• The attempts to deny any ancient and ongoing Jewish presence in Jerusalem, to say there was never a first let alone a second Temple and that only Muslims have any right to the whole city, its shrines and historical monuments, have reached insane proportions.

  • Is this really what it boils down to? The Islamic State rules the international community? Including UNESCO?

  • The world is outraged when it sees the stones of Palmyra tumble, or other great monuments of human civilization turn to dust. But that same world is silent when the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters Islamise everything by calling into question the very presence of the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is known throughout the world for the many places it designates as World Heritage Sites. There are more than one thousand of these, distributed unequally in many countries, with Italy at the top, followed by China.

The largest single category of sites consists of religious sites, categorized under the heading of cultural locations (as distinct from natural ones). Within this category, UNESCO has carried out many dialogues with communities in order to ensure that religious sensitivities are acknowledged and guaranteed. UNESCO has undertaken many measures in this field.

In 2010, the organization held a seminar on the "Role of Religious Communities in the Management of World Heritage Properties."

"The main objective of the [seminar] was to explore ways of establishing a dialogue between all stakeholders, and to explore possible ways of encouraging and generating mutual understanding and collaboration amongst them in the protection of religious World Heritage properties."

The notion of dialogue in this context was clearly meant to avoid unilateral decisions by one nation or community to claim exclusive ownership of a religious site.

Alleged or actual claims to multiple ownership of religious sites are not uncommon. A collection of essays entitled, Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution, examines such disputes over shared religious sites in Turkey, the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, Cyprus, and Algeria, providing powerful analyses of how communities come to blows or work reconcile themselves in a willingness to share shrines and other centres. Sometimes people come to blows over these sites, and sometimes one religion can cause immense pain to the followers of another, as happened in 1988 when Carmelite nuns erected a 26-foot-high cross outside Auschwitz II (Birkenau) extermination camp in order to commemorate a papal mass held there in 1979.

A more famous example of an unreconciled dispute is the conflict over the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India, a mosque originally built in 1528-29 on the orders of Babur, the first of the Mughal emperors. According to Hindu accounts, the Mughal builders destroyed a temple on the birthplace of the deity Rama in order to build the mosque -- a claim denied by many Muslims.1 The importance of the site is clear from a Hindu text which declares that Ayodhya is one of seven sacred places where a final release from the cycle of death and rebirth may be obtained.

These conflicting claims were fatefully resolved when an extremist Hindu mob demolished the mosque in 1992, planning to build a new temple on the site. The demolition has been cited as justification for terrorist attacks by radical Muslim groups.2 The massacres at Wandhama (1998) and the Amarnath pilgrimage (2000) are both attributed to the demolition. Communal riots occurred in New Delhi, Bombay and elsewhere, as well as many cases of stabbing, arson, and attacks on private homes and government officers.3

Muslim invaders did indeed destroy or modify thousands of "idolatrous" temples and sacred sites in India, just as they did elsewhere on a lesser scale, and just as the Islamic State has been doing for several years in modern Iraq and Syria. This is not simply the sort of destruction normally associated with wars, invasions, or civil disputes. For Muslims, it has a theological basis. Islam, as it has existed since the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632, is predicated on three things: the belief that there is one God without partners or associates; the belief that Muhammad is the messenger of that one God; and the belief that Islam is the greatest and last religion revealed to mankind, authorized by God to destroy all other religions and their artefacts:

"He (God) has sent his prophet with guidance and the religion of the truth in order to make it prevail over all religion" (Qur'an 9:33; 61:9).

It is this last belief that has, for over 1400 years, instilled a deep sense of supremacism within the Muslim world.

As many Muslims believe that Islam is the final revelation and Muhammad is the last prophet, so they believe that they cannot possibly live on equal terms with the followers of any other faith. Jews and Christians may live in an Islamic state, but only if they submit to deep humiliation and abasement and in return for the payment of protection money (the jizya tax). Churches and synagogues may not be repaired or, should they collapse, be rebuilt. Islam trumps everything.

This last doctrine is used repeatedly in the works of modern Salafi ideologues such as the Pakistani Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi and the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb. Here is a fairly typical statement by Qutb, from his best-known publication, Ma'alim fi'l-tariq, ("Milestones"):

"Islam, then, is the only Divine way of life which brings out the noblest human characteristics, developing and using them for the construction of human society. Islam has remained unique in this respect to this day. Those who deviate from this system and want some other system, whether it be based on nationalism, color and race, class struggle, or similar corrupt theories, are truly enemies of mankind!"4

Here is a recent comment by a modern Salafi writer:

"this worldwide domination of Islam which has been promised by Allah does not necessarily mean that every single person on earth will become Muslim. When we say that Islam will dominate the world, we mean as a political system, as the messenger Muhammad prophesied that the authority on earth will belong to the Muslims, i.e. the believers will be in power and the Sharee'ah [Shari'a] of Islam will be implemented in every corner of the earth".

Under Islamic jihad law, any territory once captured for Islam must remain an integral and inviolable possession of the Muslim authorities.5 In other words, even entire countries like Spain, Portugal, India, Greece or the Balkan nations that had been colonies under Ottoman rule, should be reclaimed for Islam, either by re-conquest or through the current "cultural jihad."


The attempts to deny any ancient and ongoing Jewish presence in Jerusalem, to say there was never a first let alone a second Temple and that only Muslims have any right to the whole city, its shrines and historical monuments, have reached insane proportions. The most extreme expressions of this gamut of ahistorical claims, supremacist assertions and conspiracies are the many speeches and comments of the above-mentioned Shaykh Raed Salah. Here is part of a speech he made at a rally in 1999:

"We will say openly to the Jewish society, you do not have a right even to one stone of the blessed Al-Aksa Mosque. You do not have a right even to one tiny particle of the blessed Al-Aksa Mosque. Therefore we will say openly, the western wall of blessed Al-Aksa is part of blessed Al-Aksa. It can never be a small Western Wall. It can never be a large Western Wall... We will say openly to the political and religious leadership in Israel: the demand to keep blessed Al-Aksa under Israeli sovereignty is also a declaration of war on the Islamic world."

Salah is far from alone. The current head of the Supreme Muslim Council, Ekrima Sabri, has for many years done his best to invalidate Jewish claims to the area. He claims that Solomon's Temple is an "unproven allegation" -- something that the Jews dreamed up out of "hatred and envy." He claims the Western Wall, too, is "a Muslim religious property" to which Jews "have no relation."

In a recent statement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that, "The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours... and they [the Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet."

According to UN Watch,

"Ambassador Shama Hohen [Carmel Shama Hacohen, Israeli ambassador to UNESCO] asked Palestinian delegate Mounir Anastas why Palestinians are not prepared to recognize the Jewish right to the Temple Mount and include the term 'Temple Mount' in the resolution, alongside the Arab term, Haram al-Sharif. Anastas replied... that if the Palestinians were to recognize the Temple Mount, then Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah would become number one targets of ISIS."

Is this really what it boils down to? The Islamic State rules the international community? Including UNESCO?

On April 15 this year, the Executive Board of UNESCO's Programme and External Relations Commission convened for its 199th session. The earlier Temple Mount resolution was moved by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan -- all members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. That vote then passed to the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee during its 40th session in Istanbul, which had been scheduled to run from July 10 to July 20.

By mere chance, July's military coup attempt in Turkey disrupted the event, and the vote has now been scheduled for an autumn meeting.

  • 1. Modern archaeological research shows that there was indeed an original temple or, rather, large Hindu complex there.
  • 2. See "Attack[s] on Hindus post Babri demolition," ShankhNaad, 13 April, 2015.
  • 3. For full details, see ibid.
  • 4.  Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, New Delhi, 2002, p. 51.
  • 5. See, for example, Amikam Nachmani, Europe and Its Muslim Minorities: Aspects of Conflict, Attempts at Accord, Sussex Academic Press, 2010, p. 106.