EVENT: DINNER DISCUSSION WITH KAREN ARMSTRONG
THE RITZ CARLTON HOTEL WASHINGTON, D.C.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2002 7:15 PM
INTRODUCTION BY ABDERAHMAN SALAH ABDERAHMAN
Minister for Political and Congressional Affairs EMBASSY OF THE ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT
Transcript by: Federal News Service Washington, D.C.
ABDERAHMAN SALAH ABDERAHMAN: Our gathering tonight is a result of an initiative undertaken by Arab diplomats who deal with the U.S. Congress. In reaching out to our friends on Capitol Hill we have decided to host a series of social events for congressional staffers who deal with foreign affairs. Recently we have decided to further develop this initiative and invite some members of Congress to those gatherings, along with representatives from the administration, the media and the think tanks.
Tonight we are overwhelmed by the very positive response illustrated by the distinguished presence of all of you who are in this room. We are particularly honored to have with us the following members of Congress, distinguished members from the administration and U.S. armed forces. Let me recognize at least some of them. Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (applause), Congressman Howard Berman of California and Mrs. Berman (applause), Congressman John Cooksey of Louisiana (applause), Congressman James Moran of Virginia (applause), Congressman Henry Waxman of California and Mrs. Waxman (applause). And from the Navy, Rear Admiral Joseph Kroll (ph) Deputy Chief of U.S. Naval Operation and Mrs. Kroll (applause), and Rear Admiral James Stavridis and Miss Stavridis (applause).
Many Republican members of Congress would have joined us as well had it not been for the need to attend the Republican retreat. They are, however, well represented by many members of their staff, therefore we also feel proud to conform to the bipartisan aspirations of this city. We are also excited to have with us more than 50 congressional staffers and their spouses. To them I wish to emphasize that we value their friendship and appreciate their assistance in building bridges with their respective members of Congress. We are equally pleased to welcome many representatives of the major American and Arab media and think tanks in Washington D.C.
Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Bin Abdelaziz, the Saudi Ambassador in Washington D.C. was supposed to introduce Ms. Karen Armstrong in his capacity as the dean of the Arab diplomatic corps and indeed the dean of the entire foreign and diplomatic corps in Washington, but he regretted because he is sick and he couldn’t make it. So I’m afraid I will do both jobs of delivering my welcoming remarks and introducing Ms. Armstrong.
But let me first try to divulge what is inside your small gift bag that’s at your table for those who haven’t gone through it yet because they have some interesting things that are very relevant to what we are discussing tonight. You will find a copy of Karen Armstrong’s book, “Islam: A Short History” personally signed by the author. She spent about three hours yesterday signing them for you, Also, a DVD of the PBS powerful production, “Islam: Empire of Faith,” and a booklet on the basics of Muslim faith and a video tape that contains a new adaptation of the 18th century classic on religious tolerance, Nathan der Weise by Ephraim Lessing. This has a brief story.
Set in Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades, the play shows a Christian Knight Templar, Nathan the Jew and the great Muslim leader Saladin wondering which is the greatest religion. In his play Lessing brilliantly depicted the ridiculousness of religious bigotry. Two hundred years later, now, his message is still very relevant.
I have had the pleasure of cooperating with George Mason University’s Theater of First Amendment to enable as many people to enjoy this magnificent play and actually the author, the adapter, of this play is with us here, Paul D’Andrea .Our dream was only to have it on TV and now, as it is being produced for public television, we aspire to see it performed at the Library of Congress, and with a bit of luck and perhaps with your support, we might be able also to see it on Kennedy Center. So please watch it and let me know what you think.
The theme of our event tonight is enlightenment and Ms. Karen Armstrong is one of its best champions. Her presentation and our subsequent discussion could not have come in a more opportune time, for despite the fact that the whole world has been united in condemning the barbaric attacks that took place in New York and in Washington on September 11th, efforts by all of us are still needed to ensure that the war against terrorists should not be perceived as a war against Muslims or Arabs. Nor should it develop, albeit unintentionally, into a clash of civilizations.
The U.S. government has done a good job to avoid any such eventuality, and the American people have responded with great maturity and tolerance. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Muslims and Arabs have rejected the terrorists’ call for inter-religious war. There were some sporadic voices, however, that were not satisfied with this successful, unified and universal stand against those terrorists. Some, out of lack of knowledge, went to the extent of blaming Islam. Others found in the violence created by the vicious terrorist attack against the U.S. an opportunity to spread suspicion and hatred and to divide the world into two antagonistic religious blocks, which is precisely what the terrorists are advocating. Fortunately these hate-mongers have so far failed in their unholy endeavor.
A process to develop better mutual understanding, in my opinion, is the best safety net against these conspiracies. This process is a two-way street or as Ms. Armstrong suggests in her writings, a three-way process. We should all work hard to improve our people’s understanding of each other’s cultures and religions, rectify any residual conceptions, and realize that sometimes words can kill as easily as bullets. The Egyptian parliament is now debating how religious discourse could be improved. Many distinguished Islamic scholars and political leaders all over the Muslim world have come out strongly condemning those who fan religious suspicion and hatred. In the last week alone, leading Muslim scholars were participating in several inter-religious fora in Egypt, United Kingdom and the United States.
Needless to say that we should all cooperate to take away from the hands of the terrorists a very effective weapon of using the grievances of the Palestinian people under occupation, stopping the violence by both sides, and going back to negotiations in order to end Israel’s occupation is the only way to deal with these grievances. And peace is the ultimate guarantee of security for both sides. I believe that members of Congress who traveled to the Middle East recently, and some of them are here today, can testify to the fact that the Palestinian suffering under occupation is the single most agitating in the minds of most people in our part of the world. Egypt will continue its cooperation with the United States and others to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. The United States continued engagement is a vital prerequisite for our endeavor’s success.
History is going to judge our words and deeds during these difficult times, as we must make difficult choices. And future generations will bear the consequences of both our words and out actions. It is up to all of us to prove that those who are predicting the clash of civilization are dead wrong. I have no doubt that our discussion will contribute to that end, which leads me to the second part of my job, which is to introduce Karen Armstrong, who’s really very close to most of our hearts here. I found out that she has not only me but many, many fans, in this room at least.
Karen Armstrong is uniquely qualified to speak on our subject of discussion tonight, “Islam and other Abrahamic religions: how have the three monolithic religions interacted over history up to the present time”. Her background has the right mix of professional and scholarly expertise. She has long been one of the foremost British commentators on religious affairs and has established a similar status in the United States, and now, I’m finding out, in the rest of the Western world and in the Muslim world.
Ms. Armstrong spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun. After leaving her order in 1969, she took a B.Litt. at Oxford and taught modern literature at the University of London. In 1982, she became a freelance writer and broadcaster. 1983, she worked in the Middle East on a six-part documentary television series on the life and the works of St. Paul. Ms. Armstrong teaches at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism and the Training of Rabbis and Teachers and is also an honorary member of the Association of Muslim Social Sciences.
Her published works include “Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World;” “Mohammed: A Biography of the Prophet;” “A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam;” “Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths,” and that was actually the book that introduced me to Karen Armstrong, “The Battle for God, Islam: A Short History,” which you have a copy of in your gift bag. She’s also a regular contributor of reviews and articles to newspapers and journals. Needless to say, Ms. Armstrong’s presentation will reflect her own views as an independent scholar, and are not necessarily endorsed by any of the governments represented here.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming a great historian and an enlightenment visionary, Ms. Karen Armstrong.
MS. KAREN ARMSTRONG: Thank you. It’s a great privilege to be with you tonight. These are, as you know, terrible times. We are afraid, our world has been shattered, it’s a time of great peril. I’ve been thinking in these days of that film, “A Man for all Seasons” about St. Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII, refused to take the oath of supremacy and was killed, was executed.
There’s a scene in that film where Paul Scofield, who’s playing Thomas More, speaks to his daughter and is trying to explain to his daughter why he is taking this apparently ruinous course. And she says, “There is a time when a man holds himself in his hands as though he were holding a cup full of water in his hands. And if he lets his hands fall and he loses himself at that moment, he will never find himself again.” And I feel that we are -- all of us are, of whatever creed, whatever our nationality, are at such a juncture. As the minister was saying, history will judge us on what we do now. And it’s also a crucial time for religion.
I realize that Washington is a great political town and that I am faced with a room full of highly political human beings. I’m not a political being, I’m a sort of student of religion, I spend my days studying world religion. And so my perspective will probably be a bit different, but I think it’s very important that we now start to think about the religious impulse itself, the religious dynamic itself. In the middle of the 20th century it was generally taken for granted that religion would be confined to the private sphere, the secularism was the coming ideology and that religion would never again play a major role in world events.
But in the second half of the 20th century, religion has come to the foreground again, and not all of it is good religion. Some of it is very bad religion indeed. But nevertheless, as I shall be saying later on in my talk, there are people all over the world who are demonstrating in one way or another that whatever the pundits think or whatever the intellectuals think they want to see religion reflected more clearly in their public life. And it’s very important that they live in a setting where the religion they come up with is healthy and good, and not one which it partakes of negativity, nihilism, despair and discouragement. This is a responsibility for us all.
So people want to be religious and what I’m going to talk to you tonight is about Islam. Originally I was asked if I would speak about the relations between Islam and Judaism and Christianity. But there were special requests coming through to the minister who said perhaps I could go a little more basic and give a more introductory talk about basic aspects of Islam. So I hope those of you who are knowledgeable will forgive me if what I’m saying is rather elementary.
But this is by way of an appeal. I am appealing to my fellow Westerners to not just tolerate Islam but to learn to appreciate it. It’s something that has happened to me over the years -- I’ve been studying Islam now for 20 years or so, among other religions, and it is the study of Islam and the study of Judaism which brought me back to a sense of what religion could be. It’s been very important in my own journey.
But this is an appeal. What I’m going to be talking about tonight is the ideal. And it is an appeal for Westerners to appreciate that ideal and see that it’s not just a question of putting up with Islam, but seeing that it’s good for the world if Muslims practice their religion well. It will benefit us all if Muslims practice their religion well. And it’s an appeal to Muslims too to remember these wonderful ideals and to let -- this is the Islam that the world needs right now, I think, the Islam that is tolerant and compassionate.
Every single major world religion has one essential criterion. Every single major world religion -- and here I don’t exclude the non-monotheistic faiths, such faiths as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism. They all insist that the one test of any religious idea or any religious practice is that it issues in practical compassion. The New Testament is full of that insight. I can have faith that moves mountains, but if I lack charity, says St. Paul, it’s worth nothing. And any religion that departs from this essential ideal of compassion and benevolence and takes refuge even in mean-minded carping of others has lost the thread, let alone anyone who kills in the name of religion.
So that is the criterion of all faiths. It’s the one on which all, in various ways have come to see is essential to religion, and it is that which also is very strongly enshrined in Islam.
Now, so what is Islam? How did it develop? As you know, it developed when the prophet Mohammed brought the Koran to the people of what is now Saudi Arabia, the people of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz in the seventh century of the common era. At this point the people of Arabia felt they’d been left out of the divine plan. They knew that there were other world religions in the neighboring empires that were more advanced. They’d heard about Christianity and they’d heard about Judaism, but some of the Christians with whom they came in contact used to jeer at them and say that God hadn’t sent them a prophet and they hadn’t got a scripture in their own language.
There was great anomie and distress in the peninsula at this time and the Prophet, like we ourselves, was living in a very violent time. The tribes were caught up in an endless succession of war, vendetta and counter-vendetta, in an endless, ceaseless, pointless blood bath of raid, retaliation, active terror, retaliation, retaliation, counter-strike. And it was the Prophet, in his extraordinary career, who was able to bring peace to war-torn Arabia.
The isolation of the Arabs -- their feeling that they’d been left out off the religious map, ended in Ramadan in about the year 610 when Mohammed who’d been making a retreat on Mount Hiraa just outside Mecca, was wakened from sleep and felt himself enveloped in an overwhelming divine presence. He said it felt like an angel squeezing him. And he heard a voice saying, “Recite”. And he said, “No, I can’t. I’m not a reciter.” There were various soothsayers or fortunetellers who used to wander around jabbering incomprehensible oracles. And the Prophet did not want to be one of these kahin (ph), these soothsayers. He said, “I’m not a reciter.”
And he was enveloped again, “Recite!” And eventually when he felt he was at the end of his endurance he found the first words of a divinely inspired scripture pouring from his lips, and these were the first words of the Koran.
The Koran is for Muslims something of what Jesus is for Christians. The Koran is the word of God, as Jesus is the word of God, the revelation of God for Christians. And it is written in the most extraordinarily beautiful Arabic. It was a revelation. It was a moment when the word revelation means an unveiling, when a veil is torn away from before a reality that is always existed but we couldn’t see it clearly before, and it changes everything. I think September the 11th was a sort of revelation for us all that has changed the world and shown us things that we didn’t see clearly before.
The Prophet too had a revelation that night. But it’s very important that he never considered that he was now founding a new world religion called Islam to which everybody had to subscribe. The Prophet seems to have believed that he was bringing the religion of the one God to the Arabs who’d never had a prophet before. That this was the religion that God had sent to every single people upon the face of the earth. Every one had had a prophet. God had not left human beings without an understanding of the correct way to live.
And so this was now the Prophet’s scripture, the message to the Arabs. And Jews -- the Prophet did not expect Jews or Christians to convert to Islam unless they particularly wished to do so because they had received perfectly authentic revelations of their own. They were the Ahll Alkitab (ph) -- the people of the book. Or perhaps, as there weren’t many books in Arabia at this time, people who belonged to an earlier revelation. And so time and time again the Koran makes it clear that Mohammed and the Koran have not come to replace the great revelations made to Moses, to Jesus, to Abraham, that he is simply repeating to them the message that he has sent to human beings again and again.
What is this message? That humans beings must make a surrender -- that is the word Islam -- it means a surrender of their entire selves, body, heart, mind and soul to God. And they must also strive to create a just and decent society where all human beings are treated with justice and respect. Only in this kind of society can people make this existential surrender of their beings to God and it’s only when a society is run according to these lines that society will prosper.
The Koran constantly tells Muslims, “Be courteous to the people of the book. Say to them, ‘We believe that you believe. Your God and our God is one.’” So today there are Muslim scholars who say that had the Arabs and the Prophet known about the Buddhists and the Hindus, or the Australian Aborigines or the Native Americans, the Koran may well have praised these religious leaders too, because all rightly guided religion comes from God. The Koran constantly says it’s not teaching anything new. It’s simply as a reminder of things that everybody knows in their heart is true, that God created the world and that human beings must live according to this ethic of social justice. This is the way that humans -- then we become fully human. This is the way principles of human life -- and if we’re out of kilter with this, our society and we ourselves, will fail, will fall.
One of the first things the Prophet asked his converts to do was to pray originally three times a day, facing Jerusalem. They were at this point turning their backs upon the pagan practice of Mecca and reaching out to the holy city of the Jews and the Christians whose God they were now going to worship. Allah -- I know some people have asked about this and I know it sounds confusing that some people tend to imagine that Allah is the name of a separate God like Jupiter or Apollo, but the word Allah simply means God. And Allah was the high God of the old Arabian pagan pantheon. But there was a general move towards monotheism in the peninsula at this time and many of the Arabs had come to believe that Allah was also the God of the Jews and of the Christians, so much so that some of the Christian Arabs used to make the hajj to Mecca in honor of Allah alongside the pagans because they felt they were coming to the shrine of their God in this time.
So this act of prayer three times a day, this is originally -- and then later it would become five times a day. It was very hard for the Arabs who were a proud people who didn’t approve of kingship to grovel on the ground like a slave. But the Koran and Mohammed teaches that you have the characteristic posture of Muslim prayer which is a complete prostration. And which is designed, if done in the right spirit, day after day, to teach the human being at a level deeper than the purely rational and the purely cerebral what the act of surrender Islam to God entails. It means a laying aside of that prancing, posturing egotism which is the cause of so much of our problems and so much of our evil. When we ourselves feel in jeopardy, that’s when we tend to lash out and become violent or cruel, but to leave that posturing ego behind.
This is in line with all the teachings of all the great world sages that tell us that it is our egos, our selfishness, our greed, sense of self importance, what the Koran calls istakar (ph) -- self reliance, that holds us back from the sacred or from the divine. And there were other practices too that would later evolve. Islam is not a religion that goes in much for doctrines. It’s rather like Judaism in that respect. It is more a religion of practice. In fact the Koran has a slightly dim view of theological speculation which it sometimes calls zanar (ph), self indulgent guesswork, and it’s often outraged that people quarrel about these things that no one can prove one way or the other and split up the community of the one God into warrings and divisive sects.
But there are practices which if lived in a certain way will help people to make this surrender of their beings to God at the most profound level. These practices are to make the pilgrimage to Mecca -- which I’ll explain at some point in this evening why the prayers switched from Jerusalem to Mecca. It’s a very nice story and I hope I get to it in this sort of inevitably truncated talk.
So you make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in your lifetime, if your circumstances allow. You fast during Ramadan and make a kind of retreat, really. It’s a time of purification, prayer, reflection and also you remind yourself by, as a sort of side issue, that when you can’t eat or drink whenever you choose, that this is what the poor feel all the time. So that every Muslim knows at gut level what it is to be hungry, what it is to be poor. And this should lead to a greater compassion and sense of responsibility for the poorer members of society.
One must make the shahada (ph), the affirmation of faith that there is one God, Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet, not the only prophet, but Mohammed was truly a prophet of God. And this is taken very seriously. The ideal, the Muslim ideal of towhid (ph), making one, is very much based on their profound sense of the unity of God. There’s one God, Allah. And a Muslim must order his or her life so that priorities are set in order that God comes first and you don’t make other things in your life into gods. It doesn’t just mean bowing down in front of an idol. It means putting money, or ambition, or your career, or a pure ideology like nationalism ahead of your commitment to God. And if you manage to prioritize in this way you will achieve the ideal. You will achieve an integration of the entire personality in your surrender that will give you intimations of the unity which is God itself.
So these five pillars: prayer, fasting in Ramadan, declaring the unity of God, making the pilgrimage, and -- have I left one out? And five -- I must have mentioned them all by this time. This -- zakat (ph), indeed very, very important. Alms giving. Every Muslim must give from his or her income every year to the poor, so that the idea is that this is built into your everyday life. It’s not just dependant upon a generous whim, but it’s a regular commitment to the poor.
And the religion was originally -- one of the names for the religion was originally tazartrar (ph), a word that seems to have been related to zakat, that means by giving of yourself generously you will develop a courtesy and generosity and, as it were, chivalry of spirit that will lead you closer to the divine.
Well, it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? So what about Jihad, then? What about the Jihad that we’ve been hearing so much about in recent weeks? Well, I said that the Prophet was living at a very, very violent time and he came by preaching this message of social justice and preaching this monotheistic message. He came into conflict with the people of Mecca and was soon engaged in an all out war with Mecca, especially after he’d abandoned -- he’d made the hegira from Mecca to Medina, abandoned his tribe apparently, a sacrilegious thing to do at this time when this tribe was a sacred value in pre-Islamic Arabia, and to leave your tribe and take up your abode, throw in your lot with people with whom you had no blood link was unthought of and it was absolutely shocking.
And the Meccans came after him, this was an all out war. Arab chieftains didn’t hang around in the pre-Islamic period, and if they won a battle they were not expected to leave survivors. And so Mohammed and his Muslims were fighting for their lives, and for about three or four years faced the prospect of extermination.
Now, therefore in the course, some of the revelations that came to the Prophet at this time are concerned with the conduct of armed conflict, conduct on the battlefield. And the Koran develops a theory of the just war, very similar to our Western ideal of a just war. Aggressive warfare is always wrong. A Muslim must not take the initiative in warfare. The only war that is permissible is a war of self-defense. War is always an awesome evil, says the Koran. But sometimes -- it’s not a pacifist religion -- sometimes it might be necessary to fight to prevent yourself from being wiped out or to fight against the kind of injustice and persecution that the Muslims had suffered at the hands of Mecca and to preserve decent values in rather the same way as the Allies in World War II felt it was necessary to fight against Hitler who was threatening to obliterate what we knew as civilization.
So the Prophet was engaged in this defensive Jihad, but the word Jihad does not originally primarily mean holy war. Its primary meaning is struggle, effort. Muslims are enjoined to make an effort, a struggle, a mighty endeavor on all fronts, intellectual, spiritual, social, ethical, and sometimes it might be necessary to engage in a war. And the spirit of this Jihad of this is very well encapsulated in an important and oft quoted hadith (ph), tradition or maxim uttered by the Prophet Mohammed, who, while returning from a battle, he said to his followers, “We are returning from the lesser Jihad, that is the battle, and going towards the greater Jihad, that is the much more important, definitive and decisive effort to reform our own society and our own hearts and make our own society and our own deeper inner selves pliant to God’s will.”
So that was the ideal. Now, there were some -- as there always are in war -- there were some dreadful incidents. And in the course of this warfare with Mecca, the Prophet came into conflict with three of the Jewish tribes in Medina, who were siding with Mecca and wanted a once -- were plotting with Mecca and at one point going to open their gates, the gates of the city, to the Meccans. And there were expulsions and there was killing. But after this the Jews, the other Jews in Medina were still considered part of the Muslim uma, the Muslim community. And there was no -- and the Koran continues to abjure Christians, to treat -- speak with great courtesy to the people of the book.
Now, after the death of the Prophet, Muslims engaged, as you know, in sort of vast wars of conquest, but it would be quite wrong to imagine the Muslim hordes pouring out of Arabia, imperiled by some ferocious thing called Islam, and determined to conquer the world. These were rather secular wars, the Muslims were setting up a state, and wherever a state is set up, even here in the Americas, there were wars when the Europeans arrived here and there was a struggle to set up, bit by bit, what would eventually became the United States.
But the Muslims were not -- the first 100 years of Muslim history, the conversion of non-Arabs to Islam was not generally encouraged. You could do it if you wished, but it was generally considered, for example, that Islam was a religion for the Arabs. It was the religion that had been sent to -- given to them, just as the Judaism was a religion for the sons of Jacob. Later that changed and people converted because they wanted to convert, but the spirit of Islam is, I think, shown very clearly in the conquest of Jerusalem, one of the hot issues today at the heart of so much of the distress, of the conflict that exists between us all.
The Muslim armies arrived in Jerusalem and conquered the city in 638, that’s something like six years after the Prophet’s death. And the Caliph Omar, the Prophet’s successor, the second Caliph, was escorted around the city by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Sophronius (ph). And he was taken round all the great churches, and he was in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the main church of the Muslim -- of the Christians in -- where Jesus is believed to have been crucified at the site of his tomb and resurrection. He was standing beside the tomb when the hour for Muslim prayer came around, and the Patriarch asked, invited Omar to make his prayer right there beside the tomb in the church, and Omar said no.
And he went outside the church and knelt in the thoroughfare, the main street of Jerusalem, the main road outside, and made his prostrations there, facing Mecca. And he said, he explained afterwards that if he had prayed in the Holy Sepulcher church, some later Muslims, in a thoroughly misguided spirit of zeal, might have wanted to turn this church into a mosque to celebrate the first Islamic prayer in Jerusalem. And it was of crucial importance that the Christians kept their holy places intact, and there and then Omar signed a charter to say that the Christians must keep their holy places intact.
Then the Caliph asked, “Where is the temple?” The Muslims, at this point, called Jerusalem Bayt al-Maqdis (ph), the city of the temple. They’d heard about the great mosque that King Solomon had built, they knew that this had been a very important place for the children of Israel, for Jesus indeed, who is of -- the devotion to Jerusalem is -- the Muslim devotion to Jerusalem is very much bound up with Jesus and his presence in the city. And so this is the Bayt al-Maqdis, so where is the temple?
Well, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch looked shifty, I think, at this point, because the Christian sources say that he tried to palm off various churches, modern churches, as the temple. Because what had happened was that the Romans, in the year 70 of the common era, had destroyed the temple, and the Christians had left these ruins unreclaimed. It was a very important part of Christian Jerusalem that the ruins of the temple remain and the Christians could contemplate these ruins and say this is the symbol of our defeat of Judaism. And in recent decades the Christians had taken to using the temple, the Temple Mount, as the city garbage dump.
So eventually there was no way out. The Caliph said, “I want to see the temple.” And he was led up there or had to climb on their hands and knees, up to this appalling place of desolation, covered in burns and broken masonry and stinking rubbish. And the Caliph was appalled and he immediately began to clear the site putting the rubbish into his cloak and throwing it over the parapet into the vale --