A few weeks ago I travelled with a friend to Al Aqsa and I wanted to share a few thoughts about my motivation, the experience and some personal highlights of visiting the holy land.
Living the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced life in the UK, I felt my Eeman was low, my ibadah (worship) was becoming dry routine so I wanted to visit some place that was affordable for me to:
- take a break,
- reflect upon the important things in life,
- gather my thoughts,
- and revitalise my connection with Allah.
Masjid Al Aqsa was not even on my radar until a good friend proposed the idea. Although I was uncertain at first, I prayed istikhaarah and went ahead with booking my ticket.
It was a trip that was deeply spiritual, educational although there were feelings of pain and sadness at the same time.
It’s a very humbling experience to pray in masjid al Aqsa knowing that “There is not a single inch in Al Quds (Jerusalem) where a Prophet has not prayed or an Angel not stood”. (Tirmidhi, Ahmad)
The elite of humanity prayed on this site and I was blessed to pray here too. When I first walked in the masjid forecourt I felt tingles and spiritual charges. You cannot but help wonder about the amazing personalities that had walked or prayed on this very spot where I was praying and sitting and walking. I felt joy and eagerness in worship. You begin to wonder about the prophets Ibraheem, Musa, Eesa and of course Muhammad (saw) and the greats such as Umar (RA), Abu Ubaidah (RA), Noorudeen and Salahudeeen al Ayyubi who liberated this holy land.
For me, this was my second visit and one thing I regretted from the first time was not spending enough time in the masjid and its vicinity so this time I made sure I maximised my time at the masjid and explored the forecourt and the huge part of the masjid which is underground. That’s where you really feel the barakah and closeness to Allah.
One of the striking things about the masjid and it’s surroundings in the old city is the architecture and the old stone buildings and pathways, and the mix of the different religions and places of worship. You can see the signs of how Islam gave dignity and rights to other religions and their followers. Unlike Makkah and Madeenah, a lot of the old buildings are still preserved. It sounds ironic but, despite the occupation, a lot of the old places are preserved. There is a very medieval feel about the place and history comes to life here.
We visited the sites – the first qiblah, the second place designated for the worship of Allah, the chamber of Maryam (AS), I saw the place that is thought to be where the prophet Muhammad (saw) tied the Buraq, the rock from where the Prophet Muhammad (saw) ascended to the heavens and was given the gift of prayer, where Yunus (AS) spent time repenting after he was delivered from the belly of the whale, the graves of Yaqub (AS), his wife Rifqah (AS), Ibraheem (AS), his wife Sara (AS) and the maqam of Musa (AS).
Feelings of Pain and Sadness:
It was sad to observe the signs of the occupation everywhere – the guards, the checkpoints, a lengthy airport wait and the police base in the masjid forecourt and the guards at the gates of the masjid. It pained me to see our holy land occupied and restricted to only some people who meet a huge list of stringent conditions.
On the other hand, the Palestinian people are warm, friendly, and hospitable. They were genuinely happy to meet us. You often hear phrases such as “Hayaka Allah” and “Sharraf lana” (you have honoured us with your visit).
These are brave and resilient people, despite facing years of occupation and difficult conditions. There are many Palestinians who cannot visit the masjid even though they have lived there for decades. We do not face such issues so my experience helped me to appreciate the blessings we have as UK residents.
A couple of the key highlights for me on this visit included:
Al Khanqatu-Salahiyya – where Salahudeen (RA) ran the administration of Jerusalem, trained his soldiers, had Islamic study circles, prayed, and took time out to gather his thoughts, etc. There was a young Imam who must have been in his 30s and the Khanqa (which is now a masjid) is located in the Christian quarter of the old city approximately 10 minutes walk from masjid Aqsa. Since most people pray in masjid al-Aqsa or masjid Umar, this Imam sometimes prays on his own in the masjid. For me, this Imam exemplifies the dedication and determination of the Palestinians to preserve our Islamic heritage and guard the holy land as best as they can with minimal resources. So the least we can do is to visit the holy land and give our moral support to our brothers and sisters and show our solidarity with them.
Visiting a girl’s orphanage in Jenin – where children who have no mum or dad live, are educated and looked after. There was a young orphan sister who made the beautiful dua (inserted below) and sang a nasheed sending peace and blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad (saw). This visit was very emotional for me and helped me appreciate and be grateful for all the blessings I have, especially having loving parents who raised me.
Things are not as bad as they are made out to be in the media or from what you may have heard and read. If you have any doubts, speak to someone who has actually visited this blessed land rather than what is broadcast on the media. Importantly, please do not be intimidated and undertake the blessed trip which Allah(SWT) took His beloved Messenger (SAW) from Makkah to the blessed precincts of Masjid al Aqsa.
It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” [Ibn Battuta]