It is Good Friday in Jerusalem and everyone is ready at seven am to hop on the bus to get to Masjed Al Aqsa.
After being dropped at the entrance to the Arab Quarter we work our way through the throngs of Christians who are flocking to the Holy Place (the spot where Christians believe that Jesus (AS) was crucified.
The Quran says: 4:157:
004.157 That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
As we pass the Holy place the line narrows to almost single file as the already narrow alley of the old town has been blocked by Israeli security. Word is passed down the line “Have your passports ready in your hand” and the unsaid instruction “be ready to be checked through the scanner”
The next sequences of moments, when I think back… are symbolic!
The alley narrows and the security block is such that barely one person can get by. I can see the scanner, the armed Israeli soldiers who look out of place with their eastern European coloring, are lining the walls of the old town. It looks like an occupation army in Nazi Germany. Some of the soldiers are examining pocket books, some examining the passports. One by one our group of women in abayas and men in kufis pass through. The atmosphere is tense, even though we still have two hours before Juma begins, none of us wants to waste one moment outside Al Aqsa.
As I am waiting to be checked, I see some Jews in traditional garb hanging around the entrance to a synagogue here and there standing and reading their small books, in the blocked section of the alley, totally relaxed, none of them are in line with us.
My passport and I are checked, I pass through the scanner, thankfully it does not beep, and I do not hold up our entire group.
We move forward through a narrow dark tunnel with these flat expressionless Israeli soldiers lining the walls their automatic weapons poised ready to spit fire onto the crowd. We are told later that they are protecting us from the rabid fundamentalist Jews who have tried to hurt the worshippers in the past.
I remember being told that when one of the Israeli prime ministers visited Al Aqsa he brought in his wake violence and murder of the Muslims worshippers.
I also recall the guide jogging my memory in the bus to Palestine……regards a vignette of history that changed the map of the Middle East . The Grandfather of the recently deceased King Hussein was assassinated on the steps of Al Aqsa but ………… shouldn’t the Muslim Palestinians who are the protectors of the Haram of Al Aqsa be standing guard instead of these immigrants from Eastern Europe in Israeli uniform?
My question is never voiced, as our focus today is Jumma prayer in the blessed Haram.
We walk through a small iron door and suddenly we are propelled into the scintillating sunshine of a spring morning. We have arrived from darkness into sunlight in the environs of Al Aqsa but we are not in the Masjed yet.
We are on the opposite side of the Western Wall, where Prophet Muhammad pbuh tied Buraq (The beast that carried him from Mecca to Jerusalem) after completing his journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.
I am told this side of the Western Wall of the Al Aqsa is called the Wailing Wall, of which I have read some in the Jewish travel books.
While the guide is talking to our circle I walk to the fountains where the little Jewish boys are performing half a wudu, i.e. just washing their hands and I wonder if several hundred years later whether Muslim children too will loose the authentic sunnah of the wudu and abbreviate it to accommodate our dunya activities………..
There is not much time to think, for soon the guide will discover that one of the sheep has strayed. So I keep walking without looking elsewhere, straight towards the Western Wall or what the Jews call the Wailing Wall.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a man wearing black and a hat approaching me, I step aside and keep going and he comes to stand in front of me his arms outstretched and says in clear English “you are not allowed here” I look at him and for the first time it registers that there is absolutely no women in this plaza, none at all. I am non-plussed I have entered an exclusive male domain. I turn around.
Someone observes my crestfallen face points to the side where some women are standing on chairs and looking over the barricade. I hoist myself up on one precarious plastic chair, and find myself next to a young a Jewish woman in a skirt who has also “not been allowed”.
I discover that Jewish women are completed segregated. I see them in a screened enclosure, which is about 1/5th of the length of the wall. All the Jewish women crowded in the enclosure appear to be wearing an Amish sort of Hijab.
The young Jewish woman next to me is from the United States and tells me that she does not believe in these practices. I don’t either. I see the flagrant disobedience of the laws of God by the laws of men. Men and women are both commanded to worship Him, but then perhaps this Wailing Wall is not really worship but perhaps Ziarah or even Biddah of the Jewish religion.
I remind myself that I am here to pray at Al Aqsa not to evaluate the in equalities of men and women in the Jewish faith or the religious status of the Wailing Wall.
I look back again and there is a Bar Mitzvah going on in the plaza……..and I see only men. What about the mother who bore this son? Yes what about her? Can she not be a part of this rite of passage for her son? I guess not.
I remain silent, but I can feel the disconnection of the scene from her faith in the young Jewish women next to me, she is watching, but it like me…a tourist in a holy town, watching a strange ritual that leaves the mother that bore the child out.
One does not ask questions when the air is thick with orthodoxy and the guns of secularism are trained on you; it is not a friendly place. I don’t feel spiritual despite trying to recall the significance of this wall having some stones from the temple of Solomon in it. I just don’t feel right………… I gingerly step of my perch of the plastic chair and rejoin my group.
We leave the oppressive Plaza of the Wailing Wall and are off to the Masjed. There is festivity, suppressed excitement and anticipation in our group, laced with an intangible aura of respect and love of our Prophet (pbuh).
This feeling of sisterhood and brotherhood and a common goal, propels us towards the street to Al Aqsa unstopped by all the delicious aroma of freshly baked middle eastern bread rising from the Arab Muslim Quarter calling to our senses, filling the path to Al Aqsa with words of welcome and duas of Ya Rabbi Kareem.
I am in the thick of the Muslim Ummah where the sense of hospitality goes back 1400 hundred years and is embedded in every cell of the body of the Muslim.
Jumma is in full swing in Jerusalem, I am in the Bait Al Maqdis and savoring every moment of it!
It is not till much later that I realize that it is not just my feministic side rebelling against female servitude and inequality of what I saw at the Wailing Wall.
It slowly dawns on me that the sense of non- spirituality of the Wailing Wall has nothing to do with me not being a Jew and being a woman, but something far more sinister and macabre that has happened in this plaza that prevents it from having the blessing of the Divine…………