Wednesday 22 May 2024

The 54th anniversary of arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque

August 21 marks the 54th anniversary of a terrible attack against an Islamic holy site, when a Protestant extremist from Australia named Denis Michael Rohan set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Al-Quds, destroying large parts of the site and irreplaceable artifacts.


The fire, which happened on August 21, 1969, caused considerable widespread damage to the southern section of the grey-domed Mosque, known locally as the Qibli Mosque.


Al-Aqsa is known to Muslims all over as Haram-al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). This is a cherished location for Muslims for over 1,300 years, a site visited by Prophet Muhammad SAW on his winged horse, El-Baraq on The Night of Ascend.


The fire had swept through some of the oldest parts of the Mosque, devouring an area of around 1,500 square meters and destroying the 900-year-old wood and ivory pulpit gifted by Muslim leader Salahuddin al-Ayyubi, in addition to mosaic panels on the walls and ceilings; many areas within the Mosque were also blackened and charred.


At first, Israeli police and municipal officials claimed the fire resulted from an electrical short circuit, but the Al-Quds’ electricity company conducted a technical investigation into the incident and announced there was no fault in the network or connection between the fire and electricity.


 At the time, Sheikh Hilmi al-Muhtaseb, the then head of the Higher Islamic Commission in Occupied Al-Quds, told a news conference that the fire was deliberate and not normal, affirming the Israeli authorities cut off water supply to the Aqsa Mosque compound immediately after the fire started.


Sheikh Muhtaseb also accused the Israeli occupation authority of delaying the arrival of fire trucks to extinguish the flames.


He asserted that crews from the Palestinian fire departments in Ramallah and al-Khalil rushed to the holy site and tackled the blaze despite an Israeli attempt to obstruct their entry to Al-Quds and the scene.


All the Muslim eyewitnesses, who took part in the efforts to put out the fire, also confirmed at the time that piped water was not available at the Mosque or in nearby areas around it when the incident happened. They had to use primitive means to get water from wells in the Mosque’s main courtyard.


It is noteworthy that the Israeli municipality in Al-Quds was and is still the authority controlling the distribution of water.


Consequently, heated protests took place then throughout the holy city and all areas of Al-Quds went on strike, a move that also happened in the West Bank and even in 1948 occupied Palestine.


The Israeli security authorities, in turn, reacted to the events, closed all access points to the Aqsa Mosque compound, and prevented the holding of Friday prayers there for the first time.


A suspect was soon identified by the police as 28-year-old Dennis Michael Rohan, an Australian Christian tourist, who was arrested two days later on August 23. Rohan was unafraid of revealing his motives for the crime, claiming to be “the Lord’s emissary.”


He told interrogators that he wanted to hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ which, in his view, could only be achieved by allowing the Jews to build the temple of Solomon in place of the Aqsa Mosque.



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