Photo by Dan Rosenstein via Unsplash
In the West Bank city of Hebron, Jews and Muslims share an ancient shrine known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Abraham (or Ibrahim in Arabic) is believed to be buried at this sacred site. So too are Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah, all spiritual patriarchs and matriarchs whom both Jews and Muslims revere, as noted by Daniel Estrin.
According to the Hebron Fund, Adam and Eve are also buried at the location.
The site dates back over 3,000 years. According to the Bible, Abraham bought the piece of land from Ephron the Hittite as a burial place for his family.
Jews widely consider the Cave of the Patriarchs to be the second-holiest site in the Jewish tradition (the first being the Temple Mount).
The Ibrahimi Mosque has also passed through the hands of Christians. The Byzantines added a church to the complex in the 6th century. In the 12th century, the structure was captured by the Crusaders.
Shared sacred sites, as Karen Barkey pointed out, “are ‘holy’ for members of multiple religious groups and serve not only as places where persons are brought together to respect the site in various ways, but also as sites where they are forced, by their coexistence, to mediate and negotiate their otherness.”
How are Jews and Muslims able to successfully share the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque in a way that aligns with their religious traditions?
One side of the shrine is set aside for Muslims; the other side is for Jews. A military security checkpoint, run by the State of Israel, controls the flow of people in-and-out of the spaces. The State of Israel, in this way, serves as a kind of mediator in case tensions flare up.
While the set-up may not be perfect, the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque provides hope for sharing sacred spaces. Methods can be found to divide it in such a way that enables each side to use it according to their own liturgical needs, as Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) note in a piece by the Regional Interfaith Network.
Despite the example that it sets for shared spaces of prayer, the Cave of the Patriarchs has unfortunately been the site of conflict. Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler and U.S. citizen, killed 29 Muslims there in 1994. This act of terrorism (as documented by Al Jazeera) ushered in security protocols – bulletproof walls now stand in-between the Jewish and Muslim prayer spaces.
Sharing sacred spaces is not easy. Successful sharing requires a dose of humbleness, an increased focus on areas of common ground between members of the Abrahamic tradition, and perhaps even a neutral mediator to “keep the peace.”
If Jews and Muslims are able to share an ancient shrine in the hotly contested West Bank, certainly Christians and Muslims can find a way to share the Hagia Sophia and the “Cathedral Mosque” in Cordoba, Spain (as well as other “contested” sites that are sacred to both Christians and Muslims).