Radio Islam Correspondent 2016-06-21
“Close your eyes and imagine, writes sister Umm Abdurrahman of South Africa on her Masjid al Aqsa travel memoirs.
“Imagine this… Cobblestoned alleys with cobbles worn smooth from hundreds of years of people walking and running upon them. The bustle and busyness of people going about their way, tourists with eyes full of awe and wonder, and locals selling every item from fruit to spices to sweets to pots and clothes. Freshly pressed fruit juice, strong fragrant coffee, ice cold cold-drink, pastry dripping with honey, freshly baked bread … all of this available at almost every corner. The melodious tones of the adhaan being called out from various directions, so sweet to the ear… This is Al Masjid Al Aqsa, Jerusalem – a MUST visit for every Muslim today.”
Notwithstanding initial trepidations, all who have undertaken the voyage to Masjid al Aqsa return enthralled, enamoured with a bank of lifelong memories.
Visiting Masjid al Aqsa is an exercise encouraged all through the year. However, many who have sojourned there previously suggest that the spiritual thrill experienced at this Holy Site during Ramadan is an experience beyond compare.
Observing Sunnah I’tikaf in Al Masjid Al Aqsa is a truly unique, blessed, and fulfilling experience. Here are 12 reasons you should consider encountering it:
- Your journey is Ibadah
Along with Masjid al Haraam in Makkah and Masjid Nabawi SAW in Madinah, Masjid al Aqsa has been specified by the Messenger of Allah SAW as a masjid to which one is permitted to undertake a journey with the expressed intention of seeking reward. Sayyidina Abu Hurairah RA narrates: “The Messenger of Allah SAW said: ‘Do not deliberately set out on a journey[for the purpose of worship] but to three mosques: the Masjid al Haram[in Makkah], al Masjid al Aqsa[in Jerusalem], and my Masjid[in Madinah]’”(Bukhari)
- Multiplied rewards
Ramadan is a month wherein the rewards for good deeds are vastly multiplied. Visiting Masjid al Aqsa during this month affords one the opportunity to magnify these blessings further.
Sayyidina Abu Darda RA related that the Prophet SAW said, “A prayer in Makkah is worth 100 000 times, a prayer in my Masjid [Madinah] is worth 1000 times, and a prayer in the Masjid of Bayt al Maqdis is worth 500 times more than anywhere else” (Tabarani, Bayhaqi)
Sayyidina Anas ibn Malik RA relates that the Prophet SAW said: “The prayer of a person in his house has the reward of a single prayer; his prayer in the Masjid of his tribe has the reward of 25 prayers; his prayer in the Masjid in which the Friday prayer is observed has the reward of 500; his prayer in Masjid al Aqsa has a reward of 5000; his prayer in my Masjid[in Madinah] has a reward of 50 000 prayers; and the prayer at Masjid al Haram[in Makkah] has a reward of 100 000 prayers”(Tirmidhi)
- A Place of Revelation
Ramadan is the month wherein the Qur’aan was revealed. Masjid al Aqsa counts itself among those blessed locations where revelation from Allah SWT descended upon Nabi Muhammad SAW.
Sayyidina Abu Umama RA reports that the Prophet SAW said, “Prophethood descended upon me in three places: Makkah, Madinah and Al-Sham. Once it is brought out from any of them, it shall never return to it”. (Abu Dawud) In another narration it states, “The Quran was revealed in three places – Makkah, Madinah and Al-Sham”. (Tabarani) Ibn Kathir, the great scholar of Islam, said, “Al-Sham here means Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem). [Abu Dawud, Tabarani]
Reciting the Qur’aan within Masjid al Aqsa during Ramadan affords one the opportunity to ‘feel’ several passages of the Revelation that describe events that historically occurred inside Masjid al Aqsa and its surroundings. One will also be connecting with the sacred land that Allah SWT took an oath upon in Surah Tin: “By the fig and the olive”
- Treading upon noble footsteps
Being secluded for Ibadah in Masjid al Aqsa presents one the privilege of sharing the same prayer ground as thousands of Prophets and treading upon the sand where the Messenger of Allah SAW led fellow Ambiyaa in Salaah. Masjid al Aqsa is the only known site on earth where all the Prophets performed Salaah together at one given time. Ibn Abbas RA related, “There is not a single inch in Al-Quds (Jerusalem) where a Prophet has not prayed or an Angel not stood”[Tirmidhi, Ahmad].
Various Prophets and pious personalities would seclude themselves in their respective ‘Mihraabs’ here for the sake of Ibadah – among them Sayyidina Dawud and Zakariyya AS and Sayyidatina Maryam RA
- Arena of generosity
Sayyidatina Maymuna RA – the wife of the Prophet SAW - reported: I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah [SAW], tell us about Baytul Maqdis’. He said: ‘It is the place of Judgement Day where everyone will be called. Come and pray in it, for one prayer in it is like one thousand prayers elsewhere’. ‘What is one cannot go there?’I asked. He replied, ‘Send oil for its lamps; for whoever does so, it is as if they went there’” (Ibn Majah)
This Hadith indicates to a specific directive of contributing towards Masjid al Aqsa – a prerogative not specified for any of the other Holy Mosques. Being present during Ramadan will afford one the opportunity to personally discharge charities for the maintanence and welfare of the Masjid and its worshippers.
- Open Air I’tikaaf
I’tikaaf in Al Masjid Al Aqsa is unlike most masaajid. The Al Aqsa compound occupies roughly a fifth of the area of the Old City of Al Quds (Jerusalem) accounting for some 144 000 m2. There are 44 buildings within the al-Aqsa Sanctuary, including the black/grey domed masjid and the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as Sukhra). Other structures on the site include the underground Musalla al Marwani, other buildings on site, smaller domes, minarets, schools, fountains, clearings with olive trees and other plants, and monuments. During I’tikaaf here, you are free to roam the entire compound as it constitutes part of the masjid. This means one can vary ones Ibadah in different settings – from within traditionally covered prayer areas to beneath olive and other trees, to vast open courtyards, and more.
- Privileged Access
Unlike the other Haramain, access to key locations within Masjid al Aqsa is relatively easy. One can without much effort secure a place in the first saff of the Masjid; or even meet and freely engage with the Imams of the Masjid
- Not everyone has the luxury
Due to Israeli restrictions, Masjid al Aqsa is off limits to thousands of Palestinians residing barely minutes away from the Masjid. A system of checkpoints and permits governs entry to the site and the Israeli authorities also regularly implement age restrictions. Those Palestinians who do make it to Masjid al Aqsa often do so undergoing much strain and hardship, and placing themselves in the eye of danger. With the ease with which many foreign Muslims can visit Masjid al Aqsa, failure to capitalise on the opportunity when available, is tantamount to being ungrateful and apathetic.
- The Palestinians await you
Masjid al Aqsa belongs to all Muslims. At present, however, the Palestinian neighbours of the Masjid are its custodians and frontline defenders. Day in and day out, they make untold sacrifices to protect Al Masjid Al Aqsa so that it remains an Islamic place of worship, and so that all of us, our families and future generations can visit and offer our salaah there.With this in mind, the very least we should try and do is visit and show them that as an Ummah, we have not forgotten about them. All visitors to Masjid al Aqsa will attest to how deeply the Palestinians cherish the visits of ‘foreigners’ to Masjid al Aqsa, and how it gives them hope and renewed determination to continue their struggle, since these encounters with Muslims of all backgrounds reminds them that their struggle is for the Ummah, and that the Ummah is behind them. Your encounters with Palestinians at Masjid al Aqsa will also allow you to better understand their plight and become more educated ambassadors for justice.
Unlike our other Holy Sites, whose environs have been altered by modernity, a trip to Masjid al Aqsa is a journey back in time. Worshipping Allah SWT in such surroundings enhances the spirituality and adds to the richness of the experience
- Forging friendships
A unique spirit of camaraderie is fostered between brothers from all over the world who experience I’tikaaf together at Masjid al Aqsa. Iftaar and Suhoor meals are shared, and life-long bonds are forged. Every year, approximately 200-300 foreign visitors (from a variety of countries including UK, USA and South Africa) observe the practice of sitting in Sunnah I’tikaf for the final ten nights of Ramadan in Al Masjid Al Aqsa. They are joined by several thousand more (comprising foreign visitors and local Palestinians) who observe the practice of sitting for some of these blessed nights in Nafil I’tikaf. Usually on the night of the 27th Ramadan, there is in excess of 50,000 spending the night in Ibadah at Al Masjid Al Aqsa.
- Return home cleansed
Sayyidina Abdullah ibn Amr RA narrates that the Prophet SAW said: “Sulaymaan, son of Dawood [AS] prayed for three things from Allah, the Mighty and Glorious, when constructing Masjid al Aqsa: (i) the ability to decide cases in accordance to the Will of Allah, which was granted to him; (ii) a kingdom the like of which would be given to no one after him, which was also granted; and (iii), after finishing the construction of the masjid he prayed, ‘May anyone who comes to this mosque solely for the purpose of praying in it be delivered from all his sins as on the day his mother gave birth to him’” (Nasa’i)
Another version of this hadith includes this following: “The Prophet SAW said, “The[first] two prayers were granted, and I hope the third was granted as well’” (Ibn Majah)