Friday, 22 February 2019

Al Aqsa Part II


Welcome back lovelies,

I have kept you hanging long enough for part II of my Al Aqsa trip, but life was really busy and the blog took a back seat while I re-centered my groove for 2019. I have been working on this instalment for a while, and just writing about it is a wonderful trip down memory lane indeed! It brings back all the exceptional moments, the unforgettable places we visited, and accessing the vast treasuries of history.
I had arrived in the Land of the Ambiyah, Algamdulilah! ♥️

After sharing a double bed with our youngest (due to our accommodation bungle), we were up early for morning prayers at Masjidul Aqsa (PS: There was some confusion about whether there was Tahajjud salaah or not; I can confirm that they do open the mosque for Tahajjud). I was so excited, and the downpour and freezing temperatures could do nothing to dim my mood. I was in a city I had literally been yearning to visit for the longest time (and my intention had always been to perform my Hajj first- so it was a long wait), and I was ready for whatever lay ahead. So we bundled up against the cold in fur lined jackets, thick socks and set off into the rain. Our hotel was a few minutes outside Herod's Gate, and since we arrived in the dark, we kind of found our way to the Old City. Luckily we could see the walls of the Old City so we at least knew in which direction to walk, and from there we followed the signage to the mosque.

Even though it was raining, I was immersed in my surroundings from the moment I entered the gates of the Old City.  As we walked along the cobble stoned streets, surrounded by centuries old buildings which housed the locals, as the Muazzin's call reverberated through the city. I felt as if I had stepped back in time, and was present alongside all our Ambiyah who had walked these very streets enroute to the very same masjied. Subghaanallah! I cannot even begin to describe the emotions that coursed through me at that point. To say that I felt privileged would be a huge understatement, I felt honoured and awe struck to be in a place which had formed a fundamental part of my Islamic history lessons, the very scene of those stories of the prophets I grew up reading about and listening to. After many turns, we eventually arrived at a military checkpoint, where we were stopped, and Ghaalid was asked to recite Surah Al-Fatiha, to confirm he's Muslim. This was at the gate entering the Al Aqsa compound, I must admit I was very nervous as this was our first encounter with the military police in the Old City. They looked at me and wanted to know if I was Muslim, several times, and hubby confirmed that I'm his wife and Muslim. That was the extent of our 'interrogation' and we proceeded to enter the sacred grounds of Al Aqsa. 


At this point my heart was pounding in a mixture of nerves and anticipation, and we followed the lone bodies walking towards the sound of the Athaan. As we ascended the steps, the gold dome of Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock) reared up in all it's majesty. I was videoing this walk on my phone, just so I could capture the moment I first laid eyes on this revered mosque. It was drizzling, frosty cold and I couldn't take my eyes off this beautiful sight, when we then noticed was bolted shut. So we continued past, descended another set of stairs, where we first saw Masjid Al Aqsa. I entered through the women' entrance, a door which is right next to the mens entrance. At the back of the masjied is small section cordoned off with screens for the women's salaah section. I found it intriguing to see female elders of the mosque all seated at the back, directing the formation of safs (prayer lines in a mosque) and reciting Quran. For me, it represented the closeness of this community, where they congregate at the mosque for prayer times, catch up on chats, have some snacks and worship together. It was the most spectacular experience just to be in the mosque, and whilst the interior is beautiful, and it is not as gilded as Makkah or Madinah harams, but it radiates a warmth and tangible spiritual energy which is soul-stirring.

By the time we returned back to the hotel room, we were soaked through! My socks and sneakers were wet, and I couldn't feel my feet, so our priority was to get dry and warm. Our hotel was a smaller locally owned hotel, which was really close to the Old City, just outside the walls. After a traditional breakfast, (their buffet is geared towards local foods, so the meze platter essentials are always on offer, scrambled eggs, cereal and limited fruit) we met our tour guide in the foyer for a full day of sight seeing. With all the sights we visited on our first day, I will need to share it in more than one post. 

Some important comments and tips:

  1. Since we were without a representative from our travel agency, we had to try and resolve the accommodation mix up on our own. We had tried booking another room, but the hotel was full- it was not only umrah season but also Christmas. December is peak time especially since all three Abrahamic faiths have their origins in Jerusalem, therefore a few days before Christmas was the wrong time to have issues with accommodation. 
  2. We were a bit lost on how the day had been planned as we had been joined with a group from another agent, so we had to locate their representative and find out what our programme for the day was. Again without a representative the communication on these kinds of things is poor.
  3. Furthermore, we appealed to the caretaker agent to try and assist with sorting out accommodation for my son, while our own agent tried to fix it from SA.
  4. I cannot stress the importance of having a representative from your agent along, someone who knows what your bookings requirements were. We were also quite comfortable to make our way to the mosque without assistance on the first morning. This may not be the case for everyone, and for those who do not travel often, or are travelling for the first time (and in occupied territory as well) it can be extremely intimidating to navigate their own way around. These travellers may appreciate assistance with getting to the mosque for the first time, or having someone with them when confronted with military police.
  5. All in all, the challenges we faced were only related to not having our own travel agent present, however, I chose to deal with our accommodation issues after we had completed our tour that day. It would have been pointless to let that ruin a long-awaited and costly trip. So I took in the entire experience with every single fibre of my being, leaving any issues I was experiencing to be dealt with later.
Before I had visited Palestine, I did not fully comprehend how much this visit would impact me. This city, particularly this sacred mosque has found a space in my heart, where it will forever be lodged. I am forever transformed by this captivating city. 

Abu Dharr (RA) reported that he asked the Prophet (SAW), “O Messenger of Allah, which Masjid was built first on earth”? The Prophet (SAW) replied, “The Sacred Masjid of Makkah”. Abu Dharr (RA) again asked, “Which was next”? The Prophet (SAW) said, “Masjid Al-Aqsa”. Abu Dharr (RA) further asked, “How long was the period between the building of the two Masjids”? The Prophet (SAW) said, “Forty years”. Apart from these, offer your prayer anywhere when it is time to pray, although excellence is in praying in these Masjids”.
[Bukhari]

The rest of the day was spent visiting phenomenal historical sites, which will be featured in the next instalment.

Video of our first few moments in the Old City


The cobble stoned streets, my first sight of the Old City

Walking through military checkpoint, following the few lone souls towards  Al Aqsa

The first proper sight of the Dome of the Rock, still bolted shut for Fajr

Breakfast essentials at the Holy Land Hotel

The first sight of Al Aqsa Mosque
Ciao for now, 

RuBe xoxo



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