OVER THE past week or so, several people have – through the press, Internet and TV and satellite stations – attempted to focus attentiaon on the ignorance, on the part of many Arabs and Muslims, of what Al-Aqsa mosque looks like and on the likelihood of some confusing Al-Aqsa mosque with the Dome of the Rock.
Individuals who wrote or spoke about the matter cautioned against Israeli attempts to capitalise on such ignorance or confusion. Some of them have reported that Israel is even already selling or distributing for free, in Western as well as Islamic countries, a picture of the Dome of the Rock with the words “Al-Aqsa mosque” under it.
“This has confirmed in my mind,” one person writes, “the conclusion that Israel wants to eliminate the picture of Al-Aqsa mosque from the minds of people, so that when the time comes for it to destroy it and build its temple, it can show the Dome of the Rock and claim that Al Aqsa is intact.”
Whether this story is true or not, two things are crystal clear. The first is that under Israeli occupation, Al-Aqsa Mosque is not safe at all. One will never forget Israel’s attempt (through someone it claimed to be a lunatic) to burn it after it fell under its occupation, following the 1967 war. One will never underestimate also the serious threat to it caused by the Israeli digs under it. Indeed in Israeli hands, Al Aqsa is in real danger.
The second point is that many Arabs and Muslims, especially members of the younger generation, do not know what Al-Aqsa Mosque looks like. I have conducted a small experiment, asking several acquaintances about Al Aqsa, and I have found out that many indeed do not know what it looks like.
One thing was clear in the experiment: they all know that Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are two distinct entities, though they are part and parcel of the Haram Al Sharif area. In other words, none confuses the two – which is good news. The bad news is that while many know by heart what the Dome of the Rock looks like (and they can draw it for you), very few know what Al Aqsa looks like. There is cause for concern here.
The ignorance is caused, first and foremost, by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Prior to 1967, a great many Arabs and Muslims made it a point to visit Al Aqsa. A majority of Muslim pilgrims (old and young, men and women, Arab and non-Arab) from all over the world visited Jerusalem and prayed at Al Aqsa upon the completion of pilgrimage in Mecca and Medina. In fact, Muslim pilgrims have it in their heart of hearts that their pilgrimage is somewhat incomplete without the performance of prayers in Jerusalem from which prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967 has prevented Arabs and Muslims from visiting Jerusalem, to the vexation and dismay of millions of Muslims, and has deprived them of the opportunity to pray and become familiar with it. While millions of Arab and Muslim pilgrims go home annually with vivid images of the holy places in Mecca and Medina, and report what they see to their family members and neighbours, none goes home with memories of Al Aqsa.
The ignorance is caused, secondly (unintentionally, I am sure), by the Arabs and Muslims themselves. While many make it a point to buy, post, publicise pictures of the Dome of the Rock, very few buy, post and publicise the picture of Al Aqsa Mosque. In fact, for years and until now people have been giving each other as a gift, on important occasions, pictures of the Dome of the Rock. No one gives pictures of Al Aqsa. Newspapers and TV stations have always (unintentionally, again) highlighted the picture of the Dome at the expense of Al Aqsa.
One does not want to underestimate the importance of the Dome, nor does one want to give the impression that the two sites are unrelated (as I have said, the two are part and parcel of the one Haram Al Sharif area). What one wants to stress, however, is that equal attention needs to be paid to both the Dome and Al Aqsa. It is true that the Dome is magnificent, and that because of its uniqueness and visibility it has come to symbolise Jerusalem, but Al Aqsa is also magnificent in its beauty and its uniqueness. Look at its picture!
The Arabs and Muslims are called upon – until Israel withdraws from Arab East Jerusalem and allows the eager millions of Muslims to come to Jerusalem to quench their thirst and crown their pilgrimage with a stay in Jerusalem (in fact Muslims should ask and insist on the right of free access to Jerusalem even before Israel withdraws) – to get to know Al Aqsa.
Let’s buy, love and cherish the picture of the Dome of the Rock, but let’s also buy, love and cherish the picture of Al-Aqsa Mosque. And let’s also place pressure on Israel to allow Arabs and Muslims to visit Al Aqsa without Israel preventing or placing zillion obstacles on their path.