When Caliph Umar was reigning in Jerusalem in the mid-seventh century, the city was called Bayt al-Maqdis—venerated most of all as the seat of Solomon’s temple—and its Muslim presence was not yet established.
All this would change with the rise of Mu’awiyah and the Umayyad Dynasty. It was the descendants of Mu’awiyah who built a palace on the Temple Mount, Al Aqsa mosque, and finally the exquisite Dome of the Rock.
Shortly after conquering Jerusalem, Caliph Umar was fatally stabbed. His successor, Uthman ibn Affan, also reigned for only a brief period before he, too, was murdered by a group of officials. As a former Companion of Mohammed, Uthman was highly regarded by many Muslims and his murder occasioned widespread outrage.
Thus when Uthman’s successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, refused to deliver Uthman’s murderers for punishment, Mu’awiyah, the governor of Syria and Palestine, declared war on him. The ensuing battle was one of the bloodiest in the history of Islam, claiming many thousands of casualties. Finally, during a period of uneasy truce, Ali was stabbed in 661 A.D., and Mu’awiyah was declared his successor.
As caliph, Mu’awiyah moved the capital of the Muslim world from Medina to the more central city of Damascus. The proximity of Jerusalem to Damascus thus ensured that it was suddenly much closer to the seat of power than it had been previously, and boded well for the cultural and economic growth of the city. Additionally, Jerusalem was important to Mu’awiyah as a sacred place, and he visited the city several times.
In Islam, Mu’awiyah is today a figure of polarizing controversy. Before his conversion to Islam, Mu’awiyah was an enemy of Mohammed who took the lives of many devout Muslims. Thus some Muslims, in particular Shia Muslims, believe that Mu’awiyah’s conversion was insincere and condemn his leading a battle against Ali, a direct relative of Mohammed.
Where most sources agree is that Mu’awiyah was a strong and ruthless ruler, whose impact upon Islamic history was profound and vast. And even after his death, the Umayyad Dynasty grew and prospered.
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