Why the Need for a Common Sanctuary of the Three Abrahamic Religions?

And why at the Temple Mount?



Peace in the Middle East seems farther away than ever. How is that possible after decades of intensive international striving for peace?


Looking for the causes, one area will be found on which negotiations have never touched: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Two thousand years ago that place harbored the Temple of the Jews until it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 of our era. With that, the Biblical Israel ceased to exist and the Jews were – yet again – driven into exile, an exile which lasted for nearly two millennia and which, especially in Europe, was often terror-fraught and deadly.

During the time of their involuntary absence, the site of their Temple became the world’s third holiest place for the Muslims, because from there, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammed ascended to Heaven and was thus confirmed as the “Seal of the Prophets”. The Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are a reminder of that.

As a result of that redesignation, the site has – since the Jews began returning to their Biblical Homeland – become embroiled in inter-religious feuds over ownership-rights which have often turned violent.

Thus, the whole Middle East conflict is inseparable from the conflicting tangle of self-images – and images of the “other” – of the followers of the three Abrahamic religions. As long as these images remain unchanged, the conflict cannot be resolved; there is bound to be again and again a clash of identities, especially since the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. Political measures alone cannot change that.

An effective solution will have not only to include the three faiths, it will have to emanate from them. It will necessitate a great sacrifice on the part of each. That will be possible only if the leaders of each of the three decree a decisive restriction on the group-identity-image of their followers, in regard to their image of the other faiths. They will have to demand of their followers, that they renounce all claims to superiority and they will have to express that renunciation outwardly by getting together to construct a common sanctuary for all three faiths at precisely the spot that by manifesting the differences in the self-images of the three religions has come to symbolize the conflict itself.


Why, of all places, at the Temple Mount – at Haram Ash-Sharif?


In my numerous talks about this idea nearly everyone – even the Muslims – said a common sanctuary of the three religions would help.

But then most of them said: the Temple Mount is the last place where such a common sanctuary could be realized. It could be realized anywhere else but there, because at that spot the conflict is too deeply ingrained, it might even cause a terrible escalation of the tensions and of violence. In the face of the explosive nature of that location such a judgment can come as no surprise.

But having become expert in finding surprising solutions to difficult problems in psychotherapy I asked these same people, as an experiment, to discount the problems for one moment, and to think of the absolutely ideal place for such a common sanctuary, then everybody said: the absolutely ideal place would be the Temple Mount.


How can that be understood? In psychotherapy a well known obstacle to a cure of the patient’s suffering is this: awareness of pain makes people blind to the solution. They get hypnotized by the problem. Therefore the therapist needs to peel the patient’s attention off the problem. He has to make him suspend the usual "realistic/unrealistic" judgment, and instead to look for "the dream solution".


The same is true of the Middle East conflict: as long as the parties are hypnotized by the problem, the logical solution cannot be seen. Therefore, in order to find the solution, it will be helpful for the people involved in decision-making, to provide their minds with a fresh frame, to detach their attention from the problem, and to focus it on the ideal solution – no matter how unrealistic that presently may appear. As soon as people will apply that to this conflict – which can be done in a matter of seconds –, they will be able see: the Temple Mount is the ideal place for a common sanctuary, because every one of the three Abrahamic faiths is rooted at that point in its own very special way.


Why all three Abrahamic religions can agree to that


For the Jews, the elevated place for the Temple in this image of the solution is theologically possible, because the Talmud already provides the image of a floating Temple [see Maharsha on Ein Dorshin 2, Chagiga, 15B et par.]. Even a common sanctuary will be possible for the Jews, because they are free to view their sister religions as the fulfillment of their own prophecies. All it needs is that the sister religions should recognize the still unrevoked role of the Jews as God’s chosen people – and that they refrain from any idol worship.

For the Christians a common sanctuary at that place is possible since they are not immediately involved in the dispute over the ownership of that piece of land, which puts them in a position where they even have the potential to act as mediators.

For the Muslims a common sanctuary is possible also, since the Qur’an commands respect of the sister religions, and since in consequence it would mean that the sister religions recognize Islam as a fully valid path to God. This special location would even enhance that recognition.


As far as further “theological obstacles” are concerned, in my humble view all theological contradictions between the faiths are resulting from the different contexts in which the basic experiences of the specific religions are rooted. In these basic experiences already, the same ontological essence is formulated differently according to the specific needs of a very special situation in space and time. And after that, in every religion, for the purpose of didactics and group identification, elementary religious experience is transformed into theological dogma. It is from there that conflicts between groups may arise – where dogmata are no longer seen in their original contexts, but as absolute ontological insights.

In order to avoid such misunderstandings it would be advantageous – while clearly recognizing and highly esteeming the constitutive power and the significance of dogma for the cohesion of the group, for the identity of its members, and for the didactics of guiding them towards religious experience – to regard these differences, akin to differences of language, as neither endangering the faith in anyone’s tradition, nor in any way as obstacles to peace.


Where does all the mutual disparagement come from

and how can it be overcome?


Once established, things like group identifications develop a dynamic of their own. And since the conflicts between the different groups now are a reality we ought to take a closer look at the interactions of these religious group identities:

Where the three faiths intersect, turmoil often arises. That turmoil is not caused by religious people’s attempts to align their personal lives with the spiritual dimension. That alone could easily give rise to quite some turbulence, namely the inner struggle which Islamic Hadiths refer to as “the greater Jihad”, but it would not be a cause of political strife, because each would be engaged in their own struggle. The political strife, which in the meanwhile could very well lead to a Third World War, is caused by the mechanisms of group-vices.

Is that a genuine effect of religion?


Religion is a spiritual path. Everyone could agree on that.

In Islam and in Judaism, religion also has a political dimension: in Judaism, because there is a historic covenant between God and a certain people; in Islam, because the Prophet Mohammed was also a political leader.

One political consequence of this is the reestablishment of a Jewish State. Since the Jewish state was reestablished at historic sites and these sites were situated in an area populated predominantly by Muslims, and since Islam too has a political dimension, that could not pass without conflict.

From their point of view, the surrounding Muslim States could not tolerate the establishment of a Jewish state enclaved in their region, least of all one that included Jerusalem. As their attempts to put an end to that establishment proved ineffectual, the expression of an essential part of the political dimension of Islamic identity switched to another level: certain individuals started to sacrifice themselves in the name of their religious group-identity; suicide bombers appeared on the political scene.

The suicide bombers themselves are motivated by the promise of being welcomed in Paradise as martyrs. Martyr departments in ministries of Islamic governments reinforce that conviction – but are they true martyrs in a spiritual sense? Those who order suicide attacks have a very different perspective. They don’t share the naïve belief of the suicide bombers. These commanders would never give up their lives in such an attack. They are clearly using the naïve religious motivation of volunteers as an asset in their power strategy: As hidden string-pullers they recruit suicide bombers as invisible soldiers in an invisible army, as the struggle for the political survival of a religious identity goes underground.

The consequence is a bloody war on both sides.


By virtue of its political dimension the proposal to create a single common sanctuary for the three Abrahamic faiths has the potential to render such bloodthirsty power games unnecessary and to bring about a solution in which in the end all parties will be winners.


What is the difference

between this proposal and other peace initiatives?


Unlike most of the groups which are working for peace, and the official accounts of the three religions – this proposal does not confine itself to merely promoting peaceful coexistence among the adherents of the three faiths.

Peaceful coexistence presupposes the ability of free individuals to exercise their free will, but in reality that often is no option. By providing a rather private space in their extremely important grass-root work, the peace-and dialogue-groups are able to circumvent the psychological vices of group identity, which are effective outside these groups, but they cannot do away with them.

The disastrous vices of group identification are often based on demeaning the other. Since two of the three religions have emerged from previous ones, they in their group image tend to see themselves as more highly developed successors, while the others tend to be seen as blemished predecessors. The predecessors on the other hand tend to regard their offspring as malignant, refusing to look at the insufficiencies which might have called for the rise of a genuine new religion. Clearly, such disregard for and demeaning of the other cannot lead to peace. Peace can be attained only if each of the three groups can envision an authentic identity for themselves within a greater whole, in which the others enjoy equal respect.

That is the purpose of this proposal. Thus, it takes a decisive step beyond the limits of the peace movements and inter-religious dialogue-groups. It suggests that all three faiths overcome the dangerous chasms of their group-identity by surrendering more deeply to the One God and Creator above, at least in regard to the suggested common sanctuary – in Islamic terms the proposal suggests “Islam” in its strictest sense. Even for those who already confess themselves to be “Muslims” (i.e. those who have surrendered to God), it implies taking their surrender one level deeper.


How can they do that?


The aspect of God’s intentions


Obviously it is the Will of the one God above all three Abrahamic faiths that every one of the three should survive. He did not destroy Judaism after Christianity evolved – not even after a certain period of natural inertia; he did not destroy Christianity after Islam evolved – not even after such a period of inertia as for instance was necessary for the religions of antiquity to disappear after the emergence of Christianity. He obviously supports all three. Therefore to accept the Will of God means to accept the three Abrahamic faiths as in their spiritual essence equally correct.

Those who intend to destroy any of the three are therefore going against the Will of God; they are pursuing narrow group-interests which are caused ultimately by delusions of exclusive grandeur. Since they believe themselves to be better than the members of the other groups, they have fallen victim to hubris.

Whoso would follow the Will of the God above all beings must open up to an overarching view that includes the perspectives of all three Abrahamic faiths – and more. Given that precondition, they will be willing to create a symbol of their opening up, of their acceptance, of their including one another, a common sanctuary, in which there is room for the different traditions of expressing the surrender to the one God.


Once this intention is present, there can no longer be any real obstacle to peace. And of course, this would mark the beginning of an aeon of mediation and cooperation.





To unfold the image of this Common Sanctuary please continue here