Jerusalem is an intriguing city which is divided into east and west and represents a diverse canvas of both religion and culture. And so when a new colleague of mine, Mira, invited me for a tour of Al-Aqsa mosque with her family, I naturally accepted. We arrived at Al-Aqsa on Saturday afternoon in the prime of heat and I was anxious to see this sacred and historical site with my own eyes. After all, the mosque is the third most sacred place for Muslims in the world and contains the rock where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. With anticipation rising in my chest, we finally came to the outer entrance of the gate that leads into the mosque. Mira, being a wonderfully prepared hostess, pulls out a lovely white head scarf for me to put on as we approach the Arab-Israeli guard who was checking passports for folks to enter. Mira hands him her passport and explains that the two young children with us are her brother and sister. The guard then asks for my passport, which I happily hand him. He then proceeds to ask me, well to be quite honest quiz me, on Islam. He asks if I can recite the Fatiha in addition to any other verses in the Koran. Keep in mind that we are standing in front of a long line of people all watching to see if I can past this elusive test to prove my “Muslimness.” It is true that my father, as well as the Iranian side of my family, are all Muslims; however, religion was never forced upon me nor was it ever even a topic that we would discuss during say family dinners and so years later, while I am technically a Muslim by birth, I cannot say that I am anywhere near an expert on the subject.
Mira quickly intervenes and is speaking Arabic so quickly that I am having a hard time following. Eventually, the guard hands me back my passport and says to Mira that he will let me pass, but I will still have to get past the Sheik. Malesh. We continue inside the long hallway only to come across a second set of guards who stop us and proceed to quiz me all over again. At this point, I concede and tell Mira that I will just wait for her outside – but she refuses to give up. Finally, after an intense negotiation process and a promise from her that she would not let a non-Muslim inside, they let me pass. The outer compound surrounding the mosque is beautiful and serene. We walk slowly trying to soak up all of the imagery as we approach the entrance to the mosque. Upon the entrance, we come across the final set of men that will determine once and for all if we are allowed to enter. Mira is told immediately that she cannot enter because she is wearing long pants, instead of a long skirt – which is apparently the only acceptable attire for inside the mosque. He agrees to let the “children” pass (which somehow included me even though I too was wearing pants) and the three of us head inside.
The inside of the mosque is breathtaking. We choose each step carefully in an attempt to notice the smallest of the intricate details surrounding us. Mira’s little sister, Bella, guides me around the mosque explaining the history to me in her bold yet broken English. We walk downstairs to a quiet space where the famous rock is located and just sit taking in this momentous occasion. After several moments we continue our stroll inside and walk quietly around those praying and paying homage to this holy place.
The trip to Jerusalem was certainly more than just a visit to a famous religious and historical site; it brought to light the deeper and revered importance that religion holds here. I would never have imagined that being born into a religion would matter as much as it appeared to on that hot summer day in June. But like many things here, it is the most unanticipated aspects of ourselves, our history, our backgrounds and our experiences that in the end tend to be our saving grace.
Posted By Rangineh Azimzadeh
Posted Jun 24th, 2009