Journey to Jerusalem

September 23, 2016


Dr Iftikhar Salahuddin delivers his lecture on Thursday.—White Star
Dr Iftikhar Salahuddin delivers his lecture on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: While Jerusalem has witnessed epic events that have shaped the history of all three Abrahamic religions, today, under Israeli occupation, the native Palestinians of this city “live in congested hovels while the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] are omnipresent” in the holy city.

These were the views expressed by Dr Iftikhar Salahuddin, who has authored an award-winning book, Jerusalem — A Journey Back in Time, while delivering a lecture titled ‘Jerusalem — Reliving History’ at Habib University here on Thursday.

While Dr Salahuddin is a reputed surgeon, he has had the good fortune of visiting Jerusalem twice, and described his visits with the help of slides during the lecture.

The writer described the relationship the holy city shared with Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the three faiths’ respective history with regard to Jerusalem. At the start of the lecture the Israelites’ flight from Egypt was discussed, as was their eventual settlement in the Promised Land, as well as the two destructions of the ancient Temple — one at the hands of the Babylonians, the other the work of the Romans.

Coming to the Christian era, Dr Salahuddin described the various sites that are sacred to Christianity, such as the Church of the Nativity and the Via Dolorosa, among other venerated spots. The writer pointed out that when he was on board a bus crossing over from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the treatment meted out to Palestinians by the Israeli security forces was harsh. The high grey walls that separated the Palestinians from the Israelis were also caught on camera, resembling Cold War fortifications in Europe.

Entering the Muslim era, the writer observed that the city was, in the early days of Islam, the Muslims’ Qibla-i-Awwal, or first Qibla. After the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the city came under Muslim control when Hazrat Umar captured it in 638. He described in detail the meetings between the Second Caliph and the city’s Christian leadership, and showed a slide of the Ottoman Era-mosque at the spot where Hazrat Umar is said to have offered prayers.

But it was during the Umayyad period that Jerusalem’s most iconic landmark — the golden Dome of the Rock, or Masjid-i-Saqqara — was built. The golden-domed mosque is located on what is known as Haram al-Sharif, which the Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. As access to the Dome of the Rock is only allowed to Muslims, the Israeli guards asked Dr Salahuddin to recite Surah al-Fateha to prove his credentials, he recalled. The stunning blue tiles that surround the mosque, the writer pointed out, were placed in the time of Ottoman Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent.

The actual al-Aqsa Mosque, different from the Dome of the Rock, he observed, shared a wall with the Wailing Wall, the holiest site for Jews today, as it is the location of the remnants of the Second Temple.

Dr Salahuddin described the Crusades, when Christendom retook Jerusalem from the Fatimids, in some detail, and it was not till Salahuddin Ayyubi’s advance that the Muslims were able to retake the holy city. The writer mentioned that many Palestinians he met told him that today, Jerusalem needed another Salahuddin. Between the 16th and 20th centuries Jerusalem remained under Ottoman administration; the Ottomans were, of course, ousted during World War I when Gen Edmund Allenby took the city from the Turks, ending the Muslim rule, ushering in British administration, and paving the way for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the occupation of Arab lands. The rest, as they say, is history.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2016