How many times at the Friday Khutbah and the Sunday sermon at our mosque the Imam has entreated the men and women to come to the mosque. There are no impediments in the small town I live in. The roads are clear, a fully oiled, beautifully running car stands in the driveway, there are no mobs or police restricting your passage to the mosque, you are not checked or accosted by soldiers when you go to pray………..its just that there are other things that call us more insistently. Going to the mosque is not a priority for modern Muslims. All kinds of excuses come to mind such as work, shopping, groceries, cooking, and for the brothers watching the news, dinner, deadlines etc.
Well the journey to Bait al Maqdis is fraught with impediments it always has been n history and it is also today. If one prayer at Masjed Al Aqsa is equivalent to 500 then one has to want it bad and one has to earn it.
If one wishes to pray at the Masjed Al Aqsa and lives locally in Jerusalem, there are some major impediments, the first and foremost one being age.
No Palestinian Muslim under the age of 50 is allowed to pray in the Masjed Al Aqsa. The ludicrous aspect of the law is illustrated if you imagine that Saudi Arabia makes a law that no one under the age of fifty could attend mass at the Vatican and surrounds the Vatican with Saudi fun toting soldiers who check the id cards of all persons wishing to enter the Vatican with the intention of prayer.
But age is a reality in Jerusalem and elsewhere. The young Muslims in America don’t want to go the Masjed, and the young Muslims in Jerusalem want to go but are forbidden by law to go to the Masjed.
PLEASE REMEMBER THAT AS A FOREIGNER (NON PALESTINIAN) THERE ARE NO RESTRICTIONS OF AGE, GENDER OR NATIONALITY AS LONG AS YOU CAN ENTER JERUSALEM YOU CAN PRAY AT MASJED AL AQSA.
The training of Tazkiyah e Nafs comes into use when visiting Jerusalem.
Even as tourists the first impediments faced by our youth and young adult in our tour were at the Israeli immigration post where they waited seven hours without reason and lost three prayers at Bait Al Maqdis.
It is as if Allah Subhanawataala wants to check how badly do you want to pray in Masjed Al Aqsa?
Now I am back on the bus and having left the Mount of Olives the bus meanders down the hill towards the city walls of Jerusalem built by Salahudin. Each gate has a name, and I am told that perhaps we are going to enter through the Damascus gate.
The bus stops briefly and we get off and enter the gate following our guide. It is a strange moment entering the old city of Jerusalem, there is no pause to reflect, as if you are pushed into a movie set where everything and everyone is foreign and you don’t understand the language.
There is a sense of urgency in the group most evident in the anxious eyes of our Palestinian guide. We must reach the Al Aqsa in time for Maghrib. I look up it is bright day light, I cannot fathom the hurry…..but somewhere inside me there is also a sense of urgency to get there and pray.
We begin with the beautiful array of fruit sellers at the entrance of the gate the usual convenience stores and then the alleys narrow and turn; I am looking down as the uneven cobbles on the street coupled with incline of the street calls for caution.
There are small shops on either side of the street. Other streets branch off into the Arab quarter where Christians and Muslims live together. There are no Jews on site with the exception of the armed teenage soldiers with their automatic weapons on their shoulders and sometimes pointing down ready to be lifted up. They are Caucasians, probably eastern European and appear incongruous in the streets of the old city of Jerusalem.
I take a picture here and there, only once a little boy shakes his hands and says “no no, no picture!” I am reminded of the eleven year old boy shown on CNN as “the youngest terrorist who want to kill and die” translated from his Urdu language which if actually correctly translated would mean that “he was willing to die for his family and his country” a sentence that would be construed as very patriotic elsewhere. This child in the heart of Jerusalem had been sensitized to the camera……………I wondered what had happened to his siblings to make him so vehement in his reaction to the camera.
We make a right turn, the streets are getting narrower and darker, and there is still no sign of Al Aqsa.
Our 82-year-old Palestinian guide is picking up the pace and we are hurrying to keep up with him. Suddenly he stops and asks us to take out our passports and be ready to show our bags. It is a checkpoint!
The streets leading to Al Aqsa are littered with the gun toting teenage Israeli soldiers as if they are caught in a macabre computer game where they do not speak the language of the locals and vice versa. The checkpoint has its own set of soldiers. These are slightly older and more experienced.
We arrive at an airport like scanner where each passport is examined and (what I discovered later, the age calculated) and the bags scanned we then go through a small gate in a larger steel gate and suddenly we step into a large courtyard filled with light and a grove of olive trees on either side.
Up in front is an arch and beautifully framed in the arch is the scintillating golden Dome of the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock.
The guide asks us to wait.
What is considered Bait al Maqdis? I had asked our guide earlier on the bus. “ All of Jerusalem is Bait al Maqdis” he had replied. Other texts describe the entire area housing the Dome of the Rock, and the schools around the Masjed Al Aqsa and Masjed Al Aqsa itself with its courtyards to be Bait Al Maqdis.
Have you ever been washed over with waves of excitement followed by waves of tranquility? That is what I felt as I waited.
Looking up at the Dome of the Rock I would feel the rush of excitement and then I would look around at the children playing in the olive groves as if they did not have a care in the world and that the gun toting Israeli teen age soldiers were just toys that have been put away in a box for the night, and the tranquility of eternal peace would settle on me.
I find myself overwhelmed by the enormous significance of what had happened on the night of Mairaaj inside the Dome of the Rock…………..
Soon the guide beckons and we ascended the steps with leaps and bounds stopping at the entrance of the Dome of the Rock, to remove our shoes and overcome with the thought of his (PBUH) presence here…………
Taking a deep breath, removing my shoes, I consciously say my dua for entrance of the masjid and plunge into the interior of the Masjed of The Dome of the Rock…………..
To be continued…..