In Jerusalem, you can’t call Friday only a Muslim day of prayer. This is also the day of Jesus’ death, which is celebrated here weekly, and of course the Sabbath for the Jews begins at sundown. So, at some point in the day, I observe an observance for each of the three faiths.
The main time of prayer for Muslims was mid-day. Non-muslims are not allowed in the mosque here, but I wait at the Damascus gate for them to come out. When they do, there is about an hour of the streets being packed beyond imagination. At this point, the day of prayer turns to market day. Vendors come and line the center of the narrow streets and begin screaming at the top of their lungs. Their wares of fruits and veggies are the most common, but there is also cell phones, toys, lingerie and everything in-between on display. At the top of the stairs outside the gate, a van pulls up, and a classic pitch man in the tradition of Billy Mays is dramatically opening boxes and calling whatever is inside.
Once the streets clear, it is time for the Christians to walk the stations of the cross, stopping at each point to pray, sing and kiss the appropriate shrine. It ends in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, packed with worshipers and tourists. Kissing the tomb of Jesus and staying for a worship service, complete with chanting monks echoing through the archways.
With sunset about an hour away, I head over to the western wall where a few of the faithful are praying while tourists stand by quietly, taking pictures. Others are pulling out chairs and tables and arranging them around the plaza. Slowly, the crowd swells as groups gather around their rabbis’ tables awaiting sundown. All around me, high school students and families separated by male and female go to their respective sides of the wall. The singing and chanting begin happening in small groups all around me. At this point, I put my camera away, since taking pictures constitutes work on the sabbath. I record the sounds as I weave in and out of the crowd as it swells to fill every corner of the large square in front of the wall.
I had two amazing conversations today. The first with a Muslim shopkeeper, and the second with a British Jew. Both did not want to be filmed as we talked because our conversations turned to controversial subjects. I discovered two sides to the coin that both held my attention with their passion for the issues at stake in this city. The Muslim spoke with sadness and a little bit of bitterness while the Jew spoke with joy and an air of hope.
I had something clarified for me today when it comes to the difference between the three faiths from the perspective of a Muslim. They believe that we all come from the same roots, but the Jews had missed it when they became a nation that believes they are the only way. Christians lost their way when they began to worship Jesus as God. Islam is here to show us all the way back to God. And Mohammed came as a prophet to set us all straight in the path to God. Though, as I was told repeatedly as we chatted, he said if we choose not to convert to Islam we should be allowed to continue to practice our religion in peace. I was also told that Islam has only ever gone to war to bring this truth to the world until the United States came along and pitted Muslims against each other. Only then did Islam take on the face we see it as today. Some of this made sense to me and some of it didn’t, but that wasn’t what I learned. I learned that listening gave me a look at a very different world view that in some ways clashed with mine. But just hearing it gave me a perspective I couldn’t have had if I clung too tightly to my views.
Later in the week, I got to the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque sits. After an ordeal with security, I stepped foot on the Mount and immediately was taken by the vastness of the space. The trickle of tourists were lost it the space. All around the grounds were groups, couples and families sitting, playing, eating, learning and praying. I began to realize the upside of not allowing tourist to flood in. This is the only place in the Old City where there are uninterrupted spans to get away from the noise. This is their space and they are using it to pray and connect. The dome up close is more beautiful and ornate than even from a distance. It glistens in the the sunlight from every direction. There is no way to take it all in in such a short period of time. Which is true of my entire time here. I am just getting a glimpse into the window of life in Jerusalem and moving on.
Author: Andy Yardy