This paper explores the theme of the sacredness (here synonymous with holiness) of Islamic and Jewish holy places in the Muslim world and the Holy Land against the backdrop of the tension between traditional religious consciousness as it is reflected in medieval sources and modern ideological discourse. Modern ideologies and ideological movements have imposed upon the sacred a reality which did not exist in pre-modern times and which is inconsistent with the reverence which Muslims, Jews and Christians accorded the sacred in pre-modern times.
What is often perceived as the expression of traditional consciousness today is, in fact, the product of modern political ideologies which have subjugated the personal relationship between God and the believer to an ideological discourse based upon competing ideological and nationalistic visions which are often manifested in physical violence against worshippers, exclusion of devotees from holy places, and attempts to violate the sanctity of holy places. The sacred is defined and projected in terms of sovereignty, ownership, autonomy, and political arrangements. The focus of this paper will be on the pre-modern context.
During the Middle Ages, by contrast, tension between religious communities and their representatives manifested itself in various ways which were often borne out of misunderstanding and occasionally, acts of intolerance and inter- and intra-communal violence. Despite this, the sacred was expressed in terms which were readily intelligible to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Devotees employed the same words and descriptions to refer to the sacred qualities of holy places and identified sacred and holy places in similar ways. This paper is based upon a critical reading of a wide range of historical sources, including geographical and travel literature, pilgrimage guides, and historical and literary works.