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Must Muslims travel to Jerusalem?

Muslims need to rethink their approach to visiting Jerusalem as Israeli aggression against Palestinians at the third holiest site in Islam grows more severe.

by gazapress
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Muslims need to rethink their approach to visiting Jerusalem as Israeli aggression against Palestinians at the third holiest site in Islam grows more severe.

While Muslim communities around the globe celebrate Eid and the conclusion of Ramadan, Palestinian Muslims in occupied East Jerusalem are still grieving from Israel’s decision to commit deadly violence against them during yet another holy month. Once more, Israeli security personnel brutalized Palestinians who were at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

By now, the international media has moved on from the story of Israeli violence in occupied East Jerusalem, but the Muslim community should not. It is time we reflect on how we should address Israeli violations of Islam’s holy site and Israeli brutality against our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

One important question is how Muslims should approach the pilgrimage to Al-Aqsa and travel to occupied Palestine.

Understanding the occupation

When considering this issue, it is crucial to have some understanding of the Israeli occupation and the apartheid system that Palestinians live under.

The topic of Israeli aggression in occupied East Jerusalem has now been dropped by the international media, but the Muslim community should not. It is time for us to consider how we should respond to Israeli aggression against our Palestinian family members and abuses of the holy place of Islam by Israel.

How Muslims should handle the Al-Aqsa pilgrimage and travel to occupied Palestine is one crucial subject.

Recognizing the profession

Understanding the Israeli occupation and the apartheid system that Palestinians endure is essential when thinking about this subject.

The Palestinian people have been subjected to a variety of brutal Israeli practices for many years, including land expropriation, segregation, economic eviction, and unauthorized settlement construction. Israeli troops intimidate, assault, arrest, and sometimes even kill Palestinian youngsters as part of the ongoing violations of their human rights.

Israeli forces often raid Palestinian towns, killing Palestinians without consequence. Additionally, Israel has erected a blockade on Gaza that is unlawful, turning the region into an open-air jail that it frequently attacks during its mass murder campaigns.

Even Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship must deal with the effects of Israeli apartheid, which includes discrimination in all facets of life, including access to basic services like healthcare and education.

Additionally, Palestinians are prohibited from traveling freely within their own country. They are unable to freely move between Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem due to a number of checkpoints, roadblocks, separated roadways, an apartheid wall, and an arbitrary permit system.

This means that although Western visitors are allowed to enter and roam about holy places as they like, Palestinians — both Muslims and Christians — are frequently denied entrance.

Additionally, Palestinians are frequently prohibited from visiting overseas. Israel prohibited more than 10,000 Palestinians from traveling in 2021.

Even Palestinians living abroad are frequently barred from entering occupied Palestine and Jerusalem. The Israeli border police keep records of visitors’ intentions, including if they are of Palestinian heritage or have refugee status. Additionally, foreigners of Palestinian heritage who wish to travel to, reside in, or work in Palestine are frequently arbitrarily denied admission at entry points under Israel’s control.

You may still be refused entrance even though your passport qualifies you to enter Israel without a visa. For instance, even though my spouse and kid are German citizens and I am an American citizen, we are unable to enter Jerusalem as a family since they hold Palestinian IDs from Gaza.

East Jerusalem inhabitants have some access to Al-Aqsa, although even they are subject to limitations. For instance, Palestinians are not permitted entry into the compound through the Mughrabi Gate, but Muslim pilgrims are. Additionally, Al-Aqsa is routinely and arbitrarily closed by Israeli officials, ostensibly for security.

Israel obviously lies when it says that it respects and upholds the status quo at the holy sites. Every day, Israeli officials violate the rights of Jordan and the Waqf by enforcing their own security protocols and selecting who gets to access Al-Aqsa and who doesn’t.

These transgressions have long fueled discussions about avoiding travel to Jerusalem, particularly in the Arab world. The late Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi issued a fatwa in 2012 saying that visiting Jerusalem for pilgrimage is prohibited because doing so normalizes the Israeli state.

With the signing of many normalization agreements with Arab nations in 2020, referred to as the Abraham Accords, Israel has tried to increase the amount of potential Muslim visitors visiting its tourist destinations.
Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman promised to work to bring Muslims to Jerusalem in 2021 so they can “see for themselves the way Israel protects holy sites”. The tourism ministry, which runs its own tour operations and works with travel agents, has prioritized promoting Israel as a vacation destination for Muslim tourists.

When you type “pilgrimage to Al-Aqsa” into Google, the website of an Israeli organization called Tourism of the World appears as the first result. The home page for its Muslim pilgrimages to the “Sacred Land” contains verses from the Quran and lists a number of places of worship, including Al-Aqsa, the Omar Mosque, and the Nabi Musa Mosque in Jericho. Of course, neither Palestine nor the Palestinians are mentioned.

The issue is that other travel companies than Israeli-owned ones also ignore the Palestinians and their suffering. A short glance at Muslim-friendly tour companies indicates that many of them also use the same erasing.

For instance, one German tour operator provides trips to Jerusalem that also include stops in Bethlehem, Jericho, and Hebron. Despite the fact that the tour includes stops in Palestinian cities, neither “Palestine” nor “Palestinians” are mentioned in the advertisement on the website.

One UK-based organization prohibits visitors from mingling with the “locals” and neglects to mention Palestine. Another even says that it “does not associate with any political groups” and that the tour it provides “is strictly a historical and spiritual trip.”

Some tour operators even make the idea that Al-Aqsa is a secure place for families with young children while concealing the Israeli occupation’s murderous assault against Palestinians.

By highlighting the land’s spiritual significance while ignoring the suffering of its Indigenous population, Israel normalizes its occupation and apartheid and strengthens its campaign of erasure against the Palestinian people.

How the Palestinians feel about such acts of complicity has been made quite plain. Local worshippers requested that a United Arab Emirates business delegation that was visiting Al-Aqsa with Israeli security personnel leave the complex in October 2020. Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, also spoke out against Emirati Muslims attending Al-Aqsa, citing a 2014 fatwa that forbids prayer at the holy site that involves a circumambulation of the acceptance of Israel.

shaming Israel and supporting Palestine
Of course, Palestinians do not believe they have the only authority to decide who from the Muslim community is allowed to attend Al-Aqsa and who is not. However, they have pleaded for support of their cause.

This call has taken the form of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was founded in 2005 and urges “people of conscience” to boycott Israel in order to show their support for the Palestinian people.

One choice is to obey the call and decide not to go to Jerusalem. But there is an alternative: a pilgrimage to Jerusalem can give visitors the chance to advocate for global support for the Palestinian cause.

It is everyone’s responsibility to oppose these strategies that aid in the exploitation and brutalization of the Indigenous population since Israel uses tourism to cover up its crimes.

Muslims who want to visit Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa can do so in accordance with the BDS guidelines and without endangering the Palestinian people or their cause. They can follow the appeal by staying away from Israeli-run tourist attractions in occupied Palestine, abstaining from all Israeli goods and services, and avoiding Israeli cultural activities.

It is essential to pick a travel company or a group excursion that adheres to BDS’s principles. While some tour operators include interactions with local Palestinians in their itineraries, they do not support BDS. even exist instances promoting tourist destinations like the Tower of David Museum, which is operated unlawfully by the Israeli occupation authority, is an active violation by travel agencies.

However, BDS should be the absolute minimum requirement for any Muslim visiting Jerusalem. Going to Palestine to learn about the pervasive settler colonialism, meet with Palestinians, and work to become their global ambassadors after coming home may actually be more important than simply trying to do no damage, according to some.

Through delegation visits, such as those organized by organizations like Eyewitness Palestine, tourists can make pilgrimages to the holy places while also working to forge global solidarity and take up positions as advocates for justice and liberation in their own communities.

However, BDS should be the absolute minimum requirement for any Muslim visiting Jerusalem. Going to Palestine to learn about the pervasive settler colonialism, meet with Palestinians, and work to become their global ambassadors after coming home may actually be more important than simply trying to do no damage, according to some.

Through delegation visits, such as those organized by organizations like Eyewitness Palestine, tourists can make pilgrimages to the holy places while also working to forge global solidarity and take up positions as advocates for justice and liberation in their own communities.

Respecting a sunnah need not be in opposition to the cause of the Palestinians. Islam’s basic precepts include fighting for the oppressed and opposing injustice. In this light, it makes logical to reframe religious travel to Jerusalem as a form of resistance to the occupation in order to aid the Palestinian cause.

Muslims need to realize how closely related politics and religion are. They ought to oppose Israeli propaganda that separates Al-Aqsa from the fate of the Palestinians, work to expose Israel’s settler colonial goal and elevate Palestinian voices that describe oppression and liberation.
The author’s opinions are his or her own, and they do not necessarily represent those of Al Jazeera.

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