This article was first published in May 2020.
Perceive the signs and feel the blessings…
“It’s Ramadan, the last ten days. Let me experience this holy place and let me explore its sacred significance.”
As I looked at an online flyer, that thought immediately crossed my mind. A group journey from Istanbul, Turkey, to Al Quds, Palestine. The perfect way and reason to spend the last ten days in Al Quds (Jerusalem). I had dreamt of my very first destination to a holy place and taking the opportunity to increase my awareness of its monumental importance and fascinating spiritual history.
I sounded out my friend, which then agreed with the idea and decided to accompany me. Yet, I had no idea that when I would embark on the journey, I would do so without knowing that I was, in fact, sick.
I had cancer.
With no knowledge of how this journey would touch me deeply, inspire me and how it would give me a different perspective of the future, I plunged in headfirst.
From Istanbul to Al Quds
After touching down at the International Airport of Tel-Aviv, we took the coach to one of the most important places in the history of the monotheistic religions. I notice that the streets in Jerusalem are quite busy and chaotic. The pleasant sunny May weather welcomes me and places a warm smile on my face.
We check-in at a Palestinian hotel near “Bab el-Amud”, the largest gate on the eastern part of the old city of Jerusalem. The city has a consistent splendid sandy colour since every house used the same stone. Jerusalem owns a different atmosphere. I feel how the winds and the walls carry centuries-old stories waiting to be heard by wanderers carrying their hearts on their sleeves. Although this brings about sadness, it simultaneously fulfils and strengthens souls.
The Old City
In between the two deep valleys, there lies the old city of Jerusalem, where I can easily spot Al-Aqsa from a distance. One cannot miss the golden dome and the blue artwork of the Dome of the Rock, which looks like a golden rose rising to the sky. In 1541 A.D., the Ottomans restored this remarkable landmark, and since then, it has been left untouched. A quote left behind on the walls by the Ottomans during that time indicates that everyone, absolutely everyone, is welcome into this holy land.
“There is no God but Allah, Abraham is Allah’s (intimate) friend”
Inscription on Bab al Khalil, also known as Jaffa Gate
We walk through the gates of Al Quds (Jerusalem). Israeli soldiers are covering the whole premises, which is a part of daily life here. This town is adorned with lights and graffiti on the walls- a dove of peace and the words ‘free Palestine’. As we walk deeper into the old city, we see lots of little markets, bakery shops and various people selling their vegetables and fresh fruits on the street.
Our highlight was having the Palestinian sweet dish “Knafeh” with tea. The sight of children playing in narrow streets. Christians are making their pilgrimage. Jews, with their black hats, are heading straight to the Wailing Wall. Elderly Palestinians, in their traditional attire, are socializing. Everything gives me a spark of harmony at first. Until a group of Israeli soldiers suddenly encircled a local. It all vanished then. I also notice the surveillance system where I can spot gigantic cameras at every corner of every surrounding street. This enables the continuous examination and scrutiny of every tiny incident, which got on my nerves.
Nevertheless, we continue to Masjid Al-Aqsa with a strong will to spend our day praying and reading the Holy Quran. At the gates of Al-Aqsa, we notice Palestinian security services, who ensure that we are strictly there for religious purposes. This security clearance started after the infamous incident of 1990 and is to prevent any future attacks. I must also state that they were quite friendly. They welcomed us, saying, “Salam, Ramadan Mubarak!”.
Al-Aqsa – a blessed piece of land
Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa is the third holiest place in Islam, which is not a specific building but rather covers an area of 144,000 m2. It includes the golden Dome of the Rock (qubbatuʾṣ-ṣaḫra), the mosque of Al-Aqsa and other smaller mosques.
The first human who placed the foundation stone of Al-Aqsa was the Prophet Adam (AS) and his children. Then Prophet Suleiman (AS) made some constructions to the mosque. Many other significant people like Prophet Zakariyya (AS), Prophet Yahya (AS), Lady Maryam (AS) with her son Prophet Issa (as) were also guests at this holy place. Not to mention the well-known miraculous Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) journey from Mecca to Al-Aqsa in a single night, followed by his ascension into heaven.
“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”
Here I am, in front of the Dome of the Rock. Listening to the wind, opening my heart and saying my prayer up to the sky. “There is no God but You. Show me my way.”
It is time to break our fast. Never in my life before that, I experienced so many people who invited us to join their meal. Also, I had my first falafel ever! You should try it for yourself, insha’Allah! While waiting for Isha prayer, we talk to the locals and listen to their anecdotes. A woman tells us how she lost her husband in a shoot-out. An elderly lady shares how her husband and son got arrested without knowing how long the arrest was. She tells us how she passes her time without any support whatsoever. At that moment, I see how a friend attempts to give her cash, only to hear: “I don’t need money. It will not solve my problems. Just pray for me, and I’d love it if you would visit me now and then so that I won’t feel lonely.”
That was just one of many stories that I had the chance to hear and feel. I realise that a lot is much more worthwhile on this Earth. However, only faith can provide much-needed hope and strength to go through this life. This made me also see how grateful I should be. If there were any hope for our humanity left, it would be if we truly unite as one Ummah. The increasing ignorance of people means that Al-Aqsa is getting more and more empty.
Our journey continued to the Dead Sea, Bethlehem, Yafa and the tomb of Prophet Musa (AS). Through tales and hearts, I wander and realise through my journey that everything carries significance for me.
Before the trip to Al Quds, I had no knowledge that I was already sick. However, I have had already experienced true hope and the core of my faith, which would aid me immensely on my coming test. I hope that my experience would help me be stronger and more grateful for the little things since everything happens for a reason. And here I sit today sharing my tale with you so that it could be a guide for you, as it was and still is, for me.
About the author
Hilal is a graduate medical scientist and student of naturopathy. This multi-skilled young lady, who lives in Germany, works in science and creates her own natural cosmetics brand. She is a passionate traveller and shares her stories about different cultures and lifestyles on her social media. Her travel highlight is (obviously) her journey to Palestine.
Enjoyed reading this? Share your thoughts with Hilal in the comments section below.