almost eighty years later to end any Crusader existence in the coast of Palestine or the coastal and maritime area in Syria.
And also the moment the Mongols killed the last Abassid khalife they revived the khilafet system and appointed a new Abassid dynasty, but without having the same power, but as a protocol, as a spiritual.
Also the Mamluk was so interested in architecture that they developed a special style, that almost each Mamluk 'Amir' wished really to immortalize himself through architecture and through charity.
So whenever you speak about a building of a prince or Amir or a Sultan you are speaking about an independent architectural complex, which comprises of a chamber mausoleum, a facade, a fountain, a place for the students. So it's like a sort of a funeral, theological building. And through the system of the Waqf they secured the sustainability of such a building.
Qaytbay used to be one of the greatest Sultans, who was so enthusiastic, interested in architecture to the extent that he constructed in 29 years, his reign, more than 330 buildings. One of these important projects used to be in Jerusalem. He constructed a theological school attributed to Ashraffiya with a fountain. And in the fountain, if you see it's decorative Arabesque design of the dome, it is the only example which exists out of Cairo and that is because the Sultan decided to send a skillful team from Cairo to build his Sultanic or Imperial school, to please or to really respond to his taste of architecture. And the school, in addition to the fountain itself represents the Zenith or the most sophisticated development of Mamluk architecture in Jerusalem as it is in Cairo or in Hebron or at Safad or at Gaza.
So the school of Mamluk architecture is so famous, really, it took its resources from the Seljuk, from different sources, from locality, but also they gave the foundation for the Ottoman architecture also, especially in Syria. So the Mamluks, if you will say, Mamluk it means to some extent also architecture. This is, it used to be their model of life, as it is today that someone should have a mobile or should have a Facebook address.
This is to have money. It means you have to do architecture. So this is the Mamluk, so even Jerusalem architecture used to be, it comprises half of all other architecture of other dynasties.
Kristel: [00:50:23] Yeah, I would like to finish the podcast with the last question, which is also towards the end of times. There is the gate, the golden gate, which is closed, and it's called in Arabic Bab el Rahmeh, if I say that correctly. It's interesting because in all three monotheistic religions, there is that idea that the end of times will come with a Messiah. And then the death people will stand up, they'll be judged. And then there will be the concept of heaven and hell. So can you explain that from a Muslim point of view, relating to that location, the golden gate?
Dr Yousef: [00:51:00] Actually, first of all, the architectural fabric of the gate most probably is Umayyad. However, there are different opinions, but one main question, which I keep raising for people: is this the architecture fabric, which exists, which used to be described by travelers or historians, which speaks about the older gate. Is this the same? because in this site, there are many versions and many narratives, which speak about its implication, importance and what you have just said concerning the last day, the day of resurrection, something. Most probably, I don't think that the people who spoke about the gate. it is not this recent gate. It is an earlier one. And one could ask, what is the date of this magnificent building? Is it Roman? Pagan? If it is so, we know after Titus' destruction of city of Jerusalem, we don't know any minor or major architectural object placed here? Is it a Byzantian gate, as it is said, could be Justinian or could be Hadrian, or no Hadrian Roman, or could be something, it is so difficult. How come you will construct a magnificent gate, very beautiful one, with big columns really, to the area which is dead, nothing inside it, completely deserted. So most probably the recent gate is Umayyad. But in Islam, as it is in Christianity and Judaism, this valley, the valley of Jehoshaphat or the valley of Gehanna or the valley of Kidron, really as early as early prophets, both of them have the scenario that this is the place where the resurrection will take place. And we have a lot of scenarios, even in Islam, in Judaism.
In Islam it is called 'as-Sirat'. Literally 'as-Sirat' it means the path, the road, the trail. But in Muslim's scenario or description, it is darker than a night, sharper than a sword, thinner than a thread. And people will be summoned while they are in cemeteries and anyone who did good deeds, he will pass through this Sirat, this path, safely to reach Al Aqsa mosque. The bad, the wrongdoer will fall in the valley of Gehanna which will take him 70 years and he will not reach the bottom. This is the Muslim scenario. So we have the Sirat. It means there are certain verses from the Koran, which really attached what is mentioned in the Koran with this site.
However, the Jewish scenario it's completely different, but the same, that they have two bridges, one from iron and one from wood. The iron it will be for the goyim, the non Jewish and the wood will be for the Jewish people. The believers. So the goyim, though it is an iron bridge, it will fall down and the wooden bridge will make the people safe and they will pass through the place.
So they have different scenarios, believes, they tried really to imagine, to interrupt, to justify, to make it understandable, really, how the day of judgment will be. It has different context today, we have different approaches of it, but at least this used to be as a reflection of what sort of, Bab al-Rahmah and Bab al-Tawbah and for this you see Rahmah is mercy, Tawbah means repentance to be forgiving. And that gives you what is the sweetness of Jerusalem, really, apart from its political pollution.
Kristel: [00:55:46] Thank you so much for this interview. I feel like we could talk for more hours and hours and there are so many more things that I would like to ask you, but limitation of time. And also...
Dr Yousef: [00:55:57] We also respect the audience because they have also, they have what to do for themselves.
Kristel: [00:56:06] So I really advise people to go and check out the social media of Stories from Palestine podcast, for some of the videos that I took.
And there is a lot of more information that people can find on the internet. I'll put some links in the show notes to explore the beautiful Haram al Sharif more. Thank you so much for your time.
Dr Yousef: [00:56:25] It's my pleasure, but be careful, don't believe on what you read. Always make your mind, your heart judge and always remember that any coin it has a verse and a reverse. Best wishes for your listeners and for you, I do appreciate.