Today was a wonderful experience of getting to be a minority in a place where minorities are, out of necessity of safety, regarded as suspicious until proven otherwise. With how many threats go up against the mosques on al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf (or, the Temple Mount, depending on who you ask), I would understand why they would (almost) completely shut out non-Muslims from seeing these precious and holy sites. Thanks to the incredible connections we had, though, we got to enter not only the Dome of the Rock, but also the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest sites in Islam. Only about a thousand non-Muslims a year get to go into these sites, so this was a blessing beyond compare.
Dome of the Rock (a shrine)
Al Aqsa Mosque
Imagine one person per red spot praying on this carpet!
It was an INCREDIBLE honor to get to go inside and see the magnificence and beauty of both of these sites. Because of the rule in Islam not to depict any living creature in art, the buildings were full of geometric shapes, Arabic from the Quran, and symbols (many of which have to do with time, calendars, and life) instead – what a sight! I loved getting to be inside and wonder what it’s like to feel a sense of home and calling within these sacred buildings.
After going to the holy sites, we explored Ramallah, one of the most important Palestinian cities that could well be the capital of a unified Palestinian country someday (if they’re allowed to do that…). It’s their industrial capital, their center for technology. We visited Arafat’s Tomb, as well as the up-and-coming Palestinian Museum. It has no exhibits at the moment because of funding and newness, but I look forward to them having a sense of national pride to be stored within the walls of a museum, on display for others (and themselves) to see. For now, there’s a garden with local plants and a delightful view of Ramallah to enjoy, as well as the cool architecture of the building itself.
I never realized how much a museum represents a sense of coherence, unity, and pride. What is it like to live in such a way that you feel that your own sense of culture and self-understanding is overshadowed by an occupying power? But at the same time, when you have a tourist attraction tomb dedicated to a hotly-contested former leader who to Israelis and many others represented terrorism as much as he represented a strong advocate for the freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people, implying that he is a hero, how will that occupying power come to trust you? I don’t know the answer to nearly any of the questions I’ve been asking this trip, and neither do the people who live here and have this as the context of their lives.
Anyway… Then we went to lunch and to a talk at a Quaker Meeting House.
Jean Zaru is the leader of this particular Quaker Meeting House, and is a speaker, author, and advocate for Palestinians. She warned us about the ever-closing opportunity for there to be a two-state solution at all, and encouraged us to fight for there to be peace, justice, and divinity for all, not just some. She said that there are 4 ways people react to the situation: 1. To get tired of what’s going on and to let their stress make them withdraw entirely; 2. Cooperate with an unjust structure (hence not transforming it and losing themselves in the process); 3. Become violent; and the last, which she said was the only way to really move forward, 4. To resist nonviolently because “if I truly believe that I am equal to all others, then I cannot use violence against them for any reason.” She encouraged us to avoid actions that bring neither peace nor dialogue, and to be vigilant in talking about non-violence with everybody involved: Occupier, occupied, and ourselves. She was full of life and hope, just as so many of the others we have had the privilege of learning from here. What a gift it has been.
Lastly, we came home to a lecture about Islam. One of the especially important points that our visiting scholar made was that the Quran itself can be used to fight the deathly harmful ideology of ISIS. In an open letter to Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist organization, he and many scholars show that terrorism done in the name of Islam is a horrific misunderstanding of the religion itself, something that does not bring honor to God in the least. I have a lot of respect for people who stand up to oppressors and twisters of divine word within their own communities – perhaps I do the same on a smaller level when I fight for women and LGBTQIA folks to be seen as equals within the church. Perhaps it is part of each of our divine calls to work for greater justice within our own homes before or while we attempt to move outside of them, no?
I love exploring the world through the eyes of another. Thank you to the people who trusted us enough to be respectful and safe visitors in these holy Islamic sites and to everyone who has trusted us to share the weight and responsibility of their narratives. I’m coming home with a greater sense of purpose and calling to be a global citizen, in a small (or big) way held responsible for the flourishing of the world. I don’t know exactly what it will look like to engage with that reality on a daily basis, and to feed into this global hope even when I wonder if there’s hope in my own land. But I know that God is calling me to something far greater here than I ever could have imagined. It’s terrifying and delightful all at once to lean into God’s plan for my life and how it will intersect with others.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-31 (NIV)