Shalem Graduate Dvir Dimant ’19 Co-Authors Book on Jews, Islam, and the Temple Mount
In October 2016, in a move interpreted by Jews as proof of its anti-Israel bias—and by many Muslims as a historical corrective—UNESCO adopted a resolution disregarding Judaism’s connection to the Temple Mount. Advanced by the Palestinians, with the backing of Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, the resolution insists that the Temple Mount is sacred only to Muslims, and even referred to it strictly by its Muslim names.
In his response to the decision—what he called “absurd theater”—Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the international body had now forgone what “little legitimacy it had left. But,” he added, “I believe that the historical truth is stronger, and that the truth will in the end win.”
Now, with the publication of a new book on the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Shalem graduate and author Dvir Dimant ’19 hopes to play a role in advancing that truth. And for proof, he’s looked in a most unlikely place: early Islamic sources.
Islam, Jews and the Temple Mount: The Rock of Our/Their Existence (Routledge, 2020), which Dimant wrote together with Prof. Yitzhak Reiter, the renowned scholar of Middle Eastern history and Deputy and Acting Advisor for Arab Affairs for three Israeli prime ministers (Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Shimon Peres), offers the first comprehensive survey of the many 8th to 15th century Islamic sources that recognize the historical Jewish bond to the Temple Mount, or what Muslims call Masjid al-Aqsa. The result of more than two years’ painstaking research, the book reveals an astonishing awareness of the religious, national, and cultural importance of the site to the Jewish people on the part of Islam’s founding thinkers.
Astonishing, Dimant explains, only in light of the contemporary discourse.
“Unfortunately, on account of the current Israeli-Arab conflict, the idea that Islam has always rejected the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount has largely become common wisdom in the Arab world,” says Dimant. “Yet that notion actually contradicts many of the most important sources in Arabic. Sources that are the classics of Islam, and which lay the foundation for Muslim culture and identity.”
Ironically, he concludes, when modern Islamic sources—which make up the second half of the book—deny Jewish ties to the Temple Mount for political purposes, they call into question the credibility of the classical sources, as well as the legitimacy of Islam’s sanctification of the site itself.
And yet, Dimant is quick to add, while its findings may be interpreted as explosive, the book is in no way intended as a salvo in the battle over the narrative: “The book does not purport to argue anything or take any side. That was never the point,” he says. “Our goal with this book is to lay the facts out on the table. Both sides will naturally relate to those facts differently, but ultimately there is no arguing with them. If the book can help to ground the current discourse about the Temple Mount in the facts, that will have been an enormous contribution.”
For Dimant, who majored in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem, the book was a way to bring several of his interests—the Temple Mount, the study of classic sources, and the Arabic language—together, and to harness them toward what he hopes will be a greater good. “In many ways, this book reflects Shalem’s defining values: academic excellence with a civic orientation. And of course,” he smiles, “the attainment of fluency of Arabic. I would never have been able to research and write this book if not for the language skills I gained at Shalem.”
In fact, Dimant points out, there is yet another reason for his gratitude toward Shalem: The connection with his co-author, Prof. Reiter. The introduction was made by Shalem’s Impact Office, a four-year, comprehensive program funded by The Paul E. Singer Foundation. The Office combines study, field tours, volunteerism, and real-world work experience to grant students the tools they need to influence Israeli society from within a range of fields. “I never would have believed, when I was first presented with the opportunity for an internship with Prof. Reiter, that it would lead to the publication of a book,” Dimant says. “But that’s in keeping with a true liberal arts education, too: You pursue the learning open-mindedly and let it lead you where it wants you go.”
As for where Dimant plans to go next, he explains that he’s equally open to seeing where the book takes him, and how he can use his skills to make other contributions to both the scholarly and the public discourse. “While this book is definitely the culmination of a dream that was some time in the making, it’s far more of a beginning than an end. I’m excited to learn more, collaborate more, and write more in the years to come.”