(The Al-Aqsa mosque is seen on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

The grand mosques in Mecca and Medina, the two holiest in Islam, draw millions of pilgrims annually. Al-Aqsa, the last of the three sacred sites the Prophet Mohammad urged Muslims to visit, sees only a few thousand foreign worshippers a year.

The difference is political, not religious. The first two mosques are in Saudi Arabia, a proudly Muslim kingdom, while Al-Aqsa stands on Israeli-controlled land that may be the most disputed religious spot on earth.

(Inside Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, 17 May 2012/Tom Heneghan)

Jews call the raised ground at the eastern edge of Jerusalem’s Old City the Temple Mount, while Muslims know it as the Noble Sanctuary. Both claim sovereignty over it. Muslims have kept up an informal boycott of the walled esplanade since Israel seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in a 1967 war, saying visits would amount to recognition of Jewish occupation of Palestinian territory.

Palestinian and Jordanian officials now want to reverse that. President Mahmoud Abbas urged Muslims last February to resume the journeys to Jerusalem to counter what he called Israel’s attempts to “Judaise” the city and in solidarity with the Palestinians.