Updated: Aug 20, 2020
For the first time since the Crusader Period, Haram al-Sharif, "The Noble Sanctuary," (known to Jews and Christians as The Temple Mount) has been closed for an extended period of time. The Jordanian-controlled wakf, protectors of the Islamic holy sites has closed the site due to fears of the spread of coronavirus, especially during this period of Ramadan. And the fear is real, despite the Palestinians having incredibly low numbers of cases and deaths from the virus. During Ramadan (especially Fridays) every square meter of the mountain platform was covered by someone kneeling in prayer (see photo) which of course could easily spread the virus through the community like a rocket.
As a tour guide of Israel, I don't just want you to learn history but to feel it. So taking my own advice, I decide once to go just to feel the awesome power of so many people gathered together in prayer on the site; the best chance to feel what Jerusalem in the time of the pilgrimage holidays when the Temple still stood must have been like. I stood by one of the 10 or so entrances/exits to the compound and waited for the prayers to end. Suddenly like a dam it erupted, spilling out a horde of people so large that for the next 15 minutes my back was against the wall in a small doorway in a tight alleyway. If I had tried to enter the fray - or had fallen forwards - I would have been swept away in the masses. And this was only at one of the exits.
Of course it is important to note, since the Arabs often accuse the Jews of being Crusaders - i.e. some foreign, illegitimate element that will eventually be thrown out by the armies of Islam - that the choice of words in the NYT headline was poor. The Arab's Crusader analogy ignores the fact that a) hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed by the Crusaders and b) this is the Jews' ancestral homeland, to which they are indigenous, even if many of them have returned from exile in the past century. Even DNA shows that a Jew from Europe shares more in common with a Jew from the Middle East than with the local population. It also can be misleading: Israel is not the one that shut down the compound to Muslim prayer but rather it was the Jordanian religious authorities (though Israel may have had to intervene if they had not done so). In fact, it is Israel that allowed them to keep religious control over the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, after the 6-Day War. The Crusaders of course took it over for themselves, turning the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque into Christian shrines and the home of the Knights Templars (from which they derived their name).
So how are the Muslims coping with this new reality? What has Ramadan been like this year, in the time of corona? Check out the article below...
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