After transferring from the National Hotel on the Arab side of town over to a different hotel on the Jewish side and, there, meeting some of the family that we’ll be taking around, we had lunch with a Palestinian friend at his home in Abu Tur, just south of the Old City.
My wife took the photo above with her iPhone from our friend’s balcony, looking toward Al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount. Atop the Herodian retaining wall in the distance — all that remains from the Second Temple, at the time of Christ — you can see the gray dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Behind it, you see the larger golden Dome of the Rock, which is (if you don’t count the mere corner of the otherwise massively rebuilt Mosque of ‘Amr b. al-‘As, immediately south of Cairo) the oldest Islamic building in the world. Many archaeologists, though not all, believe that it may stand precisely on the site of the ancient temples of Solomon and Herod.
Our friend and his wife made the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, during the most recent pilgrimage season, and he’s still very much aglow from the experience. He showed us videos that they had taken during their visit there and during the community celebration of their return, and — I really enjoyed this — gave us each a little glass of water to drink that he had brought back from the sacred spring of Zamzam in Mecca, which was something I had not only never expected to do but had never even thought of.
Since he’s relatively well off, he and his wife stayed in a nice hotel adjacent to the Great Mosque that encloses the Ka‘ba in Mecca, which is the focus of Muslim prayers all around the world, and they ate very well. Though everybody dresses in white and there is a considerable effort made, in accordance with Islamic belief, to obscure and downplay class distinctions, some pilgrims are camped in tents while others are feasting in luxury hotels. I was particularly moved, therefore, and he himself became a bit emotional, when he told how he and some of the relatively affluent cobelievers he was with — a hundred people who had, as he put it, been given enough excellent food for a thousand — refused to allow the servers to take the enormous amount of leftover food away, but insisted that it be given to the poor outside. And, of course, part of the ritual of the hajj is to buy a sheep to be slaughtered, and then to donate the meat to disadvantaged people (most likely in Africa or in India).
I like that. Religion at its best.
Across the gap of doctrines and claims, I can easily understand his excitement about having made the hajj. It is, for Muslims, something like a compound, for Latter-day Saints, of going to the temple for the first time and, at the same time, coming from a great distance to attend General Conference. I really do believe that, on some levels, it’s easier for genuine believers of varying religious traditions to understand one another than for a secularist to fully understand either.
He’s taking two of his sons to Mecca next month to perform the “lesser” rites of the ‘umra with him, and is really thrilled at the opportunity to share the experience with them.
Posted from Jerusalem, Israel.