Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the ‘Bait-ul Muqaddas’ and offer Salah in Al-Aqsa. I, like many before, went there with questions and uncertainties. Some of the questions were answered, while some answers were questioned. As I tried to unpack the complexity of the situation the simplicity of the solution miraculously unlocked itself.
Al-Aqsa remains under Israel Defense Forces (IDF) surveillance. Not everyone can go there to pray. The Arab world eagerly awaits the liberation of Al-Aqsa and often asks who will be the next Salahuddin, the general who defeated the crusaders in the 12th century and opened the doors of Islam’s third most holy Mosque, and our first Qibla, for everyone.
Jerusalem has a surreal feel to it. It is Musa’s(AS) promised land, Esa’s(AS) birthplace, the site of Dawood’s(AS) conquest, and where Suleman(AS) ruled over an unparalleled kingdom among man and jinn. Additionally, numerous prophets spent periods of their lives there while traveling to other places. But, what makes Al-Aqsa extra special is the occasion of Al-Israa.
Allah (SwT) summoned HIS beloved for an in-person audience after an extremely tough year that had left the Prophet (PBUH) very alone. Israa comes from the Arabic word suroor (happiness) and the joy that Allah (SwT) had in store for Muhammad (PBUH) was as grand in stature as it was miraculous in nature. Within a night, Muhammad (PBUH) went from Makkah to Al-Aqsa and, from there, ascended to the heavens to meet with Allah (SwT). When Muhammad (PBUH) arrived in Jerusalem, he led all the prophets (124k+) in Salah. Indeed, the most blessed gathering the world would ever witness!
One day after Fajr I chatted with a local high school math teacher about life in Jerusalem. He shared with me how he, among others, makes it a point to offer a Salah daily in Al-Aqsa. In his mind, visiting Aqsa is the sole purpose of their existence in al-Quds. He went on to share with me what he tells his students all the time: be very successful in your career and keep going to al Aqsa. He narrated an incident from a couple of years ago in which the IDF unjustifiably installed metal detectors at the entrances of Al-Aqsa. The Muslims refused to go through it, instead offering Salah in the narrow cobblestone streets. Even those who often prayed in smaller mosques sprinkled across the old city or in their homes had also joined the open-air congregations, disrupting the bazaars of the Muslim and Christian quarters. After weeks of uncontrollable crowds, the government gave up and removed the machines. A small victory was gained by offering Salah in jama’ah.
Later that day we did a walking tour of the Al-Aqsa compound. We saw the original Aqsa Mosque tucked under the Qibli Mosque after walking through a portion that the crusaders used as a stable. Next up was Marwan Mosque which enclosed Masjid Maryam, the sanctuary where Maryam (AS) devoted herself to worship for most of her life. This was followed by Dhuhr in Qibli Masjid, rolling straight into Asr Iqamah. A unique feature of Al-Aqsa is the regularity of Qasar Salah every day in jama’ah. We then visited the Dome-of-the-Rock masjid reflecting upon al-Mairaj. It was here that I felt something unlocked.
Everything about al-Aqsa has to do with Salah. Israa began with Salah and al-Mairaj ended with Salah being sent down and institutionalized for the ummah of Muhammad (PBUH). The climax of the majestic meeting between Muhammad (PBUH) and his Rabb was the 5 daily Salah. In fact, it was Musa (AS) himself who advised the prophet (PBUH) to negotiate the number of daily Salah from 50 down to 5.
The conversation I had earlier at Fajr in Al-Aqsa magically turned on a light bulb. Salah is at the heart of Jerusalem as it is at the core of our deen. Perhaps the reason Allah granted Musa (AS) the role of advising the Prophet is that the conflict today lies between the followers of Torah-only and Muslims. Allah used Salah to establish who the leader of the prophets is and then honored his ummah with the same gift. It’s not just a gift, it’s the key to all successes and victories, including the missing centerpiece of the mind-numbing puzzle, which is the liberation of Al-Aqsa. Upon reflection, Allah’s choice of honoring a person named Salah-ud-deen to do just that no longer seems like a mere coincidence. It feels more like a code, a recipe from a playbook, rather than just a name for the books of history.
Salah shall liberate al-Aqsa. I pray that one day every Muslim will be able to pray in al-Quds freely. Till then, those lucky enough like me should make it a point to visit and offer Salah there. Aqsa is calling; its practice of Qasr prayers every Dhuhr and Maghreb is an explicit cry for travelers to visit. Those who may not be able to visit, but still yearn to see a free Aqsa, should pray in jama’ah wherever they are.
When Allah cemented Salahuddin in history, He not only told us who had liberated Al-Aqsa, but also answered why Al-Aqsa needs liberation and how it must be achieved. Three questions, one answer: Salah.
About the author:
Tauseef Rab is the founder of Feeling Blessed, a platform that allows Muslims to give Zakat, Sadaqah, Sadaqah-e-Jaria, and all forms of Islamic charity to more than 320 nonprofits around the world.
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