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Why is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem so Important?

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel is extremely important to millions of people around the  world. A place where Muslims come to worship, tourists come to take photos and journalists come to report on violence, the Temple Mount is famous and fascinating. It is also very volatile and deeply complicated. This is the most hotly contested religious site in the world. 

Exactly why is the Temple Mount so important? That’s a good question. I find this ancient site fascinating, and I think I understand it and the issues surrounding it better than a lot of people. So here I’ll attempt to answer this question in a fairly comprehensive yet easy-to-understand fashion. While the Temple Mount is a divisive, hot button topic, I tried to write this with as much balance as possible. I don’t cover every single issue about this controversial site here, as that would take forever. Instead, I cover several of the most important issues. What I write here is based on my research as well as what I’ve personally learned and observed throughout the years during my life in the Middle East

What is the Temple Mount?

The Temple Mount is a massive stone platform approximately 36 acres in size located on what is believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah in Jerusalem’s Old City. 

View of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel from a distance, with a hill covered in trees and sandstone buildings in the background

Many people think the Temple  Mount is a building. That is not accurate. It is not a building. It is, however, a place on which buildings stand. The Temple Mount is also not a temple. Nor is there a temple currently standing on this site. In fact, for the past several hundred years, this has been an Islamic holy site. So why, then, do people call this place the Temple Mount?

People call this the Temple Mount because it is the location of the two most important temples to Judaism. It is also the site where many people believe there will one day be a third temple. 

Temple Mount First Temple

The First Temple was built in the 10th century B.C. by King Solomon. Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem and burned down the temple. 

Temple Mount Second Temple 

The second temple was completed around 515 BC by a governor named Zerubbabel. The Romans then destroyed it in approximately 70 AD.

The only part of the second temple which is still in existence is now called the Western Wall, the famous wall where Jewish people pray. The Western Wall is actually one of the four retaining walls that King Herod built in 20 BC when he was expanding the second temple. Its connection to the second temple is what makes the Western Wall the Jewish people’s most holy site. 

Temple Mount Third Temple 

Many people, mostly Christians and Jews, believe that there will be a third temple built on the Temple Mount. Christians believe that this third temple will signal the return of Jesus, who is the Messiah. Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that He was once here and will come again. Rather, they believe that the building of the third temple will occur upon the first arrival of the Messiah. 

Interestingly, an entity called the Temple Institute dedicates itself to the building of the Third Temple. If you’ve ever been in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, you may have noticed a large menorah enclosed in a protective case. This menorah is near the Temple Institute’s visitor’s center and museum. The Temple Institute created this menorah for the sole purpose of placing it in the future Third Temple.

What is on Temple Mount today?

While Jewish temples once stood atop the Temple Mount, today you will find Islamic structures. The most famous of these is the Dome of the Rock, the iconic blue-tiled building with the large gold dome. 

Close-up view of the Dome of the Rock with its golden dome and blue tile
Dome of the Rock

While its stunning appearance makes the Dome of the Rock the most noticeable and best known of the buildings on the Temple Mount, it is actually not the most important. The most important building on the Temple Mount is Al Aqsa Mosque. This is the third holiest Islamic site in the world. Muslims from all over the world come to worship here, especially during the month of Ramadan. 

Exterior view of Al Aqsa Mosque, a sand-colored stone building with a dark grey roof
Al Aqsa Mosque

Muslims, by the way, don’t call this site the Temple Mount. They call it Haram al-Sharif, which in English means The Noble Sanctuary. 

Non-Muslims are allowed inside Al Aqsa but are not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock. I have been inside both.

Inside Dome of the Rock green and gold tiled archways near the ceiling with a large chandelier hanging between gold-topped floor-to-ceiling stone columns
Inside the Dome of the Rock
Inside Al Aqsa mosque red and tan carpet along with dozens of Qurans on shelves around a stone pillar
Inside Al Aqsa Mosque

In addition to the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, 13 other domed structures stand on Haram al-Sharif. There are several mosques in addition to Al Aqsa. There are also schools. In fact, every time I’ve been there I’ve seen school-aged boys outside playing volleyball. There’s also quite a bit of rubble on top of the Temple Mount. Thousands of tons, in fact. Much of this rubble consists of valuable archaeological artifacts. Israel has been able to move some of it to other locations. In fact, there is at least one organization in the country where you can volunteer to sift through some of this rubble and possibly find ancient artifacts. I did this several years ago. I didn’t find any ancient gems but did write about the experience for National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog.

What is the significance of Temple Mount?

The significance of the Temple Mount is that it is a holy site for the three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. 

Why is the Temple Mount important to Islam?

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is important to Muslims primarily because Al Aqsa Mosque stands on this site. This mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. This site is also important to Muslims because Abraham almost sacrificed his son Ishmael here. The specific spot on which the near-sacrifice took place was a rock which now lies inside the Dome of the Rock. 

Why is the Temple Mount important to Judaism?

The main reason that the Temple Mount is so important to the Jewish people is because it is the site of the first and second temples as well as the possible future site of the third temple. It is also important because it is the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son. Unlike Muslims, Jews do not believe it was his son Ishmael whom Abraham almost sacrificed. Instead, it was his other son, Isaac. Other important biblical events are believed to have occurred in this spot too, such as Jacob’s dream about a ladder

Why is the Temple Mount important to Christianity?

The Temple Mount is less important to Christians than it is to Muslims and Jews. It is, however, still important. The primary reason for its importance to Christians is because Jesus spent a lot of time at the Second Temple during His life on earth. The fact that Abraham almost sacrificed his son here is another reason why this site is important to Christians. Like the Jews, we believe not that it was his son Ishmael whom he almost sacrificed but his son Isaac. 

Is the Temple Mount important to all religions?

No, the Temple Mount holds religious significance only to the three Abrahamic religions. It is, however, a popular place for tourists to visit no matter their religion or lack thereof.

Who owns the Temple Mount?

No one really owns the Temple Mount. It is in the country of Israel, which is a majority Jewish country. Yet, arguably, Jews are not supposed to be on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is a place where Muslims come from around the world to worship and other people come to visit. The question of who has the right to be on this site is a matter which causes constant conflict. 

Why is there violence on the Temple Mount? 

The violence on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is not a religious conflict. It is a territorial conflict. Very simply put, it is because while Muslims, most of whom are Palestinian, worship at the Al Aqsa mosque on top of the Temple Mount, it is not the Palestinians who are in charge of either the mosque or the Temple Mount on which it stands. Rather, it is branches of the Israeli and Jordanian government who are in charge. Specifically, these are Israeli security forces, including the military and police and a branch of a Jordanian government ministry called the Islamic Waqf. 

This arrangement came about at the conclusion of the Six-Day War in 1967, after Israel won East Jerusalem where the Temple Mount stands, along with the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The period immediately following this war was extremely tense, so the Israeli government agreed to give this control to the Waqf in order to help defuse the tension.

Under this arrangement, called the status quo, Israel is in charge of security on the Temple Mount, while the Waqf is in charge of its management and maintenance. Although it is primarily Palestinians who spend time on and worship on the Temple Mount, they are not in charge of anything there. The Palestinians have the right to go to the site, worship there and study there but not the right to make any decisions regarding the site. And that is a very big problem. 

When tensions or violence rise in Israel or the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, Israel often places limits on exactly what Palestinian Muslims are allowed to go to the Temple Mount. These are usually limits on gender and age. For example, they may not allow access to Palestinian men who are under the age of 40 or 55. These limits, which are meant to prevent violence, usually cause even more tension and sometimes more violence. 

The month of Ramadan is another time that Israel tends to restrict access to this Muslim holy site. For Ramadan this year, 2024, Israel has said they will not restrict access to Muslims for at least the first week of the holiday. So there may or may not be violence on the Temple Mount this year. Time will tell what happens. 

In 2023 I was in Jerusalem towards the end of Ramadan. Approximately 100,000 Muslims from around the world were also there. They walked back and forth to Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount several times a day to pray, completely packing the narrow streets of the Old City. I don’t think Israel restricted access for Muslims going to the Temple Mount last year, but they did heavily police the site. During the final days of Ramadan, drones and helicopters hovered over the tens of thousands of worshippers on the Temple Mount. In a video I filmed, you can hear the sound from the mosque and see the lights of the drones and helicopters flashing in the sky. It was quite interesting.

Who can visit the Temple Mount? 

Muslims have a right to worship on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Jews and Christians do not. However, Jews and Christians as well as other people are allowed to visit the Temple Mount. 

For the Jews, this is a complicated situation. Whether or not they should ascend to the Temple Mount is up for debate and depends on who you ask. Whether they should or not, increasing numbers of Jewish people have been going to the Temple Mount in recent years. In 2010, for example, 5,792 Jews went to the Temple Mount. That number slowly climbed over the next decade. In 2020 the number began greatly increasing, when 20,684 Jews visited the site. In 2023, that number grew to 50,098. Although Jewish people may be allowed to visit the site, they are not allowed to pray there. Whether they pray there or not, this increase in Jews visiting the Temple Mount is not exactly okay with the Palestinian people and likely to lead to future conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians

Tourists of all religions from all over the world are able to visit the Temple Mount. That is, as long as it is open to tourists. Israeli officials often close the site to tourists when there is an uptick in volatility or violence. When Israel doesn’t close it to tourists and when the country is not at war, you can visit the site during very restricted times, for just a few hours on Mondays through Thursdays.  

There is a lot more to understand about the Temple Mount than what I’ve highlighted in this post. Although I certainly don’t know everything about this complicate ancient site, hopefully I’ve been able to clearly explain some of what I do know. If you’re interested in learning more about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and you’ve never visited it, I do hope you’ll be able to some day. As one of the most important religious sites in the world, it is very much worth a visit.

Pinterest pin which says why is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem so important with a photo of Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount

Sabina Lohr is a freelance writer who shines a light on the cultures of the Middle East through non-fiction storytelling, interviews with local figures, and insightful articles. She has traveled extensively through the region for more than 15 years and has lived in Israel, Egypt and the U.A.E.

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