This follows on my previous post regarding my trip to al-Aqsa and Palestine. The question of “Why Muslims should visit al-Aqsa” does not really need an answer, every Muslim is aware of the sanctity of the mosque and the encouragement our Prophet (ﷺ) gave his companions, and by extension us, to go and visit it in the same manner of which we go to visit the other two holy sanctuaries in Mecca and Medina.
But since 1967 following the occupation of East Jerusalem by the state of Israel, a disagreement has occurred amongst Muslims, both laymen and scholars, as to whether we should visit the mosque while its current situation is in such a state. The feeling amongst many is that to visit al-Aqsa would mean having to go through the state of Israel, which in turn poses this question, is doing so legitimising their illegal occupation?
The reality on the ground, and something that is obvious for people of intellect to see, is that the Palestinian people are in a dire state. As Gaza has essentially been turned into a prison, and the West Bank is constantly being confined and suffocated by the growth of settlements and the wall, al-Aqsa, just like everything else the Palestinians own, is becoming susceptible to Israeli encroachment. Throughout 2013, and remaining unreported by mainstream media, extremist Zionists entered the Temple Mount under armed escort on a near daily basis. On some occasions IDF forces close the mosque to Muslims so that Israelis can enter unperturbed. In at least one instance on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah this resulted in tear gas fire being fired on worshippers to force them out. (See Al Jazeera’s report here and a video of the incident here). The Israeli government has only been able to carry out such transgressions given the fact that the number of Palestinians able to travel to al-Aqsa to worship has decreased. As Habib Ali mentioned, if the Noble Sanctuary were full of believers for every prayer, just as the sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina are, the Israeli government would never be able to do such things. And this is where we need to come in.
For those of us with nationalities that allow travel to Israel (which includes a number of Muslim majority countries) we should make a sincere intention to travel to al-Aqsa with or without Israeli occupation. The way things are right now, peace does not look imminent, the Palestinian Authority essentially runs as an Uncle Tom Authority (to use the nomenclature of Malcolm), and it does not look as though they will have the will and determination, particularly given the ruling party Fatah’s secular leaning, to secure or care about complete control of the Noble Sanctuary. Just as we as Muslims in the west need to stop relying on politicians at home to make our societies a better place to live in, we need to do the same for other Muslims in other countries. Let us not put our hopes on politicians who do not know or care about us, in the hope that maybe some day he or she will do the right thing, let us as Muslims roll up our sleeves and instead put our trust in Allah. If Muslims were to travel to al-Aqsa, regularly and in large numbers, it would ensure the sanctity of the blessed place would remain intact, as a result, if we go there and purposely ensure we stay in Arab owned hotels, eat in their restaurants, buy their goods and so on, it would enable the Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians) to have more economic clout which will lead them to have more of a say in Israeli society.
One concern Muslims may have travelling to the region is Israeli immigration. The fact of the matter is their discriminatory profiling of travellers is part of the establishment’s wider aim to ensure the weakening of foreign solidarity with the Palestinians. When one travels there it is obvious to see that Israeli immigration, apart from the desk clerks, are highly understaffed. It’s for this reason the Flytilla incident happened in 2012, Israel does not have the means or manpower to put large numbers of travellers through their stringent immigration checks. Again if the number of Muslims travelling to the area were to increase, Israel would have no choice but to either reduce their checks for Muslim travellers, or spend the millions required to vet every single one that comes through their borders.
Many people feel that travelling to Israel is somehow justifying and accepting their occupation, but if one reflects on this it’s not really a stance that has any tangible worth. The fact that you have your passport looked over is not in anyway granting them some sort of victory and you accepting defeat. If one is truly adamant about BDS you can always choose to travel from Jordan rather than Tel Aviv, which if I were to return again would be my choice. Although you will still potentially go through a long waiting time to have your passport cleared, on your return you should not receive any issues, and you need not have any interaction with Israel proper.
The one last final thing I will say on the matter is with regards to the issue from a jurisprudent point of a view. There are some scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi and Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who hold the opposite opinion of what I’m espousing here. However the martyr, Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, had the opposite view, he said:
Muslims visited Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa while it was under the rule of the Crusaders and they never considered their pilgrimage to be recognition of the Crusaders or their assumed rights. Indeed those Muslims saw their visits to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa as a challenge to the Crusaders’ presence and a continuation and a renewal of their covenant with the Almighty to repel that aggression … It is by God’s Grace that I searched and found no Imam in history and no Companion of the Prophet (pbuh) who severed ties or stopped visiting Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa while Jerusalem was under the Romans [Byzantines].
This for me put to bed any hesitation I had lingering about my decision to visit Palestine, for although I have a lot of respect for Shaykh al-Yaqoubi and Shaykh al-Qaradawi (more so the former), Shaykh al-Buti was one of the marja’ scholars, those who have been given authority to ascertain new rulings by the preceding maraji’ scholars, it is the highest authority a scholar of jurisprudence can be awarded in our time, and with all due respect Shaykh al-Buti was one of them, but Shaykh al-Qaradawi and Shaykh al-Yaqoubi are not.
With that I again ask all Muslims who are serious about their faith and in supporting the Palestinian people to make their intention to visit al-Aqsa. One needs to only look at the rapid expansion that has happened in Mecca and Medina (whether you like it or not) to see the potential benefit that could come about if the mosque was full every day with people praying. Rather than sitting on our sofas watching the plight of the Palestinians on our tvs from the comfort of our homes we should get up and help them in a sustained and consistent way that will prove more beneficial to them than just the occasional charity donation.
EDIT: It has recently come to my attention that Shaykh al-Yaqoubi is not of the opinion that al-Aqsa should not be visited, rather he encourages it. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2UgJ3Zwwlw