I always have this special interest on the Palestine-Israel polemics; as well as the biblical, geographical and cultural aspects of that region. Dubbed as Abrahamaic faiths; Islam, Christianity and Judaism are triplets bonded with the same umbilical cord – Prophet Ibrahim a.s. Abraham. Since I was a kid, I have been immersing myself with a lot of readings on that region and the biblical beliefs of the Jews. I have been telling myself that one day, I must set my footsteps on that region and as aligned with my 2017 New Year Resolution entry “Living the Life of Lime, Lemon & Lemonade” (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/ahlan-wasahlan-2017-a-year-of-metamorphosis-living-the-life-of-lime-lemon-lemonade/); I have decided to crystallize that dream THIS YEAR; and I am glad I did!
Still can’t believe that I was in front of Dome of The Rock! But Alhamdulillah.
A scene from the lookingout point at Mount of Olive. Look at the old man. It is one of his efforts to sustain his life within the area with so many restrictions for Palestinians. Pictured at the right was our tour guide, Kaseem. He led Siti Nurhaliza’s entourage a month prior to ours.
I have been listening to IKIM.fm a lot and I knew from there that Ustaz Muhamad al-Amin’s company called ALCC Travel Sdn Bhd organizes trips to Palestine. It would be quite challenging if I were to go there alone ala “backpackers” due to the Israeli regulations and documentations; so I thought of going there under ALCC Travel. Originally, the plan was to go there in 2016 but I aborted the idea as I chose to do European Trip with Kakak in conjunction of her Master’s Degree Convocation (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/the-ramli-siblings-conquering-eeuurope-amsterdam-netherlands-dutchland-the-land-of-new-adventures-new-faces/). So, early this January I went to ALCC Travel to pay RM1,000 as an advance and another subsequent RM7,200 within February-March.
Our entourage with Imam Syaikh Yusuf Abu Sneina, one of Masjidil Aqsa’s Imams.
A week prior to the trip which was on 11th March 2017, a briefing session was conducted at ALCC Travel HQ in Shah Alam. We were given a little bit of peekaboo about the upcoming trip and the Dos-and-Don’ts throughout the trip. Apparently, Ustaz Muhamad would not be able to join us due to an unwarranted reason. His visa was already rejected for the third time since the Israeli immigration detected his direct involvement with the Palestinians; Ustaz Muhamad’s attempt to smuggle Malaysian Ringgit donation from a wealthy Malay entrepreneur was foiled and since then, his visa application has been a futile mission, rejected by the Israeli government. Nevertheless, he has his proteges to bring the entourages of tourists and apparently, Siti Nurhaliza’s group was exactly a month before ours (not that it’s a big deal, but yeah. lol!).
Arriving at Queen Alia International Airport, at Amman, Jordan.
On 20th March 2017; Kakak sent me to Putrajaya ERL station and I commuted the train to KLIA and waited there until 7.00 p.m. After settling my luggage, passport and receiver (a communication device), I hanged around KLIA and eventually, checked-in Royal Jordanian flight and at 10.30 p.m., our flight pushed off from KLIA and landed at Bangkok as transit for an hour (but we remained in the flight; only that the landed Royal Jordanian crews entered the flight to do some “housekeeping stuffs”). From there, we travelled to Amman, Jordan for 12 hours (gasp!) and reached the capital of Hashemite Kingdom circa 4.30 a.m. We performed our Subuh at the Queen Alia International Airport lobby and boarded a bus that was already awaiting for us. The weather was so freezing cold – well, what did you expect?? It was the end of winter AND Amman is located on higher altitude (on hills!).
I never thought that Jericho is a lively town with ordinary activities such as groceries and business! I thought it is place with thousands of UNHCR refugee camps (which I saw throughout the journey at Jordan heading towards Allenby Bridge; Palestinians who were cast out by the Israelis). But of course, Jericho is considered as a Harlem in comparison to Tel Aviv!
As we were already starving, we had our first breakfast at Abu Zaghleh Restaurant; having the Jordanian chai and their bread ala Roti Prata. After that, without further a due, we pushed off to Jordan-Israel border; Jordanians call it as The King Hussein Bridge whereas the Israelis dub it as The Allenby Bridge. Along the way to the border, I could see vast plains served as places for the refugees to live. I couldn’t imagine myself living there. Must be very hard to be shooed away from your own homeland and have to live in such meager atmosphere. I could see UNHCR logo emblazoned everywhere. It was heart-wrenching.
At the courtyard of Temptation Restaurant. We were told that the rubble behind are the leftovers from the Canaan days; but I am not sure whether it is THE Walls of Jericho or not.
The Middle East styled meal & the restaurant.
Anyway, the Jordan-Israeli border has the reputation for having “extra stringent procedures” (Israeli side) and for an entourage or any individuals to be detained for 4-6 hours is considered to be “normal”. You guys can check various blogging experiences, particularly this useful Tripadvisor experience (https://www.tripadvisor.com.my/ShowTopic-g293985-i2131-k3180262-Crossing_King_Hussein_Bridge_Allenby_Bridge_in_Jordan_Israel-Jordan.html). Prior to this spiritual journey, I read the experience and I have prepared mentally on the possibility to be detained for 4-6 hours or to encounter anything that would defy my patience! Nevertheless, Alhamdulillah! God is Great! The over all procedure was a smooth-flowing and less than 30 minutes, our whole ALCC Travel entourage members passed through the immigration without any major glitches! Imagine that you have to undergo 6 checkpoints! Tedious, isn’t it? But it is what it is. Like what Ustaz Muhamad said – we are entering their governance (as much as we disagree on their sovereignty); therefore we have to abide to their rules, no?
Our hotel at Jerusalem. You guys can Google about it! Although it is not that big but the location is strategic; merely a stone-throw away to The Old City!
Our first destination in The Promised Land was Jericho. We were told that Palestinian Authority is governing Jericho and that city is one of the oldest inhabited settlements on earth! Jericho is considered as the Zone A area, where there are no Israelis settlements and Jews are prohibited to enter the area (any Jews trespassing the prohibition would have to face the consequences on their own as Israel is not going to be held responsible; but of course in 2012, Israel nonchalantly breached the laws and entered the Zone A to conduct raids at nights!). We had lunch at Jericho Temptation Restaurant. The place offered “all-you-can-eat” Mediterranean cuisines. You guys can check it out via this Foursquare site on the restaurant (https://foursquare.com/v/jericho-temptation-restaurant/4d568d1e9e508cfafc080f9b). After that, we pushed to Jerusalem. The journey took us around 45 minutes.
At the front of the hotel and not that far is the Old City with visible Israeli’s flag erected while soldiers were invigilating us from the above with their guns. I can’t help feeling like a slave monitored by his masters – the same thing that were done to them during Holocaust – they are doing that now to others.
Our hotel Jerusalem Metropole Hotel was merely a stone-throw away from The Old City. Prior coming to Jerusalem, I’ve read a few reviews on the hotel which is situated at the Salah e-Din Street. Apparently, the hotel is a Waqf hotel and is ran by our tour guide, Kaseem and his daughter. Since ALCC Travel has built great rapport with Kaseem and Ustaz Muhamad and his proteges are Kaseem’s apparent good pals; I can say that our lodging in the hotel was more than satisfactory on the scale of simplicity, aligned with our purpose there to devote ourselves to perform Ibadah. You guys can read the review at this TripAdvisor site at https://www.tripadvisor.com.my/Hotel_Review-g293983-d3467724-Reviews-Jerusalem_Metropole_Hotel-Jerusalem_Jerusalem_District.html.
Entering The Old City via Herod’s Gate – for Moslems.
I was partnered with a retiree named Abang Salleh from Klang. He was a very focused but observant man. I am not the kind of person who likes to interrogate people with questions but I could tell that he is a man with substance. The way he delivered his thoughts reflected his cognition. He was a good roommate and we moved together a lot heading towards the Old City where Masjidil Aqsa and Dome of the Rock were located! We were given time to rest ourselves and circa 4.00 p.m., we gathered at the lobby as our mutawif (guide), Ustaz Adzim wanted to give us our first tour into the Old City.
One of Moslems’ restaurant in the Moslem Quarter adjacent to Herod’s Gate.
There was a visible Israeli police station erected at the very opposite entrance of the Old City and entourage of Israeli soldiers guarding at the Herod Gate. This is the gate where Moslems enter the Old City via The Moslem Quarters. My first impression on the cobbled streets in The Old City was that they are similarly uncanny with the ones in Venice; and not to mention the slithery ala A Big Maze arrangement! I recalled the horrifying experience that my sister and I had when we traveled to Venice in July 2016; we spent practically 2 hours just to find our budget hotel (sans Internet, of course!) after bumping into so many dead ends!
My eyes welled up with tears. Never in my wildest dream that I would one day set my footsteps there. I’ve been reading about Jerusalem practically my whole life and to see this with my own naked eyes; it was really surreal. Alhamdulillah.
It was surreal feeling when I first entered the compound. Along the pavement leading up to the two buildings, hundreds of olive trees were planted. It was a magical feeling. You could feel the Heavenly Bless of the environment. At the end of the pavement, you would meet elevated three arches; and there, visible with its majestic golden dome was The Dome of the Rock! Subhanallah! It is a no wonder that although Israel now is administering The Promised Land, The Dome of the Rock which is an Islamic building is used as the icon to represent the country, especially Jerusalem! The Nur of Islam (Light of Islam) can never be diminished from The Promised Land.
Beautiful facade, no doubt. Epitome of Islamic glorious days.
My eyes welled up; I couldn’t believe that I finally saw this building with my own naked eyes as I’ve been reading about it since I was a kid! Dome of the Rock is not a mosque per se; it is more of a shrine but prayers can be performed there. There was the rock believed to be the place where Isra’ Mikraj (Heavenly Ascension) of Prophet Muhammad SAW took place. It is located at the centre of Dome of the Rock. Our average Malay Moslems in Malaysia dub it as “Batu Tergantung” (Floating/Hanging Rock) but according to our mutawif, practically it is not a “hanging rock” as the underneath hollow was due to tectonic movements of the earth (earthquakes) and the rock is supported by certain pillars. But, the hollow area was turned into a small room where Moslems could perform prayers there.
Masjidil Aqsa, dubbed as The Farthest/Furthest Mosque; one of the 3 revered mosques in Islam. Alhamdulillah; I’ve been given chance by ALLAH SWT to perform prayers at 3 of these mosques – The Masjidil Haram (Makkah); Masjidil Nabawi (Medina) & Masjidil Aqsa (Al-Quds/Jerusalem).
The idea to recite prayers or to perform Solat at these areas is not because of the deemed sacred aura of the places BUT due to the fact that red-letter celestial events in Islamic traditions occurred there, and as a Moslem, you would want to recite prayers at places where ALLAH SWT exhibited the Grace – and with the hope that our Doas/Prayers would be granted (“mustajab”) as per the predecessor red-letter celestial events that happened, years ago.
Just opposite Dome of the Rock; I think around 100 meter was our Furthest Mosque, Masjidil Aqsa. With its grey dome, the sight was just a surreal experience for me! I’ve never thought I would step my footsteps there but Alhamdulillah, I did. The inner design was mesmerizing! Looking at the fine decorations of the olden days Islamic empires had certainly humbled me – I was in awed with the precision practiced in the olden days! Marvellous! At the grand hall of the mosque, the names of Prophet Muhammad SAW’s Sahabah (friends), particularly the Khulafa’ Ar-Rasyidin were etched in the most beautiful Khat. We were also shown the Mihrab of Prophet Zakariya (Zachariah’s Sanctuary), a leftmost corner where it was believed that Prophet Zakariya a.s. prayed to ALLAH SWT at that very site to be granted a child albeit his age was catching up. And of course, his prayer was answered and ALLAH SWT bestowed him with a son, Prophet Yahya a.s. (John The Baptist).
The Mihrab Zakariya (Zechariah’s Sanctuary). I had the opportunity to perform prayers here.
The beautiful Islamic architecture inside Masjidil Aqsa! Ethereal.
We performed Maghrib and Isya’ prayers for the first time at Masjidil Aqsa. Although it was nearing the Spring Equinox (Winter into Spring) but the cold atmosphere was still apparent! The night was as low as 7 Celsius! And imagine that when your bladder was full and obviously you need to take ablution for that, you had no choice but to weather THE FREAKING COLD WATER because Israeli government had put to a stop to any attempts to construct facilities in Masjidil Aqsa – and that included on having hot water taps and construction of new toilets (I had to walk circa 500-600 meter just to ease myself because the toilets were located at the entrance of holy city; which means I have to walk pass through Masjidil Aqsa and Dome of The Rock just to get to the toilets! I imagined myself in a scene of “Hidden Figures” film!).
The night scenery of Dome of The Rock & Masjidil Aqsa. It was damn cold, freezing!
On the 2nd day, we woke up as early as 2.30 a.m. as we were to gather at the hotel lobby at 3.20 a.m. for Subuh Prayer at 4.20 a.m. We used The Herod’s Gate and used the cobbled street until we reached at the green door which served as the entrance to Dome of the Rock and Masjidil Aqsa. It was guarded by the Israeli soldiers and on the inside by the Palestinian Authority. This was due to the Israeli government’s order that no Moslems shall be spending nights in Dome of the Rock or Masjidil Aqsa (perhaps this is to curb the Intifada’ movement?). The door will be closed one hour after Isya’ and will be opened one hour prior to Subuh BUT sometimes the schedule could be ignored as it was on Israeli’s deliberation whether the door to be opened on time or a bit later!
Moslems gathering at the front of the door leading to the pavement towards Dome of The Rock & Masjidil Aqsa; waiting for it to be opened by the Israeli soldiers; as no Moslems are allowed to spend night (Iktikaf) there. Perhaps Israeli government is scared that there would be another Intifada’. Furthermore, Palestinians outside Jerusalem (Hebron, Jericho, Gaza, Ramallah) are not allowed to visit Masjidil Aqsa. Therefore, most of the Moslems frequenting these holy mosques consist of those of non-Palestinians especially those from Malay Archipelago, Turkey, Pakistan, India, etc.
Queuing up just to get into your praying places and then to be interrogated by the soldiers at the entrance has certainly making me full of sympathy towards the Palestinian Moslems and even I was interrogated harshly around 4 times throughout my whole entire journey back-and-forth from the hotel to Masjidil Aqsa; probably due to my non-traditional attire or due to my non-Arabian look :-
“Oy, Halo! Are you a Moslem? Where are you from? What’s your name?!”
Alhamdulillah, we had the chance of having exclusive session with Imam Syaikh Yusuf Abu Sneina and performed Tahajjud prayers together, circa 30 minutes prior to Subuh; and after that he personally gave us tour around the Masjidil Aqsa’s compound. We were shown the vast landscape of the mosque and also the numerous olive trees. We were told that Palestinians outside of Jerusalem (Hebron, Ramallah, Gaza, etc) are NOT ALLOWED to enter Masjidil Aqsa! Seriously, what is the rationale in that??? Isn’t it a violation of human rights? So sad! Israeli government does not contribute to any financial support for the well-being of Masjidil Aqsa but instead, it is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan who takes all the initiatives to support Masjidil Aqsa! Bless them! We were also shown into an exclusive locked chamber where Imam Syaikh Yusuf Abu Sneina has been teaching his students and where the Maqam of Prophet Sulayman a.s. (Solomon) is.
Imam Shyaikh Yusuf Abu Sneina was giving us personal tour around Masjidil Aqsa.
He led us into a locked chamber where he has been teaching religious classes – and where it is believed that the maqam of Prophet Sulayman a.s. (Solomon) is.
One for the album.
Everyone was vying to get picture with him. Right after the group picture, I candidly took out my phone and snapped picture; Imam Syaikh Yusuf also a sporting spirit by responding to my camera! Syukran, Imam!
Circa 10.00 a.m., we were given tour inside the Dome of the Rock and also the three other underground mosques (Masjid Marwani, Masjid Buraq and The Old Masjid Al-Aqsa). Dome of the Rock is not a mosque but more like a shrine but still, Moslems can perform prayers there (women performed Jumaat Prayers there while the men performed at Masjidil Aqsa!). We were shown the Foundation Stone a.k.a. The Hanging Rock (in typical Malay we called it “Batu Tergantung” due to the myth that the rock floats to follow Rasulullah SAW to Heaven ascension). Our mutawif, Ustaz Adzim told us that on contrary to the traditional Malay Moslem beliefs that the rock “floats”, the structure was due to the tectonic movement of the earthquakes years ago and the “floating” illusion was merely hollow area supported by certain pillar of stones at both sides. The hollow area is now converted into a chamber for Moslems to perform prayers. I read in Wikipedia that it is also a holy place for the Jews called Well of Souls, and where the most sacred place that Yahweh (God) dwells which is Holy of Holies! I know, it could be confusing isn’t it? But I guess that is why perhaps, Jews also are putting their claims on Dome of The Rock? But at this juncture, the global community has decided that Dome of the Rock is under the authority of the Palestinian Moslems. The issue is still an endless battle, though.
The Foundation Stone a.k.a “The Hanging Rock” (Batu Tergantung) at the heart of Dome of The Rock. It was believed that Holy of Holies, the sacred place of the Jews lies underneath the rock.
The Masjid Buraq (Buraq Mosque), an underground-located mosque.
Next, we went to Masjid Buraq, an underground mosque with steep spiraling staircase. Moslems believe that Rasulullah SAW had his Isra’ (travelling from Makkah to Masjidil Aqsa) and Mikraj (ascended to Heaven) with a horse-like creature called “Buraq”. There are so many versions on how Buraq looked like but a legit Hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari described Buraq to be :-
“Then a white animal which was smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey was brought to me … The animal’s step (was so wide that it) reached the farthest point within the reach of the animal’s sight.”
And just so to let you know; at the very right side of Masjid Buraq is what the Jews have been calling “The Wailing Wall” (The Western Wall)!! Amazing, isn’t it? You guys can check the fact at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Buraq_mosque.
Masjid Marwani, an underground mosque – with Mihrab Maryam (Mary’s Sanctuary). The netted room was believed to be the place where Maryam isolated herself to dedicate herself for Tauhid (Oneness of ALLAH SWT). Moslems believe that Maryam was a pious woman, pregnant without a man’s seed – as to show ALLAH SWT’s power to Israelites – as per Quran’s verse on “Kun fayakun” (When ALLAH SWT wants it to be, let it be!), irregardless the claim that there was supposed to be a union between two entities, vice versa.
We also went to Masjid Marwani where there is a place called “Mihrab Maryam” or Mary’s Sanctuary. Moslems believe that Maryam was a very religious woman and she liked to isolate herself and dedicated her life to ALLAH SWT. It was in this sanctuary that she prayed and devoted herself. As Prophet Zakariya a.s. (Zechariah) was her uncle, he sent foods and drinks for Maryam via a netted door of this sanctuary. In the old Masjid Al-Aqsa, we managed to visit an old olive oil well which used to be a storage place for the residence of the olden days Masjidil Aqsa. Unfortunately, the well now is simply a big HOLLOW as the Jews excavation to find their holy “Ark of Covenants” of which they believe lies underneath Masjidil Aqsa – had surpassed the agreeable limit! And of course, Israel shrugged off the urge to be held accountable although there were numerous public outcries from the Moslem communities!! Sigh…
An old oil well in Old Masjidil Aqsa; now simply a hollow due to the Jews’ over-the-limit excavation in search of their “Ark of Covenant”.
Our entourage was so lucky because we had the chance to visit The Islamic Museum which situated not far from the Masjid Buraq. According to our Mutawif; Ustaz Adzim, this museum is always close to the public and being a frequent visitor to Jerusalem, our Mutawif himself had never been inside the museum before! As a history freak, I enjoyed seeing all the artifacts in the museum.
On the third day, we boarded the bus to the nearby Mount Zion as we wanted to visit The Cenacle, the room where Prophet Isa a.s. (Jesus) and The Hawariyun (Disciples) gathered for the last time prior to the crucifixion. Of course, the Islamic version differs from the Christianity’s – and I am not going to decipher into that as to respect my Christian’s friends. I guess everyone is entitled to held whatever belief they choose to believe; as long as we have the mutual respect towards one another, no?
A mihrab in The Cenacle; and a tree model; which I didn’t know. Perhaps it signifies some piety emblems? And a visible Islamic-deco at one of the windows.
Next, we went to Maqam of Prophet Daud a.s.; which is now converted into synagogue under the name of King David’s Tomb. Like I mentioned before this, for us Moslems, a maqam of prophet doesn’t necessarily mean a tomb or sepulchre where the bodies laid to rest. It could also meant to be sites where prophets used to set their footsteps. Before we entered the synagogue, I saw a statue erected depicting an image of a king with a lyre. Understandably, our mutawif did not stop at the statue; I guess maybe he didn’t want those who are not well-versed with biblical or Judaism’s versions to be confused and to regard the sculpted figure was indeed the Prophet Daud’s apt physical attributes! But as I do have bits of background reading on this, I knew it was the monument of David – as he was known for his melodious voice serenading the Psalms (noted, the musical instrument) and Islam also believed that Prophet Daud had dulcet voice reciting The Zabur.
At Maqam of Prophet Daud a.s. (David) which now is turned into a synagogue.
The Maqam of Prophet Daud a.s.
Some of the young American-accented Rabbis / Orthodox Jews. Perhaps they were spending their holidays in Israel?
It was exciting to enter synagogue for the first time. There was a segregation lane between males and females. I saw a bunch of young American rabbis – probably spending their spring at Israel just for a short vacation ala Natalie Portman. We recited some prayers and then went out. Our tourist guide, Kaseem showed us Mezuzah, a scroll of Jews holy scriptures infused into a transparent case. It was simply amazing to see this with our own eyes. You guys could read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezuzah. As we were boarding down the Mount Zion, we saw old building such Jerome Schottenstein School of Torah Center and a few rabbis (you should know, coming from Malaysia; seeing this was a rare sight! Haha!).
Mezuzah, the holy scroll revered by The Jews.
Our next destination was towards Hebron, another Palestinian-governed area. We were to visit Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as Cave Machpelah which was the location of Maqam Prophet Ibrahim a.s. (Abraham). To reach there, we had to go through Kiryat Arba, dubbed as the Jews’ First Settlement in Hebron – which initially was an illegitimate settlement in 1968 where these Jews were said to pose as Swiss tourists and eventually refused to evacuate the place. Kiryat Arba was definitely a mini satellite town. You could see the planning was systematic with efficient roads, schools and modern facilities which usually found in western countries. NEVERTHELESS, once you pass through Kiryat Arba and as you were heading towards Cave Machpelah in which the Palestinians were residing, the development landscape was virtually no where to be seen when actually the distance between the two is merely 200 meters away! It was definitely a scene of two different worlds! When the Israeli children are given efficient education with proper transportation and all sort, the Palestinian children are forced to WALK 5-6 kilometers to their schools as Palestinians in that area are FORBIDDEN to posses vehicles! Imagine that??!
The comparison between Kiryat Arba’s First Jews Settlement (above) and then 200 meter outside the gated area ARE the Palestinian residences (below), where the latter were denied any vehicles and children have to walk to school circa 5-6 kilometers! Shaking heads, sigh.
Cave Machpelah is a witness to many bloodbath events due to religious sentiments – and one of them was the massacre committed by an American Jew named Baruch Goldstein, a Jews puritan who gunned down Palestinians who were in their “sojood” (genuflect) of Subuh prayer : 29 people dead and 125 people were injured! Since then, Israel has enforced its strict security measure by having soldiers at the steel-gated entrance. To appease the surrounding community, Israeli government divided the mosque into two sides; 60% was given to Jews with Maqam of Prophet Yaakub a.s. (Jacob) and his wife whereas the remaining 40% is for the Moslems with Maqam of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. (Abraham) and his wife, Sarah.
Israeli soldiers are guarding the entrance to Cave Machpelah and Maqam of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. (Abraham); which is now is divided from a full-fledged mosque into half of synagogue.
(Left) Waiting for the Israeli soldiers to give permission to enter the Ibrahimi Mosque (of course, they rule the land, no?!) and (Right) was the sealed entrance to Cave Machpelah. Candlelight were visible from the holes but nobody is allowed to enter. I remember this shot was also taken by the crew of Tv Alhijrah’s “Ayat Riwayat” (So I was emulating them!). You guys can read at Wikipedia for more info on this cave at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Patriarchs.
Maqam of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. (Abraham).
After performing Zuhr and Asr, we then proceeded to Bethelehem or Baitul Laham and we had lunch there. It was nice to actually set footsteps on this revered place amongst the Christians as Bethelehem was the place where Prophet Isa a.s. (Jesus) was born. But since Bethelehem is under Palestinian Authority, you could visibly see The Segregation Wall surrounding it, erected by the Israeli government. A sore to the eyesight.
Luncheon at Bethelehem.
From Bethelehem, we then reverted to the east for The Dead Sea. Initially in the tentative, we were to visit The Dead Sea at Jordan’s site but there seemed to be an Arabian Leaders’ Summit held there on the day we arrived at Jordan; so our tour guide and mutawif crafted this alternative for us. We stopped at Neve Midbar Beach and I have to say that the view was breathtaking. Subhanallah! It was a simple plain ocean, wide blue yonder view but the mystical feeling of that biblical or Israiliyat aura was eminent. Moslems believe that the Dead Sea is actually an epitaph of damnation – ALLAH SWT punished the people of Prophet Lut a.s. (Lot) for committing homosexuality by flipping the earth upside down, killing the Non-Believers in Sodom. This spot eventually becomes what we now know as The Dead Sea (it is actually a vast lake!). To reinforce this account, Moslems emphasizes that minerals are usually found far beneath in the earth BUT how come The Dead Sea now possess such high salinity and mineral contents in comparison to other marine pods? It is all due to this Punishment from ALLAH SWT (flipping the Earth).
At The Dead Sea, The Lowest Place on Earth!
A wide blue yonder view at Neve Midbar Beach, a part of The Dead Sea (which is actually a big lake).
Anyway, initially I was a bit hesitated to immerse myself in the water but then, I thought – “This would be the chance of a lifetime and who knows when I will be back again, no?” As I am now in the phase of being so hungry for life experience, I had no second thought and simply immersed myself in it! Wow, I was definitely floating! The water was definitely the saltiest ever but I somehow felt rejuvenated after immersing my body inside the Dead Sea. Mystical, psychological or scientific? Haha! As the journey back to Jerusalem was taking circa 2 hours, most of us dozed off on the way back.
We didn’t go to the deeper part; there was some security buoys around the area but I could vouch that I was really floating! My butt was not on the sea bed! Alhamdulillah for the opportunity; I have been reading this since I was a small and I am grateful I had the chance to live the dream.
On the next day which was on Friday 24th March 2017; we made our way into The Old City via Damascus Gate. This was an en route to Church of Holy Sepulchre via The Christian Quarter. The Christians believe that this church was the last place in the chronology of Passion of The Christ (from his entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey till the moment he was believed to be crucified). Along the cobbled street pavement walk, I could see Jerusalemites selling vegetables and fruits as well as their famous Ka’ak breads! The essence of Christianity was eminent in the Quarter as I bumped into several churches of different sects such as those of Coptic and Russian Orthodox. There was also Aftimos Market (Suq Aftimos) at Muristan area in the Christian Quarter itself. The cobbled street leading to Holy Sepulchre was simply a small, cute archway – with no Israeli soldiers to guard unlike the entrance to Masjidil Aqsa. We were shown the place where Christians believe to be the place where Jesus allegedly crucified (at the courtyard) and then placed at a tomb which then became an empty one after the body of Jesus went missing.
The Damascus Gate, an entrance leading to the Christian Quarter.
Souq Altimos or Altimos Market. The Roman architecture is visible.
(Left) The cute archway leading towards Church of Holy Sepulchre. (Right) At the courtyard.
The empty tomb where Christians believe to be the place where Jesus was buried and resurrected. The women with headscarves were not Moslems. They were the Orthodox Christians.
Some of the scenes inside Church of Holy Sepulchre. I think this trip is definitely an experiential learning which we rarely are exposed in Malaysia. Back here at home, we are so consumed with some taboos and prejudices. It is something that we especially typical average Malay Moslems need to change. One does not have to be afraid to be labelled as heathen/ Non-Believer/ apostate! Ridiculous! To understand others is to understand yourself.
Opposite of the Church of Holy Sepulchre is Masjid Omar. This mosque is said to be the place where Khalifah Omar al-Khattab, the 2nd Khulafa’ Ar-Rasyidin prayed when he refused to pray inside the Church as to not wanting to endanger the status of the Christian’s holy site – as he knew that if he were to pray inside there, his followers were sure to want to reclaim the church.
After that, we went to the Wailing Wall or now, it is known as The Western Wall as the Jews find that “wailing” is an offensive term for them. As the cobbled streets in The Old City intertwined with each other, the Christian and Jews Quarters merge with no apparent boundaries; only the residence know their limits. As we were nearing the Wailing Wall, crowds were thronging along the pavement walk and soon we found ourselves in congested entrance leading to the Wailing Wall. Like any other typical Jews’ monumental sites, the entrance was guarded with officers. Our mutawif took us to an elevated bird-view terrace where we could witness the Wailing Wall facade, with Dome of The Rock and Masjidil Aqsa clearly visible as the background landscape. Seeing that view solidified what I’ve been reading all these while – The Wailing Wall isn’t exactly the holy site revered by the Jews; but it is the Temple Mount where now stand the Dome of The Rock & Masjidil Aqsa – and furthermore, it was under Dome of The Rock that is believed to be the Holy of Holies (Jews’ holiest site, the dwelling realm of Yahweh). Since the wall serves as the boundary between the Jews and the Moslems’ sites, the Jews lament their melancholy feeling at that very wall!
The entrance to The Wailing Wall or The Western Wall.
The Jews were wailing. It was said that they wailed and expressed their melancholy because their holiest site, Holy of Holies is believed to be underneath Dome of The Rock! Hence, this wall per se is not exactly their holiest site. Read this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall.
This was the room underneath The Foundation Stone at Dome of The Rock. I have the opportunity to perform prayer there. Perhaps this is the place coveted by the Jews, believing that it is their sacred place, Holy of Holies?
Can you see? At the other side was Dome of The Rock & Masjidil Aqsa! The wall that the Jews are wailing are actually wall of Masjid Buraq.
We took a break, went back to hotel while some of us went to shopping at the bazaars. I accompanied two of my elderly entourage members back to the hotel and then went back to Masjidil Aqsa for Friday Prayer. Now, that is the only time you could see Moslems are allowed to gather in massive crowds – but of course, with the eagle-eyed surveillance of the Israeli soldiers, overlooking the Moslem Quarter cobbled streets from their elevated high terrace Jews Quarter; getting ready to shoot anyone walking below if there were to be any attempt to rouse the Intifada’. Really, my humanistic instinct sighed looking at this insolent act.
During Friday Prayer. You understand why Israeli Government put their arm forces? Perhaps to curb any potential of Intifada’?
That night during the hiatus of Maghrib and Isya’ prayers, one of my entourage members, a medical doctor asked me to accompany him to have a cuppa at a bazaar shop nearby the arch of the Old City’s Ablution Gate. Initially I was reluctant but then I thought, what the heck, right? So I accompanied him to savour the Palestinian chai. The owner was a Palestinian named ‘Alaq. He related his life experiences living under the Israeli’s occupation. He told us that he longs to see the world but he couldn’t get out as Israel won’t issue any passports for Palestinians (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the one country that provides passport for these Palestinians, God bless the kind country!). As he was involved in the 2nd Intifada’ and was jailed for 3 years, the Israeli government refuses to grant any permission for him to apply for the passport! Throughout the 3 years in the jail, the Israeli officers have been making ‘Alaq an offer or “supposed deal” – he would be freed earlier if he were to agree to sell his land to Israel. ‘Alaq refused, hence he had to serve the 3 years sentence! Apart from that, Israeli soldiers would pick up on any nitty-gritty things just to penalize Palestinians – well, even Palestinians as young as 12 years old were sent to jails! Where are the common sense and humanity??? Where are human rights, loudly called by the U.S government??? So sad! As he related his stories, his eyes welled up with confining tears – as I was with mine, as well. I was glad that I followed my medical doctor entourage member though I initially reluctant – you never know what you would experience if you give yourself a chance to experience something new, no?
The stall at Ablution Gate. Sitting there was my medical doctor entourage member, Dr. Padzil Daros who I accompanied.
‘Alaq and I.
On Saturday, our entourage set to embark to areas outside Jerusalem and I have to say that I was anticipating this part of trip! We were about to visit the modern financial city, Tel Aviv-Jaffa! As it was Saturday and since orthodox Jews in Jerusalem are strictly practicing the Sabbath (Jews in Tel-Aviv are more secular! They don’t strictly follow Sabbath!), you could see the Jews’ settlements were PRACTICALLY EMPTY! No buses whatsoever and even if some of them need to do errands, they would walk! Anyway, the journey took us around 1 hour as Tel Aviv is situated at the western coastline of the country. We passed by the city of Lod, or Lidya (it is said that Al-Masih Prophet Isa a.s. will kill the Al-Masih Dajjal at this very city). We entered Tel-Aviv and headed straight to Port Jaffa, a place believed to be the spot where Prophet Yunus a.s. (Jonah) headed before he was regurgitated by the whale Nun. It was indeed a breathtaking wide blue yonder view. You could see hundreds of skyscrapers of Tel Aviv erected along the coastal line, similarly uncanny to a view in Gold Coast, Australia!
The historical Jaffa Port.
We went to pray at a mosque nearby called Al-Bahr Mosque. After that, we walked along the street at Jaffa and saw the Jaffa Clock Tower. Our bus moved out from Tel Aviv-Jaffa and made its way straight to the city of Tiberias. Since the city is located at the northeast of Israel-Palestine, it took us around 2 hours to reach it from Tel Aviv-Jaffa which is situated at the coastal line of western Israel-Palestine! Tiberias is the nearest city to Sea of Galilee, the 2nd lowest lake in the world but the lowest freshwater water pod! We had lunch at Magdalena Restaurant at Migdal (inspired by Mary Magdalene) and had the chance to feast upon the famous Tilapia of Galilee which is actually a famous character in biblical story, known as St. Peter’s Fish (you guys can Google the story on Peter & Jesus). Later, an entourage member experienced continuous diarrhea and another one felt sick but Alhamdulillah, I did not feel that, in fact I enjoyed the tilapia quite OK!
Sea of Galilee’s famous Tilapia. LOL! Apparently, it is famous due to its biblical significance, dubbed as St. Peter’s Fish.
We were treated with the cruise on The Ancient Gallilee Boat. It was a breathtaking scenery of the lake. Sea of Galilee is a very significant place in the Israiliyat stories / biblical stories of Prophet Isa a.s. (Jesus). Our mutawif Ustaz Adzim and our Palestinian tour guide, Kaseem told us about the some of Prophet Isa’s “mukjizat” (miracles bestowed by ALLAH SWT to prophets) such as walking on water and many more.
On the Ancient Boat of Galilee.
Apparently, this is one of my entourage member’s camera, Kak Elisa. I need to buy i-phone!
We pushed off from Tiberias circa 2.30 p.m. On the way back to Jerusalem, we prayed at a mosque at an Arab-Israeli village in a mountainous area (we were told that Arab Israelis are group of people who don’t take sides; apart from The Bedouin – either Israel or Palestine. They just want their lives to be peaceful and simply “go with the flow”). We also visited Jericho as to give chance to some of entourage members to buy Medjoul dates (juicy and succulent lots!). Coincidentally, our dates shop is situated at a hill-ish area opposite Mount of Temptation! Since I have been doing extensive background reading prior to the journey (practically, my whole life; actually!), I was a bit excited seeing that that site believed by the Christians to be place where Jesus was tempted by Devil. Of course we didn’t visit the mount but I could see lights coming out from the apex of the mountain – probably a sacred site for Christians’ rituals and all.
Panoramic view of Sea of Galilee.
Sunday 26th March 2017 was our last day at the Prophet Land. I felt twinge of melancholy as I performed my last prayer at Masjidil Aqsa, particularly at Mihrab Zakariya. Around 8.15 a.m. we gathered our bags at the lobby. We left the hotel and went to Mount of Olive to immortalize our final shots with Jerusalem’s wide blue yonder view. Subhanallah! From the distance, you could see the golden dome of Dome of The Rock and also the grey dome of Masjidil Aqsa. Seeing the view evoked mixed feeling – in awe as still couldn’t believe that I actually stepped my footsteps there; angry at Israeli government for violating the human rights & Palestinians for being nonchalant and divided among them; mesmerized at the various faiths rooted at one single city of Jerusalem; and many more!
A sight from Mount of Olives.
On the way towards the Allenby Bridge, we went to Maqam Prophet Musa a.s. (Moses) at Jericho. We were told that although Prophet Musa a.s. led the Hebrews out of Egypt towards The Promised Land but he did not able to complete the mission but instead, it was carried by Prophet Yushak bin Nun (Joshua). We then proceeded to Allenby Bridge where Israeli immigration won’t let us go through the counter unless our buses were already waiting for us at the other side of immigration. So, we were forced to wait nearly 40 minutes and then suddenly, we were whisked to do Biometric checking. Well, I was the last one in the line – and so happened that 6 people in our entourage including me were branded in the Biometric machine as – UNABLE TO IDENTIFY! Hence, we were asked to line up at another counter where there were a lot of Pakistani and Indians who were always wanted to cut the queue! It took us all around another 30 minutes to have everyone safely passed through the Israeli immigration! I thought I was going to be remanded for 3-6 hours – like the usual detainment commanded by the Israeli immigration! Haha! Alhamdulillah!
Maqam of Prophet Musa a.s. (Moses).
We crossed the border and then via Jordan Valley, headed towards Amman to have lunch there. We went to Al-Salt to visit the maqam (tomb) of Prophet Yushak bin Nun (Joshua), who as I mentioned before this served as the leader of the Hebrews to the Promised Land after the disappearance of Prophet Musa a.s. (Moses). It was quite challenging to reach there as it is situated at Balqa Highland. The room of the tomb was very cute with its arch and emanated some sense of mystical ambiance. My entourage members and I felt like a DejaVu; we felt as if we were in a scene of the famous TV3 religio-documentary “Jejak Rasul” (Footsteps of the Prophets)! Not that far across the Wadi Shuayb or Valley of Jethro, we visited the maqam of Prophet Syuayb a.s. (Jethro). It was really an intimidating journey to board the bus to 1,200 metres above the sea level! Nonetheless, the view was spectacular! We could see hard rocks contour intertwined with greenish pasture and herds of mountain goats grazing at the terrain. Subhanallah! At that absolute point, I had the epiphany on how our prophets had travelled far across these mountainous areas to spread the Tauhid (Oneness of God SWT)! Subhanallah!
The Maqam of Prophet Yushak bin. Nun (Joshua), the one who continued to shepherd the Israelites to The Promised Land, after the disappearance of Prophet Musa a.s. (Moses).
Climbing Valley of Jethro (Syuayb) to visit the Maqam of Prophet Syuayb a.s. (Jethro). Imagine how our prophets travelled just to spread the Tauhid (Oneness of ALLAH SWT) to people?
We visited the Ashabul Kahfi or known as The Cave of 7 Sleepers at Amman, Jordan. We performed Maghrib-Isyak there and then off to have dinner at a restaurant at the city. At 9.45 p.m., we reached The Queen Alia International Airport although our flight was schedule at 2.20 a.m.! We passed through all the usual procedure for international flight departure and then waited at the lobby. At that particular time, I was starting to feel feverish so I simply dozed off until 1.30 a.m. Throughout the 13 hours flight from Amman, Jordan to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with Bangkok as our 1 hour transit, I was in feverish state but Alhamdulillah, the Panadols did some justice to my body.
The Ashabul Khafi or Cave of The 7 Sleepers.
On whole, I felt grateful. Alhamdulillah that I have the chance to crystallize this dream. Having background reading on The Holy City (since I was a child) and also “Jerusalem : The Biography” by Simon Montefiorre really helped me to understand Jerusalem! Of course, I do feel twinge of melancholy as I learned that one of my friends of whom I have prayed at Masjidil Aqsa; passed away one week after this spiritual journey. Perhaps ALLAH SWT answered the prayers to alleviate his pain? Inalillah. Everyone goes back to ALLAH SWT.
The Segregation Wall, also dubbed as The Apartheid Wall erected by Israeli Government. So sad. Where is the human right? You guys can read more here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_West_Bank_barrier.
And this journey has taught me a lot to be grateful – seeing the lives of the Palestinians especially the UNHCR camps invigorates my Humanistic instinct and certainly complements with my Ph.D doctoral degree research on Angelina Jolie’s UNHCR (humanitarian) speeches (I am doing rhetorical communication!); in fact I saw the signboard to Al-Azraq at Jordan, a place where UNHCR refugee camps are located and Angie did a site visit A;-Azraq Refugee Camps and she released press statement there (of which will be included in my research, Insya ALLAH). We have to count our blessings; God is Great.