The Holy Land - Palestine, An Unforgettable Experience

A personal account by a student of IAC




It was with the great blessing of Allah that I was able to visit Palestine this year with my family.  It had always been the top of my list of places to go, but there was always something in my mind which put me off.  Was it safe enough? How would I be treated when I got there? Will I even be let in the country?! All these fears were put to rest once we got there.  Inshaallah I hope this report will inspire many more of our brothers and sisters to visit the forgotten Haram.

History of the state of Israel

Palestine is always in the news, we hear about this incident, that reprisal.  It always seems to be in a vicious cycle of violence.  But how many of us actually know the history behind the country ? How was Israel formed? Why the Palestinian territories are now occupied?  I dont want to delve into a history lesson as this is not the purpose of this report but I would implore you to look into this to get a better idea of why we are in this situation today.  A brief overview is given below.

Palestine was under Ottoman Rule until 1917.  After the fall of the empire it came under the control of a British Mandate until 1948.  During this time there was mass migration of Jews into the area.  By 1939, over 450,000 Jews had now settled in Palestine.  This increased further with survivors of the war in Europe also making their way there.  The British were trying to limit the number of Jewish Immigrants coming into the state of Palestine; this caused many Jews to turn openly against the British.  Unknown to many people, there were many deadly confrontations between the British and the Jews, this culminated in the bombing of the British Military Leadership in the King David hotel in July 1946, which left 92 people dead, mainly civilians.

On May the 14th 1948, the British Forces left Palestine and a declaration was made for the creation of the State of Israel.  This new state was immediately recognized by the 2 major superpowers of the time, the USA and the Soviet Union.  According to figures provided by the United Nations, over 726,000 Arabs were forced to flee or were evicted from Jewish Controlled areas.  They settled in Refugee camps and a special UN agency was created to aid the refugees.  This agency UNRWA still operates today.

In June 1967, Egypt, Syria and Jordan started to amass their forces along the Israeli borders. On the 5th of June 1967 Israel launched pre-emptive strikes against the air forces of all 3 countries causing massive damage.  By June the 11th, all the Arab countries had been defeated and a ceasefire was accepted.  Israel had now gained even more territory including Sinai to the South, the Golam Heights to the north, the Gaza Strip to the West and the West Bank of the river Jordan which included East Jerusalem and more importantly the Al Aqsa Complex.

The Present Day Situation is that Israel controls ALL entries into and out of the Palestinian territories. You cannot enter Palestine unless you pass through an Israeli Checkpoint. Israel has built hundreds of settlements in the West bank which is considered Occupied Territories under various UN resolutions. They have also built a massive Security Wall which protects the settlements and prevents thousands of Palestinians from accessing their own land.  The areas of Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem is now called the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  The Gradual loss of Palestinian Land from 1946 to 2000 can be seen in the image below.



Jordan

Our main party consisted of 33 people, 15 of which were members of my family including 9 children. The age range was as young as five and old as 83! The decision to take children may sound strange but we considered it important that they also see all the Holy sites and experience how the Palestinians live.  We were accompanied by a Maulana from Bradford for the Jordan\Palestine leg of the journey.

The Plane journey to Amman from Heathrow was only 5 hours. We landed in Amman and were taken to our hotel for a short night.  It was already 3am and we were due to leave for Jerusalem the following day at 9am in the morning.  After a light breakfast we boarded the coach and started to make our way to the first site in our ziyaarah.  

As we drove through Jordan, the landscape was quite lush in places and also quite mountainous. We made our way out of Amman and towards the Jordan Valley.  As we approached a small hill, we could see the tomb of
Yusha bin Noon AS.  Yusha is known as Joshua in Biblical terms and was the leader of the Israelites after Moosa AS passed away.  He is also mentioned in the Holy Quran as fatan or youth in Surah Kahf when Moosa AS went to visit Khizr AS.




As we entered the maqaam, which is the term used for the graves, we noticed the immense size of the grave. There was a raised structure (these are called cenotaphs) marking the site of the grave and it was at least 20ft long. There was a local guide who gave us some background on Yusha AS which was ably translated by our Maulana and guide.  

The area was at a good vantage point so we could see for miles around.  We could see the Jordan Valley in the distance.  We were told by our guide that at one time it was a lush green valley with the river Jordan flowing through the middle was used to irrigate the surrounding farm lands.  What we could see now was more barren than fertile; the river appeared to be quite dry and as a result the surrounding areas had also dried up.



We then made our way towards the Dead Sea valley.  As the coach gradually went lower and lower we could feel the difference in pressure.  The roads wound and snaked their way through the mountains and we approached the maqaam of Shuaib AS.  Shuaib AS was the prophet sent to Midian and was also the father in law of Musa AS. We arrived here at Zuhr time so we first offered our salaat before we went into the Maqaam.  Again, it was quite large and there were a number of people already inside.

Our final destination in Jordan was the Dead Sea.  This is the place where Lut AS had been sent.  Due to their continuous disobedience of Allah, the people were dealt with a harsh punishment.  The Dead Sea is aptly named, due to the very high salt content nothing can survive in the sea.  If one was to go into it, they would float!  The surrounding area was also very barren.  Very little vegetation and also hardly any sign of wildlife.  We were surprised to see lots of holiday resorts being built in the area.  We stopped off at one of the resorts for a spot of lunch and got ready for the crossing into the occupied territories.

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Crossing into Palestine via the Allenby Bridge

The crossing into the Occupied Territories was quite a unique experience.  The first stop was on the
Jordan side where the procedure was quite simple.  Our passports were taken away and processed
while we remained on the coach.  Once the formalities had been processed we passed through an area
called No Mans Land which was a barren patch of land lying between Jordan and the Occupied
Territories.  We could see watch towers in the distance and old buildings which at one stage had been
inhabited.  Some short time later we passed over a small bridge, namely the Allenby Bridge. The bridge
is also called the King Hussain Bridge according to the Jordanians.  We passed into what was now the
Occupied Palestinian Territories and could see masses of Israeli flags.  

We reached the terminal and all disembarked off the coach.  We were informed beforehand that due to
the increased security we could be waiting for some time.  We were also told to ensure that the entry
stamp is done on another form and not on the passport as this could cause problems entering other
Arab countries.  Our luggage was removed off the coach and we were given a receipt for all of our
baggage.  We passed through the initial checkpoint and entered into the terminal to go through
immigration.  The terminal was full of Palestinians and Jordanians passing into the territories.  There also
appeared to be a few western tourists passing into it from Jordan.

Our group consisted of 33 people young and old.   The immigration officers were polite enough and also
gave us the entry forms which would have the entry visa stamps.  Out of the whole group 4 people were
kept behind for further security checks.  This was normal behaviour and was expected.  The bulk of the
group managed to pass through immigration by 4pm.  We had decided that we would wait for the
others as we had come as a group.  We also saw our Palestinian Guide waiting for us on the other side of
the terminal.

We carried on waiting in the terminal for a few hours, read our salaat and continued to pray.  We were
not told to stop praying and it felt quite comfortable.  From time to time we could see our group
members who were still waiting to be processed as they came to get tea or to pass on a message etc. 
Whilst we were waiting, the terminal was also evacuated due to a possible threat.  There was no issue but you could see the paranoia on the officers faces at any small issue.  Once the threat was over we
were let back into the terminal and carried on waiting.  

At 9:30 our guide received a call from the hotel as they were still waiting for us to get us checked in.  We
made mashwera with the group and decided that all those who had already been let through would
make their way to the hotel.  The 4 people who still had not been cleared would come in a taxi once
they had been processed.  Although we would have wished that we all left together, due to the small
children in the group and also elders, it would be best if we got to the hotel and had a good rest.  

The final 4 members of our party eventually got through by 12:30 so they had been waiting about 9
hours.  This was normal behaviour and as I mentioned, it was expected.  As long as you continue to wait
patiently and with sabr then you will have no problems.  

The hotel we were staying at is called the 7 Arches hotel and it holds a prominent position on the Mount of Olives
overlooking the Haram.   The Mount of Olives also holds an important position in religious terms as the Christians believe that Eesaa AS will enter Jerusalem from the mountain.  The Mountain also contains the church of ascension which is where the Christians believe Eesaa AS was raised to the heavens.  The mountain is also home to a large Jewish Cemetery as well as a Roman Catholic Church and an Orthodox Church.



The picture at the beginning of the report is the view from the hotel.  Once we had been checked in, we had our evening meal whilst enjoying the beautiful view of the Al Aqsa compound.  We could notice that it was not very brightly lit but the golden dome of the rock still shone in the moonlight dominating the entire landscape.

Al Aqsa

The following morning a few brothers decided that we would try and make it to Masjidul Aqsa for Fajr
prayer. We got instructions from the hotel on how to get there and started making our way down the Mount of Olives. We had to walk through the old Jewish cemetery in the dark of the night and find our way through to the road below. In the distance we could see the Al Aqsa Masjid so we carried on making our way down.  We made our way down to a road and seemed to hit a dead end.  We flagged down a person in a car for directions and he asked us where we wanted to go, we said to al aqsa so he said get in.  We did not know who this person was but he drove us all the around the Al Aqsa complex to the Lions Gate entrance which was on the complete opposite end.  Unknown to us, the gate for entry was on the other side, we were heading straight for the Masjid but there was no gate there! 
Alhamdolillah, this person was sent by Allah at the right time and we were dropped right outside the Haram.

The old city is surrounded by Walls which were built by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. We passed through the Lions gate and we could see there was a Muslim cemetery right outside the city walls. As we entered the Old city, the streets narrowed, barely wide enough for any cars to get through.  The cobbled streets led off in all directions, little alleys here and there going up and down winding their way through the houses. We then followed the small crowd heading for fajr and passed through another gate into the Al Aqsa Compound.  The Aqsa complex has a number of gates leading into it, all of the gates are manned by Israeli soldiers on the city side and Palestinians on the inside.  As we passed through, they asked a number of us where we were from. If any people did not look outwardly Muslim they would ask to see their passport and on some occasions also ask them to pray something as proof that they are Muslims.  Alhamdolillah, we had no issues at any time when entering the Al Aqsa compound.

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We headed inside and the first thing to hit me was the sheer size of the compound.  I had seen pictures but could not believe how big it was.  I had always wondered how big a place must be to accommodate all the prophets when our Prophet SAW led all the prophets in prayer on the night of Miraaj.  And now, here we were, walking on the same plateau which is the only place on earth where such an event occurred. We could now see the golden dome of the rock.  It was immense, much bigger than I thought, even in the darkness of dawn; we could see the beautiful calligraphy lining the building and the intricate architecture.  The dome of the rock is based in the centre of the compound on another raised platform. There are 4 sets of steps leading up to to the raised platform on each side.  Each of the steps has an arch at the top which adds to the effect that you are entering a special place.




The Dome of the Rock is also known as the Qubat tas Sakhra.  It was built between the years 685 and 691 AD by the Muslim Ruler Abdul Malik ibn Marwan.  The golden dome was last refurbished in 1993. According to Muslims, the Rock is the place of where our prophet Muhammad SAW went up to the Heavens.

According to Jewish beliefs the rock is the place where Ibraaheem AS was going to sacrifice Ishaaq AS.  Muslims believe that it was not Ishaaq AS but Ismaaeel AS and the location was not here but in Mina outside of Mecca.

The Jews also believe this compound to be the holiest of holies so orthodox Jews do not step foot upon the compound. We made our way up the steps and passed the Dome of the Rock.  As we skirted around the octagonal structure we could see Masjid-ul-Aqsa in front of us.  We made our way down some steps further to
enter into the Masjid Courtyard.  In the middle there was a water fountain used for Wudu.  We could see a couple of entrances to some underground rooms which were closed and the main entrance to the Masjid was through a number of large doors.

From the outside the Masjid did not look very big, but again once inside the structure opened up into a perfect rectangle shape with pillars lining the inside.  The Masjid was surprisingly busy for Fajr prayer.  There were people of all ages, young and old inside, we were surprised to see a lot of people from England were there as well as a lot of Turkish brothers.   One observation we made was that the Turkish brothers were mainly people of the older generation; once they saw any children they would be very happy and would be very loving towards the children.

We had finally arrived, the one place where many of us had yearned for years to come, we were now in it!  The feeling was of immense joy and thankfulness that Allah SWT had given us the opportunity to come to this holy place of so much importance.  What had we done to deserve such a bounty?  It was surreal, during the whole prayer we just could not believe that we were actually there.



The Imam of Masjid ul Aqsa was a tall handsome man, with a long white beard and imaamah.  After Fajr salaat,
he was speaking to some brothers from England and his English was surprisingly good.  We could see the Noor on his face.  Afterwards we spoke to him and found out that his family hailed from the holy place Makkah itself.  He was very glad that we had come to visit and was very welcoming.
 
After Fajr, we had to make our way back to the hotel all the way up the mountain of Olives. This time we knew which gate we had to come out from and found a walkway which skirted the Jewish graveyard and went past 2 churches which were very significant to Christians.  The walk was surprisingly quick considering the distance and we were all boosted just having read our salaat at Al Aqsa, what a start to the morning.

After Breakfast, we had a full day itinerary ahead of us. Our first stop was to the Wailing Wall. The Western Wall, according to Jewish tradition is the last remaining retaining wall of their temple.  It is the holiest place on earth which Jews can visit.  In order to enter the Plaza, we had to make our way through a checkpoint.  You could see that security was quite high and it appeared that all non orthodox Jews as well as non Jews were being checked.  We passed through a metal detector and made our way into the Plaza.  As it was quite early, it was not very busy, there was a small separating barrier which surrounded the wall and there was a separate section for women there as well.



Upon closer observation we could see that this wall was directly under the Al Aqsa Masjid.  On the right hand side we could see the dome of the Masjid and on the left, you could see the Dome of the Rock if you moved further back.  The Plaza itself used to be the Moroccan Quarter before the 1967 War.  After the Israelis had captured the area, they demolished the whole quarter to make space for more people.

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We could also see on the left hand side the entrance to some underground tunnels.  It is a well known fact that there are extensive tunnels running under the Al Aqsa compound.  The Muslim authorities have long complained that this is weakening the structure of the building above.  The Jews are trying to find proof that there was a temple at the site.  The entrance was to the Western Wall tunnel which runs the length of the Wall underground and was opened in 1996.

We stayed for a while being informed by our Guide about information on the Wall.  Our presence did not appear to offend or disturb any of the Jews at the site.  We then made our way back out of the plaza and back to Al Aqsa for Juma Prayer.  For many people in our Group this was the first time for them to go to Al Aqsa as they had not been able to make it in the morning.  You could sense the excitement in the group.  For Juma, the women pray in the Dome of the Rock as the Masjid will be full of men.  We left the women of the group in the Dome and made our way to Al Aqsa.

We noticed that a large banner had been placed on the Masjid commemorating all of the Palestinians who had been imprisoned and not released.  There are over 7,000 Palestinians currently being held in Israeli prisons including nearly 300 children, many of them without charge.  The day was to remember all of them, they had pictures of some of them and we noticed that there were many women amongst them as well.

The Juma Prayer was preceded by some talks and some qiraat.  The Masjid was bustling and was quite quickly full.  Luckily we had come early so managed to get space inside the Masjid.  After Juma Prayer, we met the rest of the group outside of the Masjid and made our way through the Old City.

The alleys were narrow and there were Market Traders lining the gates, selling sweets, bread, spices.  They were very windy and twisty and going up and down.  Lots of steps everywhere and we could see the buildings rising up on all sides, some 2 and other 3 stories high.  The people appeared to be happy going about their own business, trading, eating, and just socializing with each other.  All of the building were very old and made from the same type of brown brick.  The streets were cobbled and many were under cover whilst the sunlight was streaming through the others.

We then made our way up to Via Dela Rosa.  According to Christian Belief, this was path that Jesus took when he was carrying the cross up to Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion.  According to Islamic Belief it was not Eesaa AS (Jesus) that got crucified.  The street was lined with shops selling Christian artefacts to cater for the Tourists.  Many of these shops were owned by Muslim shopkeepers.



The street turned left and opened into a square where we saw the bell tower of the Church.  It was amazing that all of these churches and Masjids had been preserved over all these years, through various people ruling over the City.  There was a small square and we could see a number of people were congregated on the steps.  Before we went inside, our guide gave us a background to the site where the Church was built.  A Roman Temple had previously stood on the site and it 325 the emperor Constantine ordered the temple to be removed.  During the excavation, Constantine’s mother Helena is alleged to have found the True Cross and a tomb purported to belong to Jesus.

Hence a church was built on the site.  The church is home to 3 different branches of Christianity, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic.  There is a status quo at the church which means that no part of the common territory can be changed without the consent of all 3 parties.  This also leads to sometimes public arguments between the factions.

The entrance to the church is surprisingly in the control of 2 Muslim families.  In 1192, Saladin entrusted the responsibility of the keys to the Nusseibeh and the Joudeh Families.  Every day a member of the Joudeh Family will bring the key and the church will be opened or closed by a member of the Nusseibeh Family.



We made our way inside the church and immediately the darkness and the smell of incense caught our attention.  There were lots of people inside the church and there appeared to be many Grottos and chapels inside.  We saw the Stone of Anointing where according to Christian Beliefs Jesus was prepared for burial.  We also made our way up to the Calvary or site of Golgotha where they believe the Crucifixion took place.  There were many smaller chapels and we learnt a great deal about the Christian Belief and tradition from our guide.  We also saw the Chapel of Adam where they believe the Crucifixion took place over the place where Adam AS skull was buried.

After we left the church we made our way to the Masjid of Umar, which was right opposite the Church.  When Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslims in the time of Umar RA, he came personally to accept the surrender.  He was invited to pray inside the Church by the Patriarch Sophronius but he refused and instead prayed outside which is now the site of the Masjid.  The Masjid was only built in the 11th century in the time of Salahuddin.



Inside the Masjid, we saw a plaque on the wall which shows the agreement made by Hazrat Umar RA with the locals.  This can be been in the image on the left hand side.  There is some dispute as to whether this was actually the site where Umar RA prayed as the entrance to the church was originally on another side.  There was also a sign on the entrance stating that it was for prayers only.

After the visit to the Masjid, we went back to Aqsa to spend the rest of the day.  Our first full day in Jerusalem had been an amazing experience.  We had managed to visit the Holiest sites for Jews and Christians as well as the third Holiest place in Islam.  All had been is such close proximity to each other that you could walk between the 3 in a matter of minutes.

We had been travelling in a city which had more religious history and claim than any other place on earth.  It had been a very busy and an overwhelming experience for all of us and this was still only our first day.

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Hebron

The following morning after Fajr at Al Aqsa we left for Hebron, or Khaleel as it is better known by.  The city of Hebron has a population of over 160,000 Palestinians and a Jewish Settlement of approximately 500 based right in the middle of the old city.  According to our guide, there are 3,000 soldiers deployed in the city to protect the settlers.  The City is also home to the Cave of the Patriarchs or the Ibraaheemi Masjid which contains the maqaam’s of Ibraheem AS, Ishaaq AS, Yaqoob As and their wives.  This was going to be our destination today.
Due to the busy Market streets we were not able to park the coach nearby the Masjid so we had to park further away and walk.  The Masjid is accessed via the main Market Streets and they were bustling with traders.  The Merchants were selling everything from food to shoes and even this early in the morning it was quite busy.  As we approached the end of the street we saw a site that I will never forget.  The actual streets had fences on the roofs.  We could see stones, rocks and all sort of missiles aimed at the traders below from the settlers who lived above as you can see from the Image below.




The settlers in Hebron are considered extreme even by Israeli standards.  The soldiers are not there as a peace keeping force but there to protect the settlers.  Also the area in which the settlement lies is classified as a H2 area which mean Palestinian movement in these areas is heavily restricted.  We could see that many of the shops had now been closed and fewer people were noticeable in this area.  The traders below in the few shops that remained open touted for business as best they could.

As we made our way to the end of the street we were passed by 2 UN Observers so you could see that this area was a flashpoint.  The end of the street was cordoned off by 2 checkpoints.  We entered through one turnstile and then into a small passage and passed out the other side through another turnstile.  On the other side we entered into an open area where we could now see the Ibraaheemi Masjid or the Cave of the Patriarchs to our left. To enter the Masjid we had to pass through yet another checkpoint.  The Ibraaheemi Masjid is another contentious site.
Originally it had been a Masjid but half of the area as now been converted into a Synagogue.  The Muslims enter through one entrance and the Jews through another.  Non Muslims and non Jews are allowed access to both areas of the Masjid.  The Masjid is also know for the massacre which occurred there in February 1994 when a Jewish settler called Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslims whilst they were in salaat in the holy month of Ramadan.  29 people were shaheed that day and a further 125 were injured.

We entered the Masjid and prayed our 2 rakaats and then made our way to the Cenotaphs.  The actual graves lie in the caverns below the Masjid.  There is a small grate through which one can look through to see the cave.  The cave below had some candles in there so you could sense how far down the actual caves were.  On the Muslim side, the graves of Ibraaheem AS and Sara, Yakoob AS and Leah are present.  On the Jewish side lie the graves of Ishaaq AS and Rebecca.  The site is also considered the second most holy site in Judaism after the Al Aqsa Mount.

The Masjid was quite busy with lots of non Muslim tourists.  For me it was a very personal experience as I was visiting the maqaam of the great prophet I was named after.  To think I was in the presence if these great prophets was overwhelming.  Again the though came to my mind, why were we so lucky that Allah had allowed us the Ziyaarat of this place.  It was difficult to focus in this place, what to pray? What to do ? As we could not see the grave of Ishaaq AS we moved to the corner of the room nearest to the Synagogue in a position close to it and paid our respects.  It would have been good to spend a lot more time at this place but unfortunately we had other places to visit and were limited to time.  As we left we could see the queues of tourists waiting to enter the Masjid.  Did they know the significance of this place?  The status of the people that were buried in this place?  I hope they do and that it becomes a means for there hidaayah.

We made our way out of the Masjid and back through the city streets.   We passed by the settlement again and could see the barricades and watch towers.  Upon closer observation we could see even more closed shutters of shops which had once been owned by Palestinians.  The barbed wire could also be seen everywhere.  The thought crossed my mind that where have all the people gone?  Who provides justice for all these people?  The whole world looks on and does not see the real picture of the reality on the ground.  We had seen a brief glimpse of this reality and were sickened by what we had seen.  Could we live like this where we have to pass through checkpoints to get to our Masjid for prayer 5 times a day? May Allah reward the perseverance of our brothers in Palestine, Ameen. 



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Bethlehem

We left Hebron and headed to Bethlehem.  Bethlehem is a city of just under 30,000 people with a Christian Population of around 20%.  The city is heavily surrounded by the West Bank Barrier and access to and from the city is subject to Israeli checkpoints.  Any residents from Bethlehem who would like to go to Jerusalem need to apply for a permit otherwise access is not granted.

We arrived at Zuhr time and read salaat in a local Masjid.  We had chance meeting with the Director of Education of Bethlehem who was very welcoming and happy to see us in the city.  We then made our way to the Church of the Nativity which is the birthplace of Eesaa AS.



The Church is located in Manger Square and is accessed through the Door of Humility which is a very low entrance.  Inside there is the main Basilica of Nativity which is run by the Greek Orthodox Church as well as the Church of St Catherine which is Roman Catholic.  Once inside we could see remnants of the old Mosaic tiled floor as well as the old mosaics on the wall.  They appeared to be very similar to the designs found in the Aya Sophia in Istanbul.  The actual place of birth is in the Grotto of Nativity which is underground. 

The supposed place of birth is marked by a 14 pointed star inside a marble slab.  The queue to enter the grotto was very long and unfortunately we did not have much time so we were unable to visit it.  This was by far the most popular tourist destination full of Christian Pilgrims.  We made our made through to the Roman Catholic Church which was in stark contrast to the Orthodox Church.  It was very modern and people were busy with the morning mass.  We made our way out and back into Manger Square.  Again we noticed that there was a Masjid right opposite the church which is supposedly the only Masjid in the old area of Bethlehem. 




We left Bethlehem and made our way back through to Jerusalem via the checkpoints.  On the way we noticed that some cars were being stopped and checked.  We were informed by our guide that anyone who lives in the Israeli controlled areas i.e. Jerusalem is not allowed to purchase anything from the Palestinian controlled areas and bring it back to their home.  If they do, it would be subject to a very heavy tax so any imports are near enough impossible.  This results in a virtual Trade Embargo on the Occupied Territories.  The inhabitants of these areas have to survive by being self sufficient and relying on tourism as one of the main sources of income.

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Marwani Masjid

We had arranged to visit the Marwani Masjid in the afternoon of that day.  The Marwani Masjid lies in the space directly under Masjid ul Aqsa, it is accessed by a stairway from the surface level which leads down nearly 13 metres below the top level.  The Masjid is also known as Solomons stables as in the time of the crusaders it was used by them to keep their horses.  However this account is disputed by some Historians.
We made our way down and went through a long hallway and ended up in a chamber which was not very large.  The Caretaker waited for the group and started to talk about the history of the Masjid.  The Masjid itself was uncovered during an excavation to create an exit.  The chamber had been full of rubble and it took 6 months to clear it from the area.  The caretaker then opened the lights and what we saw was unbelievable.  There was a massive underground structure full of large pillars.  The total area was approximately 500 square metres and catered for 14,000 musallis.




We could see that extensive renovation work was still taking place.  There was lots of scaffolding still around the area but the carpet had been laid and it was spotless.  We also noticed that some of the columns had cracks in them and had been braced by metal straps.  We were informed that this was due to the movement caused by the excavations being carried out underneath the Al Aqsa Masjid area.  As they were about to close we could not spend enough time exploring the area.

It would have been nice to spend more time in there but it was only open for a few hours during the daytime.  It was hard to imagine that this structure was hidden away from general viewing for hundreds of years and few people had actually seen it.  The visit had definitely been one of the many highlights of the trip so far.

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Dome of the Rock – Qubbat As Sakhrah

It was now late afternoon and we had some time before Asr Salat so we decided to look at the Dome of the Rock in more detail.  This 1300 year old structure was just amazing to behold.  We entered through one of its gates and the internal decoration was amazing.  The dome area was undergoing renovation so we were not able to see it in its full glory.



The stain glass windows were multicolored and the internal decoration was very ornate.  The whole building was centered on a large rock in the middle.  We passed around the rock until we saw a grate with a hole in it.  This was supposedly the point where our Prophet Muhammad SAW put his foot on the rock and stepped up to Heaven.  Further around the central structure there was a stairway leading underneath.  We followed them down and entered a chamber directly underneath the rock.

As mentioned earlier, this is the rock where the Jews believe Ibraaheem AS was going to sacrifice Ismaaeel AS.  The rock itself was about 10 metres in diameter and was very close to our heads.  The chamber itself was quite small and there were very few people inside.  There was a slightly raised area with a musalla on it which people were praying on but we did not know the significance of that place.  We sat there and contemplated for a while pondering over the thought that our Prophet SAW had once been here and stepped on this very rock on his way up to the heavens.  All the times we had read about the Mi’raaj and now we could see the actual place.



From the outside the surrounding areas were very quite.  We could look around at our leisure.  There were many small places which must have been of some significance.  We noticed a large cross on the floor which we were told used to be raised upon the Dome when the crusaders were in control of Jerusalem.  It was now laid on the floor in front of the grounds.  There were many smaller domes and what looked like possibly cisterns and places where Wudu could be performed.

We ended the day wondering around the old city streets and reading the rest of our Salaat in Al Aqsa.

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Ihraam

It was the final day of our visit to Al Aqsa and we were soon going to be on our way to Makkah for Umrah.  We
put on our Ihraam in the hotel and made our way down to Masjid ul Aqsa to read our 2 rakaats and make our intention for Umrah.

The one place we had not yet visited was the Buraaq wall.  The Buraaq wall was the same as the Wailing Wall but on the inside of the compound.  It is the place where our Prophet SAW was supposed to have tied the Buraaq when he arrived at Al Aqsa.  As we had arrived early the entrance was closed and we did not have enough time to visit it so I guess it will have to wait until next time.

We all entered the Masjid Complex and noticed that there were lots of non Muslim tourists wondering around.  They had special visiting hours in the morning so we gave them something else to look at!  It’s probably not very often that they see a group of Pilgrims all donned in their Ihraams walking around al Aqsa.  We entered the Masjid and all read our 2 rakaat’s.  We all made dua that Allah make the Umrah easy for us and bring us back to Al Aqsa soon.  We left the Masjid with heavy hearts but looking forward to the greatest site in the world which we will soon be seeing, the Holy Kaaba!

As we were heading back towards the Allenby Bridge crossings we had 2 more stops to make.  The first was the Maqaam of Musa AS.  Again, it cannot be guaranteed that this was the resting place of Musa AS but it appeared to be a place of pilgrimage.  It was a largish Masjid located on a Hilltop in a very barren area of the desert.  There were lots of visitors there, but this time they were mainly Muslim and also surprisingly mainly womenfolk.

The final stop was Jericho.  As we passed through the checkpoint, we noticed that this time it was entirely manned by the Palestinian Authority Soldiers.  Just inside the city we could see large refugee camps.  These were people who had been displaced from their original homes by the Israelis.  They were very dependent on aid from agencies.  The City of Jericho is known as one of the oldest places in the world.  In the distance we could see some Mountains and some cable cars running up to some caved dwellings.  This was the supposed place where Eesaa spent in the Wilderness.  It had now become a centre of Pilgrimage for many Christians.  After a brief stay, we headed back towards our favourite checkpoint, the Allenby Bridge!

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Final thoughts

Our trip to Palestine had been full of very emotional and spiritual moments; obviously the highlight was going to the Al Aqsa Masjid however it was also an insight into how our Palestinian Brothers and sisters live on a day to day basis.  The intention of this report is not to put people off going to Al Quds but to actually encourage everyone, of all ages to go there and visit our Holy Haram as well as show solidarity to our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Not once did I or anyone in the group feel anything but safe.  The presence of armed soldiers did not even faze the children as they had been briefed beforehand.  We were there for Allah and Allah alone so with that in mind we felt at ease.  If anyone is not sure about the safety in the area then please let it not worry you, you will not be disappointed.

Another surprising feature was the amount of barkat we had in our time.  Even though we had only spent little over 2 days we managed to visit so many places, read most of our salaat in Al Aqsa and it had actually started to feel like home.  The surroundings started to become familiar and the locals felt like part of our family.

The amount of history in this place was unparalleled.  There is no other place on earth anywhere like this which is a fusion of all the 3 monotheistic religions.  You could move between the 3 holiest sites in a matter of minutes.  The buildings remained surprisingly intact for an area which has been so much conflict over the years.  The other surprising fact was that there were so many different factions in the other religions.  The Church of the Sepulchre was split into 3 factions, and there was no real love lost between the 3.  The Jews had different factions, with differing views on whether they could step foot on the ‘temple mount’ or Al Aqsa complex.  The most united of all 3 religions appeared to be the Muslims who were fighting to keep their land and identity.

The Al Aqsa complex is something which cannot be described in words.  It has to be seen to be believed.  Once you are on the compound you are in complete awe of where you are.  If you think you are in the same space where our Prophet SAW led all the Ambiya AS in prayer, it becomes too much to comprehend.  You are in the place where our Prophet SAW travelled to on the Buraaq and ascended the heavens.  You are at a place where numerous Ambiya AS are reputed to have been buried.  You are at the place which Salahuddin Ayyubi liberated from the crusaders.  Apart from the Haramayn Sharifayn, is there any other place with more sanctity on this earth?
Seeing the daily lives of our brothers and sisters made difficult by the endless walls, barriers and checkpoints made me very sad and upset.  Did I think it was really going to be this bad before I went?  I was expecting to see a people, downtrodden, upset, full of grief, however the people we saw were full of life and spirit.  All these continuous trials only appeared to make them stronger.  The Israeli System is there to humiliate and subjugate the Palestinian Population until they reach breaking point and leave.  On the surface they seemed amicable and friendly; however the system itself was heavily prejudiced against a specific section of the community, namely the Palestinians.  I recall another place where something very similar happened….. South Africa, where it was called Apartheid.  I think how can a people who have been subject to so much suffering be able to inflict it on another people?   Insha’allah in the same way that system collapsed, I pray that our Palestinian Brothers and sisters also get the same freedom and liberty.

Are these acts synonymous with a nation which calls itself a democracy?  How can a country claiming to be the lone beacon of civilized society in the middle east get away with these criminal acts and enjoy the support of Western Nations at the same time?  Our job my brothers and sisters is to educate people, Muslims and non Muslims alike, about the reality of Israel.  How the people live there, how they are treated, why are they supported?  Only then when the majority of people know the reality on the ground will public opinion start to sway in the favour of the real victims of this tragedy.  There are also a lot of Jewish people in Israel itself who also believe that the Palestinians should have their own homeland and they should all live in peace. 

So the final question is how can be educate people? By going to Palestine ourselves, with our families and friends.  The European Muslims are in a position which many people envy as we can enter the country without great difficulty.  So many of our Palestinian brothers and sisters cannot enter Al aqsa and we have the opportunity but choose to ignore it.  Once we go there, show solidarity with our brothers and sisters.  Let them know that we are with them, they are not forgotten.  And when we get back, tell anybody and everybody of our experiences so we can influence and encourage everybody who has not been to go and visit the land of the Prophets.

I would finally implore all people who have read this report to do dua for all our brothers and sisters in Palestine that Allah’s help comes soon.  We all have the opportunity to play a positive part in this issue and may Allah give us the tawfeeq that we do as much as we can for all the Ummah, Ameen. 

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