We hope this touching experience by Brother Zeyn Shahzada stirs hearts all over the world for those sitting for i’tikaaf this year and those planning for next year in-shaa-Allah.
Alhamdulillah, it had been my burning desire to go to Masjid-ul Aqsa, the third most sacred haram ever since Allah accepted me for hajj in 2003/4, unfortunately due to trouble that broke out in Palestine we could not go at the time. I told myself in 2011 when my parents were talking about ‘umrah that I wanted to go to al-Aqsa before I return to the sacred lands of Arabia. So due to Ramadaan being in the winter months here in SA (2012), I felt that I would like to spend last ten days of Ramadaan either out in the path of Allah or i’tikaaf in one of the local masjids. I took leave from work not realising that Allah was accepting me to go to al-Aqsa.
One of the nights I heard the ad for this i’tikaaf trip on Radio Islam South African broadcast, and I was very much interested due to the cost being quite reasonable. Many opportunities had come up prior but cost was always a factor. I was a little doubtful as it was a quick decision but my family supported me and set the ball rolling. All the while I kept requesting people for du‘as that Allah accept me to set foot in Al-Aqsa. With the http://www.aqsa.co.za/ website for guidance, I packed my bags and left South Africa for Amman Jordan via Dubai.
I stayed a night at Belle Vue hotel and the next day visited The Cave of the Sleepers and two graves of the Ambiyaa (Alaihis-Salaam) en route to the border. At the border, the elderly and families were allowed through while the rest of the group were delayed for about ten hours. Alhamdulillah, while there, we were treated quite well, allowed to call the adhaan, perform our salaah and eat our food. The only thing we were prevented from was taking pictures. There was an amazing spirit and brotherhood while we were at the border. This camaraderie was displayed throughout the trip especially considering the large contingent of youth. Whenever our names were called at the border to receive our passports, everyone would excitedly cheer for each other as if it were like graduation.
We crossed over into Israeli occupied Palestine and headed straight for our hotel, since we had not slept the entire night we were exhausted. However some did make their way to al-Aqsa for Fajr salaah especially those who stayed close to the haram while the rest performed salaah at the hotel. The bus picked us up after Dhuhr salaah where we went on ziyaarah, visiting al-Khalil in Hebron at the Ibrahimi Masjid and giving out zakaah hampers in the West Bank to needy families. It was enroute to these places that we witnessed the complex system of checkpoints and the apartheid wall that has been erected by the Israeli government. Theres a total segregation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, seperate neighbourhoods, public transport, schooling, etc. Israeli neighbourhoods are well maintained, neatly laid out and beautifully landscaped while the Palestinian areas are quite neglected.
Shelters and al-Khalil
The refugee camps I have seen is not what one has in mind – rows upon rows of temporary shelter, neatly laid out neighbourhoods which have been built by foreign aid either UN or Arab states. Palestinians have large families Alhamdulillah and in these areas they live, seven or eight in a small area of which contains the lounge, bathroom and maybe two bedrooms. Walking in these areas, seeing the grapevines growing between these little homes or on the side of the road, that song “I was a grapevine in Palestine”, kept playing in my mind. From these areas the separation wall is clearly visible and vast open lands dotted with olive trees. Jewish settlements are built within these areas totally separate and walled off with 24 hour security. Even the roads around these areas from the city centre to these settlements as well as other Jewish areas have high blast walls.
It was early August of 2012 and the heat was quite unbearable and we longed to pluck those juicy delicious grapes and quench our thirst but in obedience to the order of Allah we made sabr.
Later that day we made iftaar just outside Al-Khalil Masjid (Ibrahimi Mosque) in Al-Khalil (Hebron). The area and the masjid has been untouched by modernity and is just as it was centuries ago, a theme that played itself out in the old city and the haram shareef.
The masjid itself has been partitioned and two thirds of the masjid has been allocated to the Jews, after the incident in which a American zionist Jew, Baruch Goldstein who who perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in the city of Hebron, opening fire on innocent Palestinian Muslim worshipers, killing 29 and wounding another 125. One has to pass a zionist police checkpoint to enter the masjid. Such an effort has been made that Palestinians do not refer to the original name when asked which area they come from. “Hebron”, they answer.
We visited the qabr of a Nabi of Allah Alhamdulillah there. When supper came later that evening, we enjoyed a traditional Arab supper at a restaurant in al-Khalil, Hebron which consisted of hummous, olives, peta bread, rice and chicken. Delicious!
The following day we had a briefing on what to expect in the haram. We were taken to see the Wailing Wall (al-Buraaq Wall) and the excavations which are taking place underneath Al-Aqsa haram and Masjid ‘Umar (RadiyAllaahu ‘anhu) which is only open at salaah times. It is situated next to the church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It was here that Hadhrat ‘Umar (RadiyAllaahu ‘anhu) on entering Jerusalem (Bait-ul Muqaddas) was allowed to pray but he politely refused, and prayed outside the church fearing that his followers might turn the church into a masjid.
That afternoon after ‘Asr salaah we entered into Al-Aqsa haram to commence our i’tikaaf. Once you enter the gate you enter into the old city which takes you through narrow cobbled alleys and gulleys before reaching the haram. It is like stepping back in time. Cobbled stone pathways, ancient gates and high fort like walls with narrow slits. It is an absolutely amazing experience and your mind wanders to the days when Islamic rule was at its height of power and glory, especially when you enter the haram and see the many musallah platforms each with its own mihraab; wudhu fountains; and rows of taps; and some with mimbars as well.
There was a time when there as many as thirty five Islamic schools running within the precints of the haram, today sadly theres just one operating, a girls school.
We had to arrange our own bedding, but due to the hot weather I slept with just a shawl spread on top of a self inflating mattress. Suhur was self-catered. Kettles were supplied to boil water and one brother would arrange hot milk. I mostly consumed instant stuff like coffee and cereal but brothers came well prepared. We south Africans never go hungry Alhamdulillah. We always make a plan. Iftaar was dates and bottled water and sometimes a chocolate croissant (Laugh out loud). After Maghrib salaah, supper alternated between Arab style and a meal cooked by Moulana Moosa Badat’s family. So we enjoyed rice and curry, akhni, etc. After taraweeh, guys used to organise meals that we call “chows” here in SA, like burgers and schwarmas filled with chicken or sandwiches. We had nicknamed one platform outside Marwani Masjid, Fordsburg Square, and the place where we used to buy Arab-style tea, coffee and a milky delicious drink called “sahlab”, I nicknamed Milky Lane.
We spent our i’tikaaf in Musallah Marwaan (pictured below) in Ramadaan 1433 / 2012 due to our large numbers.
We will in-shaa-Allah continue with Part 2 soon.