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.” This was the thought that immediately crossed my mind as I looked at an online flyer of a group journey from Istanbul, Turkey to Al-Quds, Palestine. 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 who was sold on 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 on 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
Having touched 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, but 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”, which is the largest gate on the eastern part of the old city of Jerusalem. I also notice that every house is built of the same stone, which gives the city a consistent splendid sandy colour. Jerusalem owns a different atmosphere and 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
The old city of Jerusalem is situated between the two deep valleys where Al-Aqsa can be easily spotted 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. It was last restored by the Ottomans in the year 1541 A.D. and has been untouched ever since. 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) and we notice Israeli soldiers covering the whole premises, which is a part of daily life here. We see a town adorned with lights and graffiti on the walls- a dove of peace and the words ‘free Palestine’. We walk deeper into the old city and see lots of little markets, bakery shops and various people selling their vegetables and fresh fruits on the street. Our highlight was having, more often than not, the Palestinian sweet dish “Knafeh” with tea. The sight of children playing in narrow streets, Christians doing their pilgrimage, Jews with their black hats heading straight to the Wailing Wall and elderly Palestinians in their traditional attire socializing give 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 gigantic cameras are to be seen at every corner of every surrounding street. This enables the continuous examination and scrutiny of every tiny incident that takes place, 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 and 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 (qubbatu ʾṣ-ṣaḫra), the mosque of Al-Aqsa and other smaller mosques. The foundation stone of Al-Aqsa was laid by the very first human Prophet Adam (AS) and his children, then it was constructed by Prophet Suleiman (AS). 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 journey of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) 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 and I have never experienced so many people who invited us to join their meal. I had my first falafel ever, and I am not going to spoil it, you should try 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 were arrested and taken in. With no knowledge of how long they’ll be held, she tells us how she passes her time without any support whatsoever. In 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 every 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 there is a lot that is much more worthwhile on this Earth and only faith can provide with the much-needed hope and strength. This made me also see how grateful I should be. If there should be 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). I wander through tales and hearts. I realise through my journey that everything carries a significance for me.
I had no knowledge that I was already sick, but I have had already experienced true hope and the core of my faith, which would aid me immensely on my coming test. I would 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. Based in Germany, Hilal is multi-skilled and works in science and creating her own brand in natural cosmetics. She is a passionate traveler and shares her stories about different cultures and lifestyles on her social media. Her travel highlight is (obviously) her journey to Palestine.
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