Not a pilgrim but (Part 3) – Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock

No I wasn’t a pilgrim. But how could a tourist be in Jerusalem and not visit these famous sites. So I decided I would explore these famous sites. Ending today with the the youngest of the three religions in Jerusalem, Sunni Islam and its holy sites – the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

A security officer walked up to the man in front of me, “Sir, do you have any passport or ID?”

“Er… I left my passport my hotel… I let me check… I don’t have any ID on me right now.”

“Then its going to be hard to let to pass through…”

They continued their discussion. Realising the futility of waiting in this queue, I walked over to the other queue and carried on my journey.

We passed through security and continued up a wooden bridge over the Western Wall, entering the Temple Mount.

We came across the Al-Aqsa mosque first.

“I had a few friends who tried to get in by saying were muslims and then later when they got in they were asked how many prayers a day a muslim had to perform…”

“Well five”

“My friend didn’t know that” said my traveling companion. Security at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is tight, unlike the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall where tourist are allowed to visit, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So we stayed outside just to admire the structure.

This was the best I could manage to find about the inside of the mosque.

The Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam and Jerusalem the third most holy in Islam.It’s name is translated as the farthest mosque, and is considered the mosque that Mohammad travelled to in a night (coming from Mecca) to pray. This is called the Night Journey, or the Isra and Mi’raj in Islam.

The prophet was brought from Mecca to Jerusalem overnight by a steed called the Burqa. After the prophet Mohammad (SAW) prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque, the angel Jibril (Gabriel) brought Mohammad (SAW) up to heaven where he recieved instructions on prayers from Allah. Before the establishement of the Kaaba, muslims faced the direction of this mosque in their prayers.

The mosque was first built in 705 but was destroyed a couple of times by earthquakes. The current structure was completed in 1035 and was continually added to with time.

We turned our heads to the left and saw the iconic Dome of the Rock. This is the enduring image of Jerusalem, seen from afar even today.

“It’s majestic, my lips mouthed”

The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic Shrine, patterned after Byzantine Churches of the time (it was first built in 691 BC and rebuilt in 1021). As mentioned in a previous article, the Dome of the Rock is the site of the foundation stone which is the site that is believed Abraham led his son (Isaac in Jewish/Christian belief, Ishmael according to Islamic belief) to to sacrifice him to God (before he was stopped) as a way to prove his religious sincerity.

The architecture around the Dome was gorgeous, simply gorgeous.

We walked to the eastern edge of the Dome, overlooking the Mount of Olives, the City of David and the District of Silwan.

From the corner of my eye I spotted a sight that I did not expect, young children playing football in the compound.

There was something magical about that sight. That despite all the violence over a holy site, children can still be children and grow up playing games.

But reminders of the religious tension were not far away. As we completed our round of the Dome, a group of jewish tour guides appeared with a guide and armed police followed them all around the mosque and Dome. The originally calm and peaceful district was coated with a discomforting air that could be cut with a knife.

“Why do they need guards?”

“Beats me…”

I only found out why later on. I 2014 a law was passed by Jewish zealots preventing young muslims from praying at the mosque while allowing Jews to tour and pray at the site.

In fact Israeli soldiers entered the mosque forcibly on occasion to claim the site for Israeli,

while Palestinian resistance forces fight to defend it.

The last I saw of the Holy Sites was gun bearing people accompanying Jewish tourist. Not exactly a site I wanted to see. And in spite of all the commentary, a sign of tension that exists waiting to boil over.

These are all religions of the Book. Must it come to this…



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