The morning of 14th of July 2017. That was the day that changed everything. It was our first morning in the blessed city of Jerusalem, and it was moments after the Fajr prayer whilst we were seated on the balcony of Hashimi Hotel, that something happened which changed our entire experience there!
We arrived in Jerusalem on the night of 13th July, 2017. We were amazed by the narrow streets of the Old City and the walls that surrounded it. Eager to get to the Masjid, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and after having some dinner, we headed towards it not knowing what to expect. Upon arrival at one of the entrances, an Israeli soldier told us that the Masjid was closed for the night and so we retreated back to the Hotel for some much-needed rest.
On Friday the 14th of July 2017 before sunrise, we awoke for the Fajr prayer and thought we’d go pray in the Masjid Al Aqsa. I was feeling extremely tired from jetlag, so I thought I’d make my way to the masjid for Jumuah instead and pray Fajr in my hotel room. Everyone else managed to head out of the hotel on the Friday morning and fortunately got to pray the Fajr Salah in congregation. I was told by my husband and brother that the Qibli Masjid located within the Masjid al-Aqsa complex was packed and many other visitors from the UK as well as many other visitors from various countries around the world could be seen.
Later that morning, we headed downstairs to the dining room of the hotel for some breakfast and we got speaking to the chef who is known to prepare some delicious omelettes. As we were speaking to him about timings of Jumuah prayer, he all of a sudden mentioned to us that the Masjid was closed! We questioned him further and found out that an incident involving three men who had been killed in the complex had occurred after Fajr and therefore the Masjid was closed until further notice. We were utterly shocked and I was deeply devastated and immediately regretted not going to the Masjid at Fajr time. I had missed my chance to see the Masjid and now I couldn’t visit it despite only being a stones throw away. The emotions that ran through my mind at the time was unexplainable.
Not being able to visit Masjid al Aqsa on the first official day of our trip was absolutely heart-breaking. From the Hotel rooftop balcony, we gazed towards the beautiful Masjid and now that’s all we could do. Our hearts yearned for Masjid al Aqsa but it was just not meant to be.
Disappointed with the news about Masjid al-Aqsa being closed, we still held onto the rope of hope and enquired if there was any way Jumuah would go ahead. We were informed by the staff at our hotel that news was passing around about several hundred-people gathering outside the Masjid complex to perform Jumuah. We decided to dress our best anyways and head towards the Masjid entrance. When we arrived, we saw a constant stream of people standing in rows in preparation for the Jumuah prayers. Astonishingly, this was outside the Masjid entrance. With multiple entrances to the complex, each and every entry point had a large number of people doing the exact same thing. We stood and sat side by side with the local Palestinians whilst water was passed around due to the extreme heat. Ahead of us, we could see the Israel Defence Force Officers guarding the Masjid in order to prevent access. It was a powerful and intense moment seeing them surrounding the Muslims preparing to pray. It’s one of those moments that I look back at which makes me feel that it strengthened my conviction and belief in Allah, as we stood our ground and prayed the Jumuah Salah despite being open and exposed to being involved in an attack. Who knew what would happen in this situation. One thing my husband remembers seeing vividly was how 4-5 IDF Officers equipped with guns and other weapons would transport a Jewish person amidst the crowd from one side of the street to another, whilst some Muslims were gestured to the side with the weapons of the officers.
At this point we got wind of the fact that metal detectors had been set up outside each and every gate and entry point to the Al-Aqsa complex. So, we were allowed in, but we had to go through these metal detectors. There was no question about it! This was something that we expected to happen. We wanted to support the locals in their boycott of the Masjid due to the metal detectors and extra security that was enforced by the soldiers. Obviously, these had been setup due to the incident. This was an audacious move by the government and one that was strongly opposed by the local Palestinians. The locals immediately refused to enter the Masjid until the detectors had been taken down. After many protests, which took place for over a week, the Israeli government decided to get rid of the metal detectors. We got news of this after we returned back to the UK.
With all this going on, we decided to perform our five daily Salah in the streets just outside the Masjid entrance to show solidarity towards the locals in their protest.
There was a point where only the elderly and foreigners were allowed in the Masjid and the locals would stand outside and boo those who were entering and exiting the complex. This was difficult to watch but we could feel their pain and anger. Whilst all this was happening, on the night of the incident, we happened to hear from our hotel rooms what we called, ‘a miraculous Azaan’. It quickly became news and it seemed that no one knew the source of the Azaan as Masjid al-Aqsa was closed and Isha time had passed and so it could not have been from any other mosques around the area. It seemed like it was coming from the direction of Masjid al-Aqsa.
It was completely unbearable not visiting the Masjid and so once the gates were opened, despite the locals boycotting the Masjid, we walked towards the furthest and quietest entrance to not offend them. When I finally got to visit Masjid Al Aqsa my heart finally felt at ease and roaming its beautiful courtyard brought coolness to the eyes. I personally felt that each time I entered the complex the air and atmosphere just changed; it was always cooler and more serene.
For the remainder of our trip we usually took the quietest route. On one of the days a local shop owner witnessed us heading towards the Masjid and called us traitors jokingly. We spoke to him and expressed our desire to visit the mosque as we only had a few days left and didn’t know if and when we’d be returning. Of course, after speaking to him, we came to see that he understood our situation and expressed the boycott was more for the locals and not the foreigners who have especially come to visit the Masjid. We felt at ease upon hearing his words and parted with smiles.
Visiting the complex during this time was actually quite beautiful as it was almost like we had the place to ourselves. It was so peaceful and calm as there were no large crowds. We managed to take many photos of the Masjid and the entire complex without anyone photobombing them which was quite nice for once, as this can be quite challenging when taking photos in any popular place in the world. Overall, we got to experience something that many others who have travelled to Jerusalem have probably never experienced whilst travelling to the Holy City. This makes our entire experience so unique and a story to tell for many years to come.
We hope and pray that we pass through this pandemic soon and that we can one day visit these blessed lands again inshaAllah!