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IFTIKHAR Salahuddin, who specialises in a branch of medicine, has in recent years become known for his artistic photography. He has held shows where he exhibited some jaw-dropping images, but his talent as a writer had to wait till he came out with a coffee-table book titled Jerusalem: A Journey Back in Time.

The book can be read as a travelogue and is admirable for the research that has gone into it. Not all research-based books make interesting reading, but Salahuddin manages to retain the readers’ attention all the way through. The volume carries pictures from archives and also a selection of photographs taken by the globe-trotter himself, and to say that his pictures hold your attention for a few extra seconds is to state the obvious.

The place that is sacred to all three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — Jerusalem has been a battleground for the followers of the three faiths. What is all the more amazing is that there has also been infighting among the Christians, Orthodox Greeks and the Franciscans. At one time when they were both fighting for the Holy Sepulchre, Turkish (read Muslim) guards were deployed to maintain order in the sacred precincts. Later, in 1840, the Russians championed the cause of Orthodox Christians, while the Italians went out of their way to support the Catholics.

Earlier in 1095, Pope Urban II spewed venom against non-Christians, their traditional victims the Jews and ‘the Barbarians,’ a term used for Muslims, who he said perpetrated immense cruelty and pain on innocent Christians, especially the pilgrims to the Holy Land. Writes Salahuddin: “A particularly provocative account narrated by the Pope described in detail how Muslims, allegedly, cut open the bowels of helpless Christians looking for gold that they may be hidden in their entrails. Predictably, all this inflamed the passions of the crowd … The Pope was in effect contradicting the basic tenets of Christianity; instead of offering the other cheek he was now legalising war against non-Christians. The pilgrims, who were once forbidden to carry arms, were now being asked to arm themselves in defence of their faith.”

Then there were struggles for power among various Muslim dynasties — Ayubids, Mamluks, Fatimids and Ottomans — which Salahuddin refers to. His is a balanced and impartial view of the persecution committed by the followers of the three religions. If he is critical of Franks for slaughtering Muslims and Jews during the First Crusade in the Promised Land, as Jerusalem is also known, he is appreciative of Emperor Ferdinand II for berating a priest who had entered Masjid al-Aqsa for trespassing on a Muslim holy site. It is there that he announces that the places of religious importance for Muslims be made out of bounds for those belonging to any other faith. When the muezzin is reluctant to give the azan, Ferdinand II declares that he came to Jerusalem to hear the muezzin’s call. He orders that under no circumstances should the call for prayers be discontinued.

Salahuddin doesn’t think the Muslims’ record has been unblemished and draws the reader’s attention to Fatimid caliph Hakim’s order to destroy churches and synagogues.

He is also a witness to the injustices and atrocities that are committed against Palestinians during his two visits to Jerusalem with his wife. Holders of dual nationalities, it’s their American passports which enable them to enter Israeli occupied territories. On their second trip the Salahuddins are accompanied by another Pakistani couple, Dr Iftikhar Khawaja and his wife Tanvir. They have British passports to help them enter Israel and the territory under Israeli control, but not without going through some very anxious moments.

Palestinians also eye the two couples suspiciously but when it dawns on them that the visitors are Pakistanis, they welcome the tourists warmly. At the Haram Sharif each one of them has to recite verses from the Quran, excepting for Tanvir, who wears a hijab, to prove they are Muslims. “‘Marhaba, we don’t see many visitors from Pakistan,’ says the guard as he waves [them] in.”

The best part of the book is the narrative of the travel, which is largely anecdotal. Khwaja’s and his wife’s British passports are pinched by a pick pocket and they only get them back on payment in dollars, 50 to be accurate.

Such is their enthusiasm that they brave the oppressive heat, walking seemingly endlessly and travelling in a non-air-conditioned taxi. The taxi driver Majeed is their saviour in more ways than one for he is also their guide.

As for the monuments, more eloquent than Salahuddin’s descriptions are the photographs of mosques and monuments, be they of impressive facades or gorgeous interiors.

It’s heartening to see that the printing and production value of the book is simply world class. But what the book could have benefited from was more stringent editing. Other than that, Jerusalem: A Journey Back in Time is a commendable publication.

Jerusalem: A Journey Back in Time


By Iftikhar Salahuddin

BBCL Publications, Karachi

ISBN 978-9699760013