Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Jerusalem, our holy city

Its very name makes your heart skip a beat. A wave of spirituality floats through the air at the thought of this holiest of cities.

All three Abrahamic religions dream of a pilgrimage to this sacred spot, to walk the same narrow cobblestone streets where the ancient prophets walked before them. The Old City lies on the site of ancient Jerusalem surrounded by centuries-old walls at least 12 metres high. 

Despite its venerable position the city has withstood more struggle, more conflict more tragedy than any other city on earth. Yet visitors of the three monotheistic religions flock to it in large numbers in order to worship at its holy site. Shopping the souks may be tricky as Jerusalem observes three holidays, Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians.

The turmoil now raging in the holy city over worship of any religion, resulting in bloodshed and more violence and suffering is most worrisome and disturbing. Is it not enough that it is already a divided capital between the West capital of the Jews and the East capital of the Palestinians? The torment of Jerusalem knows no end. Will it ever find the peace that has eluded it for so long?

Situated on a plateau between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea in the Middle East, Jerusalem’s origins date back as far as 4000 BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world, still standing. Its ancient name, Urusalima or Urshalem, was discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, on cuneiform tablets, meaning city of Shalem, probably a Canaanite deity of the early period of 2400 BC.

It was destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times. Target of doom and dolour, Jerusalem stands proud, more magical more mystical than ever. 

What is it about Jerusalem that makes it so sacred, so coveted by all three great religions? 

It is one tiny area in the Old City no larger than 0.9 square kilometres that is one of the most religious sites in the world. On a hill in the Old City is Temple Mount with its Western Wall. It is the holiest site to Jews, where the first and second temples were built and where, they believe the third and last temple shall be built as well.

To Muslims it is Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, Qubbet Al-Sakhra, built by Abdel-Malik Ibn Marwan, in the late seventh century AD, the oldest extant Islamic monument. It stands on the site of the first temple built by King Suleiman in 937 BC.

It is also the location of the Holy prophet Mohamed’s miraculous ascent to heaven on the steed Buraq, accompanied by the angel Gabriel. Al-Aqsa Mosque meant the farthest place for prayer, not a physical structure. From that place began the holy prophet’s physical and spiritual night journey to heaven. It is the third holiest place in Islam following Mecca and Medina.

The prophet instructed his followers to face the Mount during prayer until God directed him towards the Kaaba. The Al-Aqsa Mosque did not exist during his lifetime. The mosque was built after his death.

Christian Crusaders have fought for the control of the city for centuries. The Church of the Sepulchre was built in the fourth century and contains the two holiest sites in Christianity — where Jesus was crucified and the empty tomb where he was buried and resurrected. 

How fortunate for one small spot on this vast planet to be home to the most sacred shrines. It should have also been the most peaceful — far from it. Competing claims are a constant source of turmoil. 

The shooting of two Israeli police officers by Palestinian terrorists is an outrage, condemned by all Muslims. The Israeli re-instatement of metal detectors in addition to a heavy police force has flared tempers and violence. This holy spot has turned into a war zone.

Where else in this whole wide world can we find one shining spot where the faithful can worship the one God all three religions share? “Ah, the pity of it.” 

 No, violence is not condoned. Neither is a visible, dominant, spooky police force.

It is distracting, alarming and chilling. How can you pray for peace, love and truth when a gun is pointed at you whether near or far? 

Many followers of the faith come from far- away places to visit their holy sites only to be in peril of being caught in the crossfire. Solve the problem. End terrorism.

The Muslim Jordanian Trust in control of the site has had peaceful relations with Jews who worshipped at the Wailing Wall for years. Israeli councilman Meir Margalit spoke glowingly of how kindly he was treated. “They gave me coffee and sweets.” 

“If the Jews were in the same position they would have exactly the same feeling.”

All places of worship should be serene, sacred, and peaceful, respected by the hardest hearts.

If that cannot be we resort to what Jesus answered a woman who asked where to pray: “Those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” — construed as a dispensation of a physical location.

The Prophet Mohamed said something identical: “The Earth is made for me and my followers — a place for praying.”

We need no building to pray.

“We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

Omar Bradley (1893-1981) 

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