Inside Jaffa Gate, Remembering The Caliph Who Revered The Temple Mount
When Omar iben Al-Khatab visited Jerusalem soon after the Muslim conquest in 638, he was furious to find Judaism’s holiest site covered in trash.
One of the Old City of Jerusalem’s liveliest streets is actually a small plaza called Omar iben Al-Khatab Square, named for the second Caliph of the Islamic world. It runs from just inside Jaffa Gate to the beginning of the Armenian Quarter at Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road, and bursts with both ancient and relatively modern historical sites.
Brilliant, sensitive, tolerant and an administrative whiz, Omar visited Jerusalem soon after Muslim Arabs conquered the Holy City in 638. Omar revered many of the Old Testament’s most significant personalities, and greatly honored Judaism’s holy sites – including the peak on which Solomon erected the magnificent First Temple.
Thus when he ascended to the Temple Mount and found it overflowing with trash, Omar was enraged. He immediately ordered the rubbish removed — and, say some, he helped clear it out with his own hands.
At one point Jerusalem Bishop Sophronius invited the Caliph to join him for prayers inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Omar is said to have refused, explaining that were he to accept, Muslims might immediately ravish this most important of Christian sites and replace it with a mosque dedicated to Islam. He then proceeded to pray outside the church — exactly where a mosque named for the Caliph is located today.