Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Waiting for Christ

Earlier this year, the Haram Al-Shareef, or the Noble Sanctuary, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, was opened to tourists for the first time in nearly five years. It is Islam’s third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina. It includes Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which was built on the site the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven. They date to the 7th and 8th centuries. It is open to tourists five mornings a week for about three hours. I visited for the first time last Sunday.

During one Friday prayer this Ramadan, 150,000 Palestinians attended services. Some who live in the West Bank received special permission to do so. The mosques have been the target of Christian and Jewish extremists since Israel occupied the site in 1967. In 1969, an Australian messianic tourist set fire to Al-Aqsa mosque; in 1980, Israeli police accused the radical Jewish group, Meir Kahane, of planting explosives near the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Some Jewish extremists want to replace the Muslim shrines with a temple. According to Jewish tradition, the area was the site of two Israelite temples (archeologists have found evidence of the second one, but not the first).

In Jewish belief, the messiah will enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate, which stands along the eastern wall of the Noble Sanctuary. According to Christian tradition, Jesus enterred Jerusalem through the Golden Gate on the Sunday before his crucifixon. The Ottoman ruler Souleyman sealed the gate in stone in the 16th century to prevent Christ from enterring the city.

When I climbed atop the Golden Gate, which is made of stone, not gold, I was met with a group of a dozen or so middle-aged Americans praying for the return of Christ. One women with bleached blond hair (not a common sight in Jerusalem) prayed aloud in an American southern accent. A man was videotaping her. Another man offered short rejoinders: “Oh, Lord, we are ready for you.” Two others stood with their backs to the wall, closed their eyes and held their palms to the stone.


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