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Muslim tourists need to visit Jerusalem

India Post, May 20, 2011, A.Q. Siddiqui


CHICAGO: Muslims all over the world have a reason to visit Jerusalem. The Holy land has been the native land for all the Prophets Muslims believe in. There is Al-Aqsa Mosque the first direction (Qibla) to which Muslims prayed in early days. The Holy Rock where Prophet Abraham brought his son Ismael for sacrifice and from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven to meet his Lord.

But there is yet a strong reason for Muslims to visit Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque. It is the announcement of Allah Himself in Holy Quran that declares it a place, “the neighborhood whereof We have blessed” (the very first line of Surah The Children of Israel, in Quran). So anyone who wants to enter the “blessing of Allah” shall enter the Al-Aqsa mosque. This is an open announcement for those who read Quran and understand it. The smallest verses in Holy Quran have great meanings. For example, for Holy Kaaba (the House of God), Allah says in Quran, “who so ever enters it, is safe!”(Verse 97 surah Al Imran). Now it is up to believers to understand what safety they get when they enter the House of God. Of course, they will be safe from the fire of Hell, from the evils of world and you keep counting.

This was my second visit to Jerusalem and the very first thought that crept to my mind when I visited the deserted Al-Aqsa mosque was; this is the place where all American Muslims must visit and donate generously to make it a great place of worship. There were only 2-3 Palestinian women praying inside.

The Dome of the Rock needs repairs. It was built in year 691 by Caliph Abd-el Malik on the holy rock upon which Prophet Abraham is believed to have brought his son for sacrifice. At right hand side, the Turk rulers have built a small enclosure containing the footprint of Prophet Muhammad as he ascended upon the Buraq for his journey to Heaven. Also there is a visible mark believed to be the handprint of the Archangel Gabriel who held down the rock during Prophet Muhammad’s ascent.

Just within short walking distance is the Church of Holy Sepulcher. According to Christian tradition, Adam’s bones are buried here and there is the grave of Jesus. This was the place where Prophet Jesus was crucified. The Romans have prepared a grave for him. Christians believe the Jesus was buried there. The believing Christians touch the grave and pray for healing. Muslims believe it is an empty grave, because Prophet Issa (Jesus) was ascended to Heaven. On the other side of Al-Aqsa mosque and within walking distance is the Western Wall, the remaining of Temple Mount Jews world over face to pray and believe the Holy Presence never left the Western Wall.

Jerusalem, the Holy land for world’s three monotheistic religions is very easy to visit by American Muslims. U.S. Passport holders need no visa to enter it from Tel Aviv airport. Many Muslims travel to Jerusalem via Amman. But it takes only 40 minutes and USD60 from Tel Aviv airport to your hotel in Jerusalem. All the 5 star hotels were full with Christian tourist from across the world.

As I visited the city of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I wondered what the Muslim countries achieved since the boycott of Israel for last 43 years. Israel has built beautiful twin cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within a short time. …

On my way to Dead Sea, I saw a road sign that read, “the Mountain where Prophet Moses was seen last”, in the same mountain desert, I saw a Palestinian family living in a makeshift tent under the hot sun. If Muslim world makes truce with Israel and develops Muslim tourism, Jerusalem will be the next most visited place in the world after Makkah and Medinah. The untapped Muslim tourism industry will yield to share the prosperity by Palestinians. Muslims world over yearn to visit Jerusalem. However, a security concern deters Muslims all over the world from visiting Jerusalem. At the same time thousands of Christians from all over the world visit Jerusalem.

The 5-star hotel where I stayed was full of Christian tourists from European countries. And ours was the only Muslim family in the entire hotel. Busloads of tourists left the hotel in early morning. The receptionist informed me the tourists keep pouring in throughout the year.

If there occurs a truce between Israel and Muslim world, the Muslim tourists will flock to the Holy land perhaps more than the Christian tourists. The Muslim countries can invest in tourism projects in Jerusalem that will ultimately benefit the local Palestinians. The Israel boycott has not benefited Muslim world in the least. It has only kept away the Muslims from Muslim countries visiting the Holy land. The hotel I stayed was a Jewish management and I enjoyed my stay and the kosher food in the hotel. When I entered the Western wall security managed by Israeli soldiers, they respectfully inspected my family and allowed us to visit the Western Wall. A Palestinian from a distance yelled at us why we Muslims are visiting the Jewish place of worship?

American Muslims can travel via Tel Aviv. Israeli immigration officer only asked us if we have hotel booking for our stay. Turkish airlines offer most convenient connections to U.S. Muslims from Chicago, New York or Washington to visit Israel and proceed to Saudi Arab for Umrah.

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A.Q. Siddiqui

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