I had never thought of her as such……….Masjed Al Aqsa as the grey lady of Palestine!
I am on the bus from Jericho on the West Bank to Jerusalem, clicking photos of every signpost that says Jerusalem. I have no idea what to expect. but cannot contain my excitement. I can feel the suppressed excitement laced with nervousness in my fellow occupants of the bus. Twenty-one young tourists from our group have been detained at the Israeli/Palestinian border by Israeli immigration for no specific reason. We are told it is just a “drag my feet” policy of the Israelis which particularly seems to come into play when processing young Muslims under fifty years of age who are desirous of praying at Masjed Al Aqsa.
Thus we are on our way from Jericho to Jerusalem. As we weave in and out of lanes on the highway, passing the hills of the West bank I notice each hill surfeit with entire complexes of buildings separated from the West Bank Palestinian towns by high walls. These mini cities surprisingly connect directly to the interstate highway going to Jerusalem……….odd…….. I think, and do not at first connect these hilltop-building complexes with the much maligned house robbery based “Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands”.
The bus exits the interstate and the driver says “Allah o Akbar. I turn to look at my left………the stunning panorama spread before me is the city of Jerusalem with its two shining jewels, the glistening golden Dome of the Rock and besides it the Gentle Grey lady of Palestine, regal in demeanor.
I am speechless and before I can say a word, there is a dip in the road and the panorama disappears……….there is a collective sign of disappointment from each person in the bus. “ We will see it again soon” reassures our guide.
Ascending to the Mount of Olives the bus stops and we make a running exit. The streets are packed with tourist buses and pedestrians, and the bus cannot wait there. It is Asr and only the Thursday before Good Friday.
Bait Al Maqdis is waiting just around the corner and yet we are unable to get to it just yet, more patience is needed!
We go into the mosque where Salman Al Farsi a Sahabi from Persia lies buried………I think of his search for the truth that took him from the temple of Fire in the heart of Persia where his father was the chief “keeper of the fire” to lands faraway as Medina. He, stopping and serving in many other lands searching…searching for the truth! Undergoing human bondage, servitude and finally reaching Medina to be enslaved by a Jew. He, still looking to confirm that the man who is claiming to be the Prophet of Allah truly fits the description he has been given…
I think of him here, thousand of miles from home and away from his beloved Medina he lies buried near the heart of Jerusalem on a hill that overlooks Bait Al Maqdis………..
I must be patient I tell myself, my time too will come when I pray in the Bait Al Maqdis, but for now I must prepare for Asr prayer in the Masjid of Salman Al Farsi.
After prayer it is an unsaid hurry and everyone is out efficiently………every foot hurrying to the Mount of Olives to catch a glimpse of one of the holiest city for all the monotheist religions of the world.
I am at the embankment and there in front of me in the evening declining sun she stands a little back from the sparkling golden dome of the Rock.
Regal, holding out her arms to all, inviting all to come pray, offering to hold the afflicted the grieved and the injured close to her bosom and bring them the peace that only being in the Haram can bring.
Her grey dome is outlined by the evening sun and at her feet are little people, chiseling away. They are members of the “chosen people” greedy to find more than what she has to offer……….
They are calling us to the bus as I take my last picture and hold my first glimpse of the Grey Lady of Palestine in my heart, I turn quickly to join my colleagues on the bus and fall on the steps, bruising my knee and stubbing my toe in the process. I pick myself up and limp on to the bus, I feel I have paid my sadaqa for my joints for this evening.
And thus is my first glimpse of the Masjid Al Aqsa and the entire area around it that is called Bait Al Maqdis.