Egyptian military officials recently claimed to have brought the Sinai Peninsula, a base for Islamic extremists, largely under control. Whether that proves to be the case, much of the news media have yet to get the name of perhaps the most dangerous jihadist movement there under control. Failing to do so, journalists have missed a tacit Islamic acknowledgement of Jerusalem’s Jewish sanctity.
In “Violence on rise in Egypt as vote nears,” USA Today reported (March 20) that “the deadliest and dominant jihadist group here is Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem [emphases added]—an al-Qaeda-inspired group that is comprised predominantly of Egyptians, analysts said. The Sinai-based group claimed responsibility for most major attacks against Egypt and Israel since its formation three years ago ….”
Anyone who knows Hebrew recognizes “bayt al-Maqdis” as an Arabic eponym for beit ha-Mikdash—literally “the holy House,” specifically the two ancient Jewish temples that stood on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ansar al-Quds would be Arabic for Supporters, or Warrior Champions, of Jerusalem; Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is plainly, if ironically, Supporters of the Temple.
No matter. Associated Press in a dispatch headlined “Video shows suicide bomber who killed 16 in Egypt” and posted April 10 by KENS TV, Channel 5, San Antonio, referred to “the video by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem ….”
Mistranslations obscure Jewish connection
The New York Times, in “Prolonged Fight Feared in Egypt After Bombing” (January 24)” reported on “Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group whose name means ‘Supporters of Jerusalem’ ….”
In one of several such references last winter and fall, The Washington Post, in “Car bomb kills 15, injures scores in northern Egypt” (December 25) told readers about “the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, also known as Ansar Jerusalem,” continuing the erroneous media pattern of rendering Bayt al-Maqdis as “Jerusalem” and not bothering to translate Ansar into English at all.
These four news outlets were not alone in their confusion. Yet it seems newsworthy that after the Egyptian military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and outlawed his Muslim Brotherhood party, the group of holy warriors who began killing soldiers, police and others in response already had chosen to identify themselves with the Jewish temples.
As early as August 14, 2013, Simcha Jacobovici, writing in The Times of Israel (“In Arabic, Jerusalem is Jewish”), explained what was going on. Jacobovici cited Ilan Pomeranc for pointing out that “this jihadi group’s name witnesses to the Jewish status of Jerusalem.”
According to Jacobovici, “‘Ansar Beit al Maqdes’ literally means the ‘Army of the Holy Temple.’ Media outlets mistranslate the name as ‘Army for Jerusalem,’ but Jerusalem does not appear in the name at all. In Arabic, ‘Jerusalem’ is often called, in shorthand vernacular, ‘Al-Quds,’ What this term literally means is ‘the Holy.’ ‘Quds’ is merely an Arabization of the Hebrew ‘Kadosh,’ i.e., ‘Holy.’ So if you put the two Arabic names for Jerusalem together what you get is ‘al-Quds al-Maqdes,’ which literally means ‘the place of the Holy Temple.’”
Three religions, one source of sanctity
Jacobovici asks “why do Arabs—in fact, all Islam—call Jerusalem by this name? Why not the ‘city of the Dome of the Rock’? Or the ‘Mount of al-Aqsa’?”
The answer, he says, “is simple and historically accurate: everyone always knew that the reason the place was ‘holy’ … was because the Holy Temple of the God of Israel once stood there. It was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E. and stood for some 500 years on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. After it was destroyed by Babylonians in the 6th century B.C.E., it was quickly rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah and stood for another 500 years” until destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.
Jacobovici argues that the claim “Jerusalem is holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam” is “only partial true. Jerusalem is only holy to Christianity and Islam because it is holy to Judaism.” The city is sacred to Christians “because Jesus was a Jew who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Temple on the Passover during which he was crucified. Jerusalem is holy to Islam because Muhammad is said to have gone on an out-of-body nighttime journey on his steed, al-Buraq, from Mount Zion. Muslims believe that he flew to heaven from this spot because it was the site of the Temple of the God of Israel.”
The columnist says “the ultimate irony” is “a terrorist group trying to wrest control of Jerusalem from Israeli hands unconsciously testifies to Jerusalem’s Jewish identity. It calls Jerusalem—‘the place of the Holy Temple.’”
That’s a lot of history, but it’s one of the essentials in understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict. And it’s a prerequisite for accurately translating the name of an Egyptian terrorist group making headlines.