Jerusalem is known to be one of the oldest cities in the world which is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Islam, Jerusalem is the third most sacred city after Makkah and Madina. This is where you can find Masjid Al- Aqsa - the first Qibla' before the Ka'bah and this was also where Isra’ Mi’raj took place. Isra’ Mi’raj is the miraculous night journey of the Prophet (may peace be upon him), where he ascended to the heavens and met with the earlier prophets and then God. This was when the five daily prayers were determined.
I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience Jerusalem twice. Both were umrah packages I booked which included Jerusalem. My first time was with Jalaluddin Travel & Services and the other was with Noor Mohamad Services & Travel. Both experiences were awe-inspiring; and now, I am going to share with you my experience in one of my all-time favourite cities to visit.
Entry to Israel
During my first time to Jerusalem, I was quite nervous given the news all over the internet about the aggression and riot between the Israelis and Palestinians. But alhamdulillah, despite some challenges with the Israelis, our journey was smooth throughout.
Our first challenge was when we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport (aka Tel Aviv Airport) immigration. Some individuals from our tour group of age 30 years and below were held back for about 3 hours for questioning - and I was the only one in my family who was asked to proceed with some others from my tour group to the waiting area. Here were some of the questions they asked:
- What is your family name?
- What is your purpose of coming here?
- Do you know any Palestinians here?
Always keep calm and answer their questions in a calm manner. After answering the questions, it's all about the waiting game and then you're off to continue your journey to Jerusalem. Although it can take a pretty long time for you to be granted entry, just a little patience will get you through all the waiting and questioning. 😊
Arriving in Jerusalem
The weather in Jerusalem in December can get very cold and dry. The temperature can drop as low as 3 °C or sometimes, even lower. There was once where it even snowed! However, the last time I went, the lowest temperature was only about 9 °C in the morning and about 15 °C in the afternoon. So, be sure that you bring the necessary garments to keep you warm while exploring the city.
For both times I travelled to Jerusalem, I stayed in Holy Land Hotel which is apparently one of the nearest hotels to Masjid Al-Aqsa (about 10 mins walk):
The highlight of Jerusalem is, of course, the blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa - the exact point where the Prophet (may peace be upon him) ascended to the heavens. I honestly never thought that I would ever set foot in Masjid Al-Aqsa after hearing and watching a lot about the violence that happened here between Israelis and Palestinians. But alhamdulillah, on the days that I travelled to Jerusalem, there wasn’t any chaos. All I felt was immense serenity.
When we first set foot in Masjid Al Aqsa, our knowledgeable Palestinian tour guide, Hisyam a.k.a. Abu Ameer shared one very common misconception where many people thought that the Dome Of The Rock and/or Masjid Qibli is Masjid Al-Aqsa; when in actual fact, it is the whole compound within the four walls which consist of four prayer areas. Here is an illustration for a better understanding:
And here comes the best part – exploring Masjid Al-Aqsa! Hisyam brought us to see all the four prayer areas and this is what it looks like inside:
1.Masjid Al- Qibli
This Masjid within Masjid Al-Aqsa is usually the main prayer area for performing the 5 daily prayers.
2. Dome Of The Rock
On Friday, women will perform their Friday prayers here while men perform the prayers at Masjid Qibli – all within Masjid Al-Aqsa.
3. The Marwan Prayer Area
Hisyam shared with us that this chamber within Marwan Prayer Area is believed to be Siti Maryam’s chamber where she sought refuge in God when she was falsely accused of adultery.
4. Wall of Buraq’
This is where it is believed that the prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) tied the Buraq - the animal he rode during the Night of Ascension. Fascinatingly, on the other side of the wall, is the wailing wall – where Jewish people perform their prayer and pilgrimage.
The Western/Wailing Wall
Other than Masjid Al-Haram and Masjid Nabawi, some of us may not know the benefits of praying in Masjid Al-Aqsa. Here is hadith on the benefits of praying in Masjid Al-Aqsa:
Anas Ibn Malik (ra) relates that the Prophet (saw) said, ” The prayer of a person in his house is a single prayer; his prayer in the Masjid of his people has the reward of 27 prayers; his prayer in the Masjid in which the Friday prayer is observed has the reward of 500; his prayer in Masjid Al-Aqsa (i.e. Al-Aqsa Sanctuary) has a reward of 5,000 prayers; his prayer in my Masjid (the Prophet’s Masjid in Madinah) has a reward of 50,000 prayers, and the prayer in the Sacred Masjid (Ka’bah) has the reward of 100,000 prayers”. [Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah]
Personally, for me, the best experience and the best memory I have here is the morning walk from the hotel to Masjid Al-Aqsa for Fajr prayers. Masha'Allah, the ambience, the serenity as I walked to the Masjid with the tour group and locals; their hands occupied (not with mobile phones but with prayer beads) making dzikir
while walking to the Masjid. The azan could be heard loud and clear echoing throughout the city which instantly calms the mind and heart. I was 100% at ease. There isn't anything like it.
Touring Old City & Bethlehem
Believe me when I say that Jerusalem is super rich with the histories of the prophets. The best thing about following a guided tour is that they will bring you to the specific historical areas, Masjids and Maqams to story tell about the past - and for you to be at that area where our prophets have been, it’s just overwhelming. Here are a few of the Masjids and Maqams that we managed to ziarah:
1. Masjid & Maqam Nabi Musa
2. Maqam Nabi Ishaq
3. Masjid Omar Ibn Khattab
4. Maqam of a Saint of Islam
As compared to Madinah and Makkah, in Jerusalem, you will get to experience more of the locals as the city is not overcrowded with pilgrims from all over the world like Madina and Makkah. The locals here are very warm and friendly. There were people giving out candies, dates and teas on your way back to the hotel from prayers, people gathering as a group, sitting in circles to recite Al-Qur'an together, people greeting each other with "Assalamu a'laikum" as they walk past one another. There were also lots and lots of friendly cats everywhere 😊
One thing that we should note when we are exploring the city, is that there will be a lot of children asking for sadaqah; especially in Bethlehem. The tour guide advised us not to give sadaqah for the sake of our safety, as well as to not encourage the children to ask for sadaqah. Apparently, most of the children ask for sadaqah on the streets instead of going to school. If you were to give to one child, all the other children will come to you. Some people from the tour group prepared sweets and snacks for the kids instead of giving them money. Unless you prepared sufficient sweets and snacks for everyone, I would strongly suggest to just have a chat with the children instead 🙂 Yes, I admit, it is almost impossible to reject these kids. When you look at the state that they are in, you would understand what I mean. Some of them were in dirty clothing and some were as young as 5 years old. As much as you want to give, I would suggest to listen to the tour guide's advice; for your own safety, as well as the children’s.
Although the tour package we booked came with buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner, we still had to try their street food and the one thing I can never miss in Jerusalem is the freshly baked breads and pastries sold on the streets and walkways. It's sooo gooooood, and you can never find the same in Singapore. We also got the chance to try out their authentic local food in one of the restaurants and my goodness their food portion was huge! While we enjoy Palestinian food, almost none of their food was spicy. So, for someone who loves spicy food, some of us actually brought sambal balacan and chilli padi! 😂
All in all, I strongly encourage all Muslims to experience Jerusalem. Other than Makkah and Madina, Jerusalem holds so many histories and lessons that we can learn from. It would be a very pleasant unforgettable experience just to be in the blessed and sacred city – with Hisyam sharing with us the stories that Jerusalem holds, it's just like you are living the past. And to learn in depth of the journey and struggles our prophets went through to spread Islam is just heartwarming and inspiring.
There is nowhere else in this world where you can experience anything like this. I remember Hisyam reminding us all to come to Jerusalem with our friends and family again in the future. His message throughout the whole trip was to encourage all Muslims to come visit their home – Jerusalem. I knew at that moment that I had to get the word out to our Muslim community and so, here I am sharing my experience/story. Alhamdulillah 😊