Sunday, March 13, 2016

Allahu Akbar

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

On my many trips to Palestine/Israel, I had never been to the Temple Mount – the plateau above the Wailing Wall which houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque - and one of the holiest of sites in the Muslim world.  On this last trip, things were relatively peaceful and we arrived at the site early enough to gain admittance during the limited hours it was open to the public.

I was struck, first, by the beauty of the sight – a large open area with gardens and trees, where people sat outside to quietly converse, or pray and contemplate.  It was peaceful too, at least until a group of Jewish tourists decided to exercise their “right” to visit. 

The Torah forbids that Jews visit Temple Mount
We were told (and a sign at the entrance verified) that “entry to the Temple Mount area is strictly forbidden” under Torah law – yet those Jews who believe that that God gave them all of the real estate in Israel and Palestine apparently also believe that they are entitled to wander freely over the site and disrupt the tranquility that is otherwise evident.

We heard the chanting – softly at first and then with increasing volume, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”  It came from the groups of men gathered in circles to smoke and drink coffee, and from women hitherto engaged in quiet conversations, “God is greater; God is greater.”

A quiet spot for contemplation and prayer
No shouting, no blows, just those words.  Sometimes, this is not the case.  The omnipresent security guards attest to the fact that sometimes, the “incursion” of Jewish visitors incites violence – on both sides.  And we knew that, while that day’s visitors were only there to see, other times visitors came to incite.  We knew that younger Muslim men were not allowed to worship at this site – the third holiest (after Mecca and Medina) in the Muslim world – and that the site was often closed to all visitors because of violence or its threat.
View from Temple Mount to the Wailing Wall
And beyond the beauty of the site, we heard, too, of Israeli “plans” to extend the Wailing Wall that Temple Mount overlooks, an action that would undermine the foundations of the mosque – and of the people who worship there.  Some Jews believe they need to construct a second temple on the site, while some Christian Zionists believe that the mosque must be destroyed to bring about “end times.”

The site has a long history as a holy spot for all of the Abrahamic faiths.  Jews believe that the Dome of the Rock was built over the site of the first Jewish temple of Jerusalem, while Muslims believe that the Dome was built on the site where the prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven.  Both faiths believe that the site was the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son – Isaac in the Jewish (and Christian) tradition and Ishmael in the Islamic version.

As-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, Jerusalem
In more recent times, the 2000 visit of Ariel Sharon (accompanied by 1,000 armed guards) to the site is cited as the start of the Second Intifada (literally “throwing off”), a period of great unrest in the area that ultimately led to Israel’s construction of the infamous “Wall.” 

If, as I have read, it is true that Jerusalem was given its great beauty to compensate for its many sorrows, then it is also true that this holy site is one of the great “beauty spots” of Jerusalem.  I pray that it will remain so!

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