The Temple Mount. No place on earth inspires more fanatical devotion. No place on earth spurs more conflict, both rhetorical and physical. No place on earth kindles more controversy. And according to a great many, no place on earth is more holy. The modest plateau at Jerusalem's heart has been the physical and spiritual center of the Jewish faith for 3,000 years as its most sacred site. It's been a major holy site for Islam since the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem in 638 CE. For Jews, the Mount is the former site of both Jewish Temples, the first built by Solomon and the second by returning Jewish exiles from Babylon, which was greatly expanded by Herod and razed by the Romans in 70 CE in the wake of the Great Revolt.
For Muslims, the unspecified "furthest mosque," mentioned in the Qur'an as the point from which Muhammad ascended to heaven at the end of his Night Journey, came to be identified with Jerusalem during the early period of Moslem expansion. The Moslems cleared the debris off the Temple Mount, which had been converted to a city waste dump, and in 687 CE began construction on the golden Dome of the Rock over the stone that had served as the foundation for the Temple's Holy of Holies. At the other end of the mount, they built the al-Aqsa Mosque (al-Aqsa means "the furthest").
Although the Temple Mount came into Israeli hands in the wake of the Six Day War in 1967, political considerations led the Israeli government to allow control over the Temple Mount compound to remain with the Waqf, an Islamic religious trust which strictly controls all entry to and activity on the mount to this day. Visiting the mount can be difficult and requires careful planning and coordination. Moslems can gain access to the mount and its holy sites with the least difficulty – non-Muslims, and especially Jews, have more proscribed visiting rights. The mount has daily visiting hours for tourists, usually in the morning, but they are often subject to change and cancellation with warning due to security concerns. Tourists are permitted to enter the Dome of the Rock, but are required to remove their shoes and leave them outside as a show of respect. Access to the rest of the Temple Mount compound is forbidden.
Religious Jewish groups also often visit the mount, staying within a small and strictly defined area so as not to trod over the probable site of the Holy of Holies. An escort from the Waqf accompanies them to ensure that they do not pray – non-Muslim prayer is outlawed by the Waqf atop the mount, and non-Muslim prayerbooks are not permitted.
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