My next visit in the Holy Land was with a Sheik who works with Al Aqsa mosque up on the Temple Mount.
If you haven’t followed the most recent news, the Temple Mount is the most contentious of all the controversy over land. These 37 acres are the epicenter of “religious” conflict.
The Jews believe the Temple Mount is the place of Solomon’s temple. They claim this is where the ancient Jews came to worship, sacrifice, and once a year give atonement for sin in the very presence of God. Since the time of the temple’s destruction (@70 A.D.) by the Roman empire, most orthodox Jews have refused to enter the Temple Mount in fear they might be entering that Holy Place referred in the Torah as the Holy of Holies.
So Today, most Orthodox Jews pray on the Western Side of the complex most notable known as the Western Wall.
Muslims hold the Temple Mount sacred as well. It’s actually the third most Holy Site in Islam behind Mecca and Medina located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The iconic Dome of the Rock sits right in the Middle of the Temple Mount up on the platform. This site represents the story where Mohammad (PBUH) ascended to heaven one evening to meet with the angel Gabriel. He is said to have had a rock stuck to his feet on ascension and when an angel broke it loose, that’s the place where the Dome stands today.
This place is also widely thought to have been a potential place for Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice story, The original place where Adam is buried, and a place of Holiness for Muslims all over the world.
Just to the South of the Dome sits Al Aqsa Mosque. Mind you, only Muslims are allowed to enter both the Dome and Al Aqsa to pray. The Jordanian government has administered both these sites for years, and today there is an ongoing attempt for Extremist Jews to enter the Temple Complex and set up a Jewish place for prayer.
You can probably imagine how well that goes over for local Muslims. Almost every day there are Jewish protestors who walk the perimeter of the Temple Mount with armed Israeli guards protecting their shouting to their Muslim neighbors. It’s not a pretty scene.
In any event, this day I had the chance to sit down with Sheik Ihab Abu Libdeh, a local scholar.
He took the time to help us understand some questions about Islam and his role in and around the Mosque. He shared a very different story than many of the Israelis we talk with, and shed some light on how he saw the world.
In a moment where we were asking questions, I asked, “Sheik, with all due respect, you’ve explained how Islam is a religion of peace and welcome; but when we look at global events it doesn’t seem like there is much room for Christians and Jews in Islamic states.”
He looked at me with a pretty intense stare almost as if to show some real disappointment. I thought for a minute I had crossed the line from truth seeker to insulter, and then he began.
“Islam is a system of faith. It is strictly forbidden to kill innocent people within that system. Now when we talk about Arab nations, we are dealing with another story all together. Many Arab nations have cultural and national laws that reflect national values. But if you look at this land previous to 1948, we had Jewish neighbors, Christian neighbors, and Muslim neighbors living together. Historically there have been empires of occupation, but my grandfather told me of his friends that were of different faiths.”
“So historically you guys partied together?” I said in a tense moment of relationship building.
And the Sheikh laughed out loud.
It was then I knew I made a friend.
We talked for a few more minutes about history and faith, and I’m confident I’ll have a friend at Al Aqsa for quite some time.
Some of my friends have called me crazy for trying to make friends with someone who might be seen by a others as a threat. But I have to tell you, the Sheikh was one of the kindest, most hospitable people we had a chance to sit with. He told us of his family, his dedication to faith, and his interest in helping others in and around Jerusalem.
Sometimes all it takes is a little risk to get to know someone different than you. Listening to another person’s story, and hopefully getting a chance to share a cup of tea and a belly laugh can go a long way to dispel the narrative we’ve been spoon fed all our lives.
So take the time today to reach out to someone who’s different than you today. Learn what it means to share life, and Don’t Forget to Laugh!!