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Dec 6, 3:56 PM EST

Jerusalem is sacred place for Jews, Muslims, Christians


AP Photo
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Jerusalem holds deep religious significance for Jews, Muslims and Christians, heightening the stakes for President Donald Trump's decision to recognize the city as Israel's capital.

Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism, the third-holiest shrine in Islam and major Christian sites linked to the life of Jesus.

The three religions have co-existed in Jerusalem with mixed results, under long-standing agreements that give oversight of different sectors in the Old City to separate coalitions of Muslims and Christian groups, and to Israeli authorities. Trump's announcement Wednesday has no direct impact on those arrangements, but creates new tensions around maintaining those already fraught relationships.

Pope Francis said he was "profoundly concerned" over the move and appealed to these shared ties to Jerusalem among the monotheistic faiths, "who venerate the holy places of their respective religions and has a special vocation to peace."

Here are some facts on the significance of the city to the three religions:

JUDAISM

The Temple Mount, on a hilltop compound that is also revered by Muslims, is where the biblical Jewish Temples stood thousands of years ago and is considered the holiest site in Judaism. When Jews pray, they face Jerusalem. Those in Jerusalem face the Temple Mount. At the end of the Passover Seder, Jews say "Next year in Jerusalem," among other traditions to affirm the religious connection rooted in the Hebrew Bible.

The Western Wall, in the heart of the Old City in Jerusalem, is the holiest place where Jews can pray and draws Jews from around the world.

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ISLAM

The Temple Mount is home to the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina, and is at the center of one of the most important moments in Islam: the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension.

According to Islamic teaching, Muhammad was carried by the angel Gabriel on a winged horse from Mecca to Jerusalem's Noble Sanctuary, where he prayed with other prophets and ascended to Heaven before returning.

"Muhammad saw God face-to-face. Muslims are trying to see God face-to-face," said Omid Safi, a Duke University professor and author of "Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters." ''It's simply the defining experience that spiritual seekers are trying to replicate in their own life."

Muslims originally prayed facing in the direction of Jerusalem, putting Islam among the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity, before reorienting the direction of prayer toward Mecca, Safi said.

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CHRISTIANITY

The most pivotal developments in the Christian faith occurred in and around Jerusalem. Christian tradition holds that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. The city includes the Garden of Gesthemane, where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his Crucifixion, among other sites of significance for believers.

Christian pilgrims have been visiting the site for centuries.

"Jerusalem is important to Christians because Jerusalem was important to Jesus," said the Rev. James Martin, author of "Jesus: A Pilgrimage." ''So much of Jesus' ministry took place in Jerusalem."

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HOW IT WORKS ON THE GROUND

The administration of the various sites in Jerusalem is complicated.

The Islamic Waqf, or trust, administers the Temple Mount complex. Jordan, which is the former ruler of the Old City, retains custodial rights over the area and oversees the complex.

Any Israeli attempts to add oversight of that sector have sometimes sparked violence.

Separately, the Israeli government controls the Western Wall, while a group of Christians administers the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Rev. Deanna Ferree Womack, a professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, said those religious connections "have been employed both to unite and to divide" throughout history. This time will be no different. "We must not forget this when navigating the contemporary political rhetoric about the Middle East," she said.

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