A Tale of Two Holy Cities


A Tale of Two Holy Cities

When politics and religion mutually transcend each other

Finding common ground in the world of religion is not easy, but it’s remarkable when you do.

People pray to different deities, at different times and in different ways. Jews, Christians and Muslims, for example, honor different messengers, laws and moral codes. All 3.8 billion of them seemingly agree on nothing but this: Jerusalem is a holy city.

Beyond that, contentions abound. These three religions, for example, disagree on who the custodians of Jerusalem should be.

This is where the separation between religion and politics becomes murky, as is often the case in the Middle East.

Although regarded as holy, these religions disagree on how holy the city actually is. All Jews and most Christians believe that it is the holiest city in the world. In fact, devout Christians believe that Jerusalem will soon be the holiest city in all the universe! For Muslims, the holiest city is Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The tale of these holy cities, however, is incomplete without yet another Saudi Arabian city: Medina, Islam’s second-holiest site. The cold war currently underway between archrivals Saudi Arabia and Iran place Mecca and Medina at the forefront of religion and geopolitics in the Middle East.

While Judeo-Christianity has no regard for Mecca and Medina, Islam holds them in high regard—to a similar extent that it does Jerusalem. It is critical to know to what extent, especially in light of the deteriorating relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Mecca and the Hajj

Muslims believe that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca in a.d. 570. It was in Mecca where Mohammed first received revelation of the Koran. The city is located about 40 miles east of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port of Jeddah. Every Muslim, no matter where he is in the world, must pray in the direction of Mecca.

The Five Pillars of Islam essentially define the religion and its practices. The first four “pillars” are—in layman’s terms—faith, prayer, charity and fasting. The fifth is the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is one of the world’s largest pilgrimages.

Every physically and financially capable Muslim is required to make the hajj at least once in his lifetime. Muslims of modest means save money for decades to be able to visit Mecca. When they finally do, some of them travel in overcrowded busses or on bus tops. Some pilgrims walk for thousands of miles to reach Mecca. Those who absolutely cannot make the pilgrimage are permitted to have a proxy take the hajj on their behalf.

This pilgrimage involves five days of prayer and rituals intended to draw the devout Muslim closer to Allah. It includes a day of prayer and meditation on the plain of Arafat and a stoning ritual in the valley of Mina.

Mecca’s most sacred place is the Ka’bah sanctuary, a stone building at the center of the city’s Al-Masjid al-Haram mosque. Islamic tradition says that it was originally built by the biblical patriarch Abraham.

The hajj’s farewell ritual involves thousands of Muslims, predominantly dressed in white robes, circumambulating seven times around the Ka’bah in a counterclockwise direction. This ceremony symbolizes unity among Muslims in their worship.

All these traditions and rituals are crucial to the Islamic faith. They make Mecca so Muslim that only Muslims are allowed into the city.

That is, Muslims who are not Iranians.

The long-standing political feud between the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran recently turned religious—and dramatically so. On May 29, Iran announced that its citizens would not be attending the pilgrimage to Mecca because Saudi Arabia had allegedly placed “obstacles” for Iranian participation. The Iranian Hajj Organization declared that Saudi Arabia was “opposing the absolute right of Iranians to go on the hajj and … blocking the path leading to Allah.”

The two rivals had been discussing “the security and respect” of Iranians following the stampede and subsequent death of over 2,000 pilgrims at last year’s hajj. More than 460 Iranian citizens died, more than any other nation represented at the hajj. The Iranian government blamed the carnage squarely on the “incompetence” of Saudi Arabia.

Iran demanded the right to hold demonstrations and have certain advantages for Iranian Shiites, among other things. The Saudis said these demands would create chaos during the pilgrimage.

This is not the first time Iranians have not participated in the hajj for political reasons, but it is the first time in almost 30 years!

Iran concluded that the Saudis should not be trusted with the custodianship of Islam’s holy sites. On September 5, four days before this year’s hajj began, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took this Muslim cold war up a level:

[Saudi Arabian leaders] are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the U.S. and on fulfilling their demands. And on this path, they do not shy away from any treason. …The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarize themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent and materialistic nature. They must not let those rulers escape responsibility for the crimes they have caused throughout the world of Islam.Because of these rulers’ oppressive behavior toward God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj. Negligence in this regard will confront the Islamic [world] with more serious problems in the future.

Saudi Arabia’s response to the ayatollah’s drastic demand came from its chief cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh. And it cut deep. “We must understand these are not Muslims,” he said of Iranians, “they are children of Magi [Zoroastrians of ancient Persia], and their hostility towards Muslims is an old one.”

Some analysts called this a “war of words,” but that’s a gross understatement! This is a political war that is crossing the dangerous line into a religious war! Iranians are demanding some control over Mecca, a Saudi Arabian city. And the Saudis are basically excommunicating Iranians from Islam and cutting them off from Islam’s holiest site!

Medina and the Hijra

While Mecca is regarded as the birthplace of Mohammed, Medina could be considered the real birthplace of Islam.

Mohammed and his earliest followers in Mecca were largely ridiculed and persecuted. In a.d. 622, Mohammed discovered plots to assassinate him. This resulted in the hijra, his flight from Mecca to Medina.

It was in Medina that Mohammed built a theocratic state—the first Islamic state from which Islam expanded. This theocracy’s headquarters was at Masjid al-Quba, Islam’s first mosque. Islamic tradition says Mohammed himself participated in the construction of this mosque, which has since been modified and expanded. The city became Mohammed’s home for the rest of his life.

When he died in a.d. 632, Mohammed was buried in Medina’s Al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque. It is Islam’s second-holiest site.

As with Mecca, non-Muslims are not allowed into the core of the city. And like Mecca, Medina is located in Saudi Arabia.

If Iranians are “not Muslims,” they will also be refused entry to the core of Medina.

Jerusalem—The First Qiblah

Muslims recognize Jerusalem as the first qiblah, the original location toward which Muslims were required to pray.

According to the Koran and Islamic tradition, Mohammed and his followers prayed toward Jerusalem for the first 16 months after Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina to appeal to Jewish Meccans who already were praying toward Jerusalem. The Jews rejected Mohammed and mocked him and his followers for appropriating Jewish customs. Tradition says that when the distraught Muslims cried out to heaven, Mohammed received revelation about the change of the qiblah from Jerusalem to Mecca. The koranic verse that Muslims reference regarding this change is Surah 2:144, which says, “Indeed, We see the turning of your face to heaven, so We shall surely turn you to a qiblah which you shall like; turn then your face towards the Sacred Mosque [Mecca’s Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque], and wherever you are, turn your face towards it, and those who have been given the Book [Jews] most surely know that it is the truth from their Lord; and Allah is not at all heedless of what they do.”

According to the Koran, Jerusalem is also the city from where Mohammed ascended to heaven to receive instructions from Allah in a.d. 621. Specifically, Mohammed is believed to have left the ground at the location of today’s Al-Aqsa Mosque (not the Dome of the Rock, a Jerusalem landmark that is more familiar to the average non-Muslim).

Jerusalem in Bible Prophecy

The most significant point to note at this juncture is this: The Islamic Republic of Iran has a deep interest in three of Islam’s holiest sites: Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. It currently has control over none of them!

Ayatollah Khamenei said that “the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places” of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

What does Khamenei mean by “fundamental reconsideration”?

On September 7, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying, “Regional countries and the Islamic world should take coordinated measures to punish the government of Saudi Arabia in order to have a real hajj.”

According to terrorism expert Walid Shoebat, former Iranian Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted on September 27 as saying: “We’re not going to war against any Muslim country, but Saudi Arabia is an exception. If it commits any stupid move [it will] get a penalty, that is erasing Arabia and Wahhabism out of existence ….”

Is that a bluff or credible threat?

Iran and Saudi Arabia are already at war—via their proxies. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and Saudi Arabia has been frightened into pursuing its own. Both nations have been expanding their militaries. Saudi Arabia has even gone as far as to build military alliances with fellow Sunni Arab nations.

Watch Mecca and Medina. As you do, watch Jerusalem as well!

According to news reports on September 15, Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa (decree) for Iranians to “pilgrimage to Karbala and other holy shrines in Iraq instead of Mecca this year.” Little wonder that Iran has meddled politically in Iraq for decades, especially since the 2003 Iraq War.

But Karbala is not Islam’s third-holiest site—Jerusalem is! Little wonder that Iran has meddled politically in Jerusalem for decades!

While we can only speculate about the future of Mecca and Medina, we can know for sure about the future of Jerusalem! Iran will try to conquer this holy city.

In his September 5 statement, Khamenei said that Saudi leaders, “who, by forming and arming wicked [apostate] groups, have plunged the world of Islam into civil wars, murdering and injuring the innocent and shed blood in Yemen, Iraq, the Levant, Libya and other countries—the godless politicians who have extended the hand of friendship toward the Zionist regime, have closed their eyes on the Palestinians’ sufferings and heartrending tragedies and have spread their oppression and betrayal to the cities and villages of Bahrain.”

Iran has been the biggest sympathizer for various militant groups in the Middle East and for the Palestinians in Israel, especially in Jerusalem. Every year, on the last Friday of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Iran celebrates Quds, or Jerusalem, Day.

In 2012, Khamenei said, “The Zionist regime is a real cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.” Later that year, he reaffirmed that Israel was a “cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world.”

Iranian and Palestinian leaders have perpetuated lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as one of many ways to incite violence. In November last year, following rumors of an Israeli takeover of the city, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stormed and liberated a replica of Al-Aqsa in the Iranian holy city of Qom. The point of the exercise was to send Israel a threat.

There is a book that declares exactly what will come of those threats. It predates the Koran by over 2,000 years. In fact, the Koran refers to it as “the Book.” That book has a well-documented reputation of accurate forecasts of the future fate of kingdoms, nations and cities.

That book is the Bible.

Here’s what “the Book” says about the fate of Jerusalem: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zechariah 14:1-2).

In Jerusalem in Prophecy, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry explains, “East Jerusalem—one half of the city—will be conquered by the Palestinians!”

Iran will be instrumental in the prophesied takeover of half of the holy city of Jerusalem. Iran’s ostracism from Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest cities, could prod the radical Islamic nation to make a grab for Islam’s third-holiest city: Jerusalem!

The fall of half of Jerusalem will trigger events that lead to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth, headquartered in Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is prophesied to be the most enduring of all of the world’s holy cities. In the Old Testament, God said, “I have chosen Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 6:6). In the New Testament, the same God prophesies of “the holy city, new Jerusalem,” “whose builder and maker is God” (Revelation 21:2; Hebrews 11:10).

Soon, the turmoil and violence in Jerusalem will be overcome. It will then be the holiest city for all human beings of all backgrounds and a source of inspiration for all eternity! Our free booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy will explain that future in vivid detail that will inspire you!