Thursday 18th June 2014
This morning we had a guided tour of the Temple Mount. Although there are several access points, all but one are for Muslims only. There is only one gate through which tourists may enter. It is above the Western Wall.
The area on the Temple Mount is under Israeli (Jewish) security, but Muslim waqf (religious endowment) representatives are also present to protect their interests. In the past, there have been attempts to damage buildings on the Temple Mount. Also, there are sometimes attempts by non-Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount. Such attempts are not as pious and innocent as they may seem, for they express an intention to reclaim the space for one’s own community e.g. to re-establish the Temple. Resisting such attempts, it has become custom for groups of children to parade through the area chanting Islamic slogans. It is their attempt to assert their identity and claim on the sacred space. For all these reasons, the Temple Mount is a highly sensitive area.
Mindful of these sensitivities, in recent years the Jewish and Muslim authorities have agreed that non-Muslims may not enter the buildings on the Temple Mount. They are closed to tourists. Only Muslims may enter. Additionally, the whole area of the Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslims on Fridays, the day when Muslims gather for the noon prayer. Only Muslims may enter.
These restrictions are a bit disappointing. I would have loved to enter these spaces freely, as I had done on my earlier visit 30 years ago, as had been the practice up until the last couple of years. It is to be hoped that the security situation will improve and better relations be established so that these restrictions may be relaxed and people of all faiths and none may be able to gather respectfully and share the space which is considered holy be each of the monotheistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The larger building on the site is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. For details see http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Mosque
It marks the spot where, according to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad met with the other prophets on the occasion of a mystical Night Journey to Jerusalem and led them in prayer. Of course, the story is used catechetically to assert the superiority of the Prophet Muhammad over the other prophets.
The other major building on the site – which is the iconic symbol of Jerusalem, seen in many, many photos, towering prominent on the skyline of the Old City – is the Dome of the Rock. For details see http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock
This is also connected to the Prophet Muhammad’s mystical night visit to Jerusalem. Again, according to Muslim tradition, he ascended for this spot to the highest heaven into the very presence of God from whom he received instructions on the number of daily prayers for the Muslim community. The rock from which he is said to have ascended, actually the top of the hill around which the Temple platform was built, is said to show his footprint. Again, the building is erected over the rock to commemorate this event, from which it gets its name, the Dome of the Rock.
It is a beautiful building, decorated with calligraphy of verses from the Holy Quran. The dome is covered with pure gold, a gift from King Hussain of Jordan. It gleams in the sun.
Besides these two major buildings, there are other very minor buildings and arches on the site, erected by rulers as personal memorials marking the fact that they were here.
There are many open spaces in the central and south east of the platform where Muslims gather to read the Holy Quran, to study the Holy Quran, to recite verses together. Awnings hsve been erected to facilitate these practices by providing shade from the sun. So the Temple Mount is clearly a place for Islamic religious learning and for practising Islamic spirituality.
Additionally, especially to the north of the site, there are many open spaces, with gardens and trees for shade and open spaces where children and families can gather to relax, to have a picnic, to recreate, to play football. So it is a social space as well.
As I wrote above, may that day soon dawn when Muslims, Jews and Christians can share this sacred space together, respectfully and in peace.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!