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The Holy Land (Latin: Terra Sancta; Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקוֹדֵשׁ Eretz HaQodesh, Arabic: الأرض المقدسة Al-Arḍ Al-Muqaddasah), as a term used by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is an area roughly located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, it is synonymous with both the Land of Israel and Palestine, and is thus inclusive of the 20th century concepts of both Palestine and Israel.
Part of the significance of the land stems from the religious significance of Jerusalem, the holiest city to Judaism, the historical region of Jesus's ministry, and the Isra and Mi'raj event in Islam. The perceived holiness of the land to Christianity was part of the motivation for the Crusades, as European Christians sought to win the Holy Land back from the Muslim Suljuq Turks. They had taken it over after defeating the Muslim Arabs, who had in turn taken control from the Christian Byzantine Empire.
Many sites in the Holy Land have long been pilgrimage destinations for adherents of the Abrahamic religions, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahá'ís. Pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and connect personally to the Holy Land.
The Land of Israel is explicitly referred in the Tanakh as "holy land" (ארץ הקודש) in only one passage, in Zechariah 2:16. The holiness of the Land is generally implied in the Tanakh by the Land being given to the Israelites by God, that is, it is the "promised land," an integral part of God's covenant. In the Torah many mitzvot commanded to the Israelites can only be performed in the Land of Israel, which serves to differentiate it from other lands. For example, in the Land of Israel, " no land shall be sold permanently." (Lev. 25:23). Shmita is only observed with respect to the land of Israel, and the observance of many holy days is different, as an extra day is observed in the Jewish diaspora.
According to Eliezer Schweid:
"Four Holy Cities" in Israel: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tzfat and Tiberias, are regarded as Judaism's holiest cities. Jerusalem, as the site of the Temple, is considered especially significant. According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem is Mount Moriah, the location of the binding of Isaac. Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in the Hebrew Bible, in part because many mitzvot can only be performed within its environs. Zion, which usually refers to Jerusalem, but sometimes the Land of Israel, appears in the Hebrew Bible 154 times.
For Christians, the Land of Israel is considered holy because of its association with the birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians regard as the Savior or Messiah, and because it is the land of his people, the Jews (according to the Bible). Christian books, including editions of the Bible, often had maps of the Holy Land (considered to be Galilee, Samaria, Judea. For instance, the Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae (Travel book through Holy Scripture) of Heinrich Bünting (1545-1606), a German Protestant pastor, featured such a map. His book was very popular, and it provided "the most complete available summary of biblical geography and described the geography of the Holy Land by tracing the travels of major figures from the Old and New testaments."
In the Qur'an, the term الأرض المقدسة (Al-Ard Al-Muqaddasah, English: "Holy Land") is mentioned at least seven times, once when Moses proclaims to the Children of Israel: "O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin." (Surah 5:21)
Jerusalem (referred to as Al-Quds, meaning the "Holy") has particular significance in Islam. The Qur'an refers to Muhammad's experiencing the Isra and Mi'raj as "a Journey by night from the Sacred (Mecca) Mosque to the Farthest (al-Aqsa) Mosque, whose precincts We did bless" (17:1). Ahadith associate the "Farthest Mosque" as Al-Quds; for example, as narrated by Abu Huraira: "On the night journey of Allah's Apostle, two cups, one containing wine and the other containing milk, were presented to him at Al-Quds (Jerusalem). He looked at them and took the cup of milk. Angel Gabriel said, "Praise be to Allah, who guided you to Al-Fitrah (the right path); if you had taken (the cup of) wine, your Ummah would have gone astray". However, much modern scholarship argues that the 'Farthest Mosque' (al-Masjid al-Aqsa) was a building or prayer site just outside Medina. The present mosque of that name had not been built in Muhammad's day, nor does the Qur'an contain any reference to Jerusalem, apart from the reference to the change of the qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca. Jerusalem was Islam's first Qibla (direction of prayer), however, this was later changed to the Kaaba in Mecca following a revelation to the Prophet Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel, by which it is understood by scholars that it was in answer to the rejection by the Jews of Muhammed's prophetship.
The exact region referred to as "Blessed Land" in the Qur'an verse [21:71] has been interpreted differently by various scholars: Abdullah Yusuf Ali likens it to a wide land range including, Syria, Palestine and the cities of Tyre and Sidon; Az-Zujaj describes it as, "Damascus, Palestine, and a bit of Jordan"; Qatada claims it to be, "the Levant"; Muadh ibn Jabal as, "the area between al-Arish and the Euphrates"; and Ibn Abbas as, "the land of Jericho". The references to 'Palestine' here, instead of Syria, are achronological.
Bahá'ís consider Acre and Haifa sacred as Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was exiled to the prison of Acre from 1868 and spent his life in its surroundings till his death in 1892. In his writings he set the slope of Mount Carmel to host the Shrine of the Báb which his appointed successor `Abdu'l-Bahá erected in 1909 as a beginning of the terraced gardens there. The Head of the religion after him, Shoghi Effendi, began building other structures and the Universal House of Justice continued the work until the Bahá'í World Centre was brought to its current state as the spiritual and administrative centre of the religion. Its gardens are highly popular places to visit and Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 2012 film The Gardener featured them. The holiest places currently for Bahá'í pilgrimage are the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Acre and the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
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