Friday 21 August will mark 46 years to the day that a devastating fire engulfed part of Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, resulting in the destruction of a historically significant and priceless pulpit (mimbar) in the iconic mosque. The 1969 fire was started by Australian tourist, Dennis Michael Rohan who claimed to be acting upon divine instruction with the aim of destroy al-Aqsa, paving the way for Jews to reconstruct the Temple of Solomon in its place. Rohan was subsequently arrested and declared mentally unstable, later dying at a mental institution in Australia.
The biggest victim of the attack was a 1000 year old mimbar gifted to the city during the 12th century by Salahuddin Ayyubi, after he re-captured Palestine from the Crusaders. In remembrance of the incident, the Al-Quds Foundation of South Africa and the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) will be hosting a special commemoration event on Thursday.
Al Quds Foundation and MJC president, Moulana Igshaan Hendricks said the attack on al-Aqsa came barely two years after the occupation of Jerusalem and the broader Palestinian territories by Israel. Since then the mosque has remained the prime target of the occupation.
“From 1967 until 2015 we have seen over and over that the desecration of Masjid al-Aqsa has not been spared under the grip of Zionist occupation,” he said.
While most of the damage was taken by the mimbar itself, Hendricks reiterated that the target of the attack was in fact the Masjid al-Aqsa facility itself. He declared the assault a “terrorist attack on the first qiblah of the Muslims”.
He also challenged the narrative that Rohan’s alleged mental illness led him to act on his own accord.
“Even though Michael Rohan was declared to be mentally not normal, it is clear that these actions are not unilateral. They are inspired by a bigger agenda of Zionist occupation that clearly has its eyes focused on Masjid al-Aqsa,” he suggested.
The burning of Al-Aqsa mosque will be commemorated on Thursday at 11am at the Palestine Museum. The public are invited to attend the event, which will feature an exhibit of the original piece of the surviving mimbar of Salahuddin Ayyubi. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)