Jewish and Armenian quarters and Masjid Al-Aqsa.
The Jewish quarter was my next stop.
The first place to enter in the Jewish quarter is through the Buraq Wall or formerly referred to as the Wailing Wall and now more commonly known as the Western Wall. The most sacred place for Jews who believe it to be the only surviving structure of the Herodian temple. For Muslims it is known as the Buraq wall, for on the other side is where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) tied the Buraq , the winged riding animal upon which he rode during the Night of Ascension. The area around the wall is divided into 2 parts, men and women. You can see religious Jews reciting Torah, praying and putting written prayers on a piece of paper on the wall. Some locals advised me that Jew from all over the world can hire services of a Rabbi to pray on their behalf on the Western Wall. The place is open 24 hours and it is believed that the place is always surrounded by the divine spirits
There are Western Wall tunnels that run beneath the Western wall and through to the Muslim Quarters. Visit can only be possible via a tour operator and must be booked in advance.
Riding up, away from the Western wall to enter the main Jewish Quarter, the first thing you notice is a pure gold Menorah (Hanukkah), a seven branched lampstand. Places inside a glass box. Below are the exact words marked on the glass plate next to it:
“At the time it is brought to its proper place within the sanctuary is shall be sanctioned for the Divine service of the Holy temple. May it be rebuild speedily and in our days.”
Zion gate (Bab Al-Nabi Dawood) is located next to Armenian Quarter and the route is through Jewish quarter. There is a small compound inside the Zion gate:
Maqam of Prophet Dawood
This is believed to be the tomb of the Prophet Dawood, father of Prophet Suleiman. Some historians believe that this is not his tomb but a ‘maqam’ where he once stayed. You will see a Rabbi in the room who holds the visitors head to his head and recite something as a part of Jewish ritual
The room of last Supper
This is believed to be the room where Prophet Isa had his last supper before he was arrested before the crucifixion. As per Muslims belief, Prophet Isa was taken by angels from this room and was never crucified.
Ruins of the Jerusalem city discovered, about 5000 years old
By that time. I had toured the entire old city, all four quarters and started heading back to my hostel.
Muslims living in the Muslim Quarter call themselves Palestinian and hold Jordanian passports. They have a residence card of Jerusalem issued by Israeli authorities that require a renewal every three years, and if it doesn’t get renewed; you loose the right to live in the area as a local. Muslims from the Muslim Quarter travel the world on Jordanian passport for education and jobs around the world but they are determined to go away fro few years, save some money to get married and start a small business and settle in the Muslim Quarter for the rest of their lives so that they are in the area to protect their interest – Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa. It is believed by the local Muslims of Muslim Quarter that getting a permanent visa to any first world country is not an issue for them since the world wants them to get away from their thousands year old homes.
I woke up half an year before Fajr prayer and went straight outside to see if the Mosque was open but sadly denied entry because I was under 50 years old. However on my second attempt, a kind officer granted me the entry for an hour. The security took my passport before letting me in.
I ran inside the compound. I wanted to make the most of that one hour and ran straight to Al-Aqsa in rain getting all wet. There are lots of places in the Al-Aqsa compound; sacred and contains rich history.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the structure with silver/grey dome at the front of the Mosque and also known as Qibly Masjid as it is located nearest to the Qiblah. As soon as I entered the Mosque, I ran towards the Mihrab where the Imam was reciting Quran before his Friday sermon. I prayed 2 Nafil (optional) prayer there and thanked ALLAH for giving me this opportunity.
I realised then that I was in the place where hundreds of Messengers of ALLAH and many Sahabah are buried. The place where ALLAH has shown his miracles, a place which ALLAH Himself calls a blessed place, referred directly and indirectly 70 times in the Quran, the place where Angels have descended with ALLAH’s message, the second house of ALLAH built on earth, the station of Al-Isra and Al-M’iraj, the only Masjid mentioned by name in the Quran apart from the Ka’bah, the only place on earth where all the Messengers of ALLAH prayed at the same time led by the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the first Qiblah for Muslims.
I started to cry realising the holiness of the place and a person like me who is nowhere near the Islam Prophet Muhammad (s) left amongst us. I could only thank ALLAH in those moments of happiness and shame at the same time.
On the south-east side of the Al-Aqsa compound, underground is the Marwan-e-Masjid. When the Crusaders had control of the Mosque they used to use this area as stables for their horses and it became known as Solomon’s stables. Holes can be seen on the base of many of the columns which were made by the crusaders to thread rope to tie their horses. Islamic tradition credits a caliph named Marwan I with transforming this area of the vaults into a series of usable rooms, rather than just going down to the bedrock directly, and regards the location as having originally been intended as a Mosque (which is this known as the Marwani Mosque). In 1996, the Palestinian Waqf converted the area (which had from crusader times been mostly empty) into a modern Mosque, capable of housing 7000 people.
Al-Quds (The Dome of rock) is situated behind Al-Aqsa Mosque and in between is a beautiful fountain with taps installed for ablution. Al-Quds is often mistakenly referred to as the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This structure was built by Caliph Abd-Al-Malik and houses the sacred rock from which the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ascended to Heaven after the night journey to Jerusalem. It is the opinion of some scholars that the angel Israfeel will blow the Soor from this place to herald the Day of Judgement.
Orthodox Jews believe the Dome of Rock to be the centre of the world. Christians and Jews believe this is the place where the Prophet Ibrahim (upon him be peace) was prepared to sacrifice his son Ishaq (upon him be peace) after seeing a dream indicating for him to do so.
This is a fundamental difference to the Muslim belief that it was actually his elder son Ismail (upon him be peace) who he was prepared to sacrifice and that this happened in Mina, Saudi Arabia. Inside the Dome, the major Quranic inscription over the arches of the inner arcade is addressed to the “Followers of the Gospel”, i.e. Christians, denying the shocking notion that ALLAH had sired a son. It warns them against inaccurate and dangerous statements about ALLAH.
Underneath the Dome of the rock is a cave called ‘The Well of Souls’; as some believe this is where the souls of the dead gather to wait for the event of Judgement Day. However, this may be a myth as is the notion that the rock itself is floating without any support.
At the rear of the al-Aqsa platform are two prominent places:
- Residence, where the famous Islamic scholar Imam al-Ghazali stayed in Jerusalem. In the cave underneath the dome is where he wrote his major work Ihya’ Ulum al-Din or Ihya’u Ulumiddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences).
- Building, believed to be the place where the Prophet Suleiman passed away while standing up in prayer and leaning on his cane.
Walking towards Buraq Masjid (inside the compound) you can see the the remains of the cross on which the Crusaders, upon conquering Jerusalem, slaughtered thousands of the resident Muslims on. It was broken up when Salahuddin Ayyubi reconquered the city. When the crusaders smashed there way into the Dome of the Rock mosque and stripped it of all the gold and silver. The Muslims fled into Al-Aqsa Mosque before surrendering and agreeing to pay a ransom to their leader, who proved to be very untrustworthy. The next morning the Crusaders re-entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque and slaughtered everyone. No one knows exactly how many were butchered, but many historians estimate that over 70,000 people died. One of the Crusaders spoke of struggling to walk through a mass of blood and bodies more than knee high.
Before exiting the compound I went back to the veranda of the Dome of Rock to have a final view of the entire compound captured in my eyes. I starting walking towards the exit, drenched in rain and I saw smoke in the sky (it was either a tear gas or shelling, I am not sure but smoke of something that was fired in the sky to disperse crowd) in the Muslim Quarter. I thanked every security personnel at the gate for letting me in and shook their hands, their response was very welcoming then, I guess it was all duty they were doing since all the time long.
I now had to rush to the airport to catch my flight. The cabbie, a Muslim, despite knowing of my situation that I was running late and he was probably my last hope to make it on time charged me the usual rate and did drive very fast to drop me on time.
Jerusalem is a place where whoever chooses to live bears the responsibility of carrying the flag of their religious and historical identity. You will find places of worship filled with people all the times of worship – Mosques, Churches and Synagogues. The peace agreement between Sultan Al-Kameel and Frederick II, the most daring peace deal in the history of Jerusalem is still shared i.e. Muslims control the Al-Aqsa compound and Christians control Citadel and the Church of Holy Sepulchre.
Jews were left alone in that treaty and now Jerusalem being the part of Israel, you can feel a unique kind of difference in the air; something I cannot understand what it was, something I cannot find words to describe. Locals do not enter in each other’s holy sites whether it is Jew, Muslim or Christian; tourists I suppose are an exception.
Being a Muslim, I was happy to see Muslims practicing the religion and staying in the city, but sad at the same time considering the factors that they are not Israeli citizens, they have only residential permits that reduces their chances of progression in the world, leaving the future of their children uncertain. But I find myself not qualified to have any opinion of why they have chosen to be Jordanian instead of Israeli and still live in the place, may be something I can never understand. For them, they have chosen to live for the religious identity.
I was happy that my travel is over and I will finally have some rest before I go back to work. I was happy and still am that I returned with great memories – memories that I can cherish for the rest of my life. Stories that I can share with people and a personal satisfaction of visiting Al-Aqsa, place I always wanted to visit and pray in.