One of the most inspiring and life changing trips that I have had has been my short, but immensely sweet, visit to Palestine last year. However, despite the allure of Masjid Al-Aqsa, (“Al-Aqsa Mosque”- the third holiest site in Islam, located in the Old City of Jerusalem) I am saddened to hear people, especially Muslims, hesitating when thinking about visiting this very special place. Concerns over security, the notorious border crossing stories that circulate are amongst some of the reasons cited.
Having had an amazingly positive experience myself, dealing with the somewhat expected challenges and making the most of my just three-day visit, I want everyone to know that it can be done, and not just that – it will also be totally amazing!
My visit to Palestine came from a random opportunity as I was joining my husband on a conference in Amman, Jordan. I had a small inkling that the border to enter Jerusalem was not far, and I wondered whether it was possible at all to actually cross the border by ourselves as I thought you needed to be in a travel group.
Speaking to a friend and an expert tours and travel agent from South Africa, they said the magical words to me: “Yes, it can easily be done, and here’s how!” They explained how to get to the border, the process of security checking and then once through how to get to Jerusalem, which is a 40 min drive away.
I also read up on tons of articles on people’s advice on travelling over, guides on the best way to manage the border cross over, all which is readily available online. So after a few days in Amman, I was joined by my mum, who came all the way from South Africa, and we simply took a 45-minute taxi over to the border to begin our exhilarating visit to Jerusalem and Palestine.
In the three days, we visited Masjid Al-Aqsa and the Old City in Jerusalem, as well as a few day trips to Palestinian cities in the West Bank such as Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron; these towns were filled with history and culture. For sure, the memories of walks through the cobbled streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, with the sights and sounds of fruit sellers displaying the wares, and fresh falafel being prepared will stay with me forever.
If you are contemplating a trip to the land of Palestine, here are a few sound reasons why you should definitely go for it:
You can do it, safely and easily
If all the necessary preparations are in place, there is no reason why you cannot easily enter and have a safe, beautiful visit. It may involve some sacrifice of your time, effort and patience but the return will be great. And afterwards, I am sure you will come back with your own border crossing tale to tell!
To feel the serenity and sheer blessedness of the place
When you step into the Al-Aqsa Compound (the entire piece of land including the Dome of the Rock), you feel something extraordinary in the air. It’s like you can feel the blessings descend, knowing the remarkable incidents that have taken place there such as the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) ascension to the Heavens (Isra and Miraj). Everyone is friendly and welcoming- they love to welcome visitors and to pray inside Al-Aqsa is absolutely incredible.
When we first got there, our guide was taking us around the sites in the Old City, and every time we passed a masjid, she would ask whether we wanted to pray our Asr prayers there and we were so excited we kept answering: “No, we want to see Al-Aqsa… Please take us there!” I don’t think the reality hit us till many hours later and all we wanted to do was to go back to pray more and as much as we could in that beautiful masjid.
It’s so different to Haram in Makkah in that it is not usually very busy and you can pray in the first row, so you can have a lot of time to yourself to enjoy and take in the place in your own pace.
To bring solidarity with the Palestinians
It’s great to show support and build a sense of unity with the people of Palestine. They are incredibly welcoming and enjoy having visitors. It’s also great to support the local traders in their businesses. If you have charity to give, how amazing to be able to deliver yourself to orphanages or hospitals.
You will learn so much about Islamic History
You will learn a lot of which is not so widely known. For example, I did not know that the Western Wall is the place where Prophet Muhammad (pace be upon him) tied up Buraq (the winged riding animal upon which he rode during the Night of Ascension). This is why this Wall is called “Buraq Wall.”
The story about Caliph Umar, when he entered into Jerusalem after the Muslim takeover is inspiring and shows the tolerance of Muslims to all faiths. The Caliph declined to pray in the Christian Church so as not to set a precedent that would lead to the building’s transformation into a mosque. He instead prayed on the steps outside, allowing the church to remain a Christian holy place till today. The spot where he prayed is now a masjid called “Masjid of Umar,” and it is also a great feeling to pray in there too.
It will completely open your mind
Sure, we all read articles on the subject and maybe we have attended a few talks, but you can personally relate to the struggle only when you visit the towns like Bethlehem and Hebron, and learn the history when you see the Wall, and when you speak to locals about their day to day life. It is inspiring when you see the smiles on the faces of the locals despite their struggle when you see how life goes on. We were fortunate to witness some wedding celebrations in the Al-Aqsa compound and in the streets of the Old City after Isha prayers, which was so heartening and enjoyable! It is inspiring when you see the smiles on the faces of the locals despite their struggle when you see how life goes on. We were fortunate to witness some wedding celebrations in the Al-Aqsa compound and in the streets of the Old City after Isha prayers.
I hope this has shed some light on how this journey can be really feasible, and immensely rewarding. Do share some of your insights and highlights from your visit!
Story from Muslim Vibe