Why Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque matters for Muslims

Updated 03 June 2019

Why Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque matters for Muslims

  • The shrine is Islam's third holiest after Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia
  • The first mosque built within the Al-Aqsa compound dates back to 638 AD

AMMAN: “There is a spot just in the center of Al-Qibli Mosque where you feel so light when you stand in it.”

This is the way Wasfi Kailani, of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque, describes his favorite spot within Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the UNESCO World Heritage site also known to Muslims and Palestinians as Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

The spot that Kailani refers to is not far from Saladin’s pulpit, rebuilt by King Abdullah II of Jordan after it was destroyed in a 1969 arson attack.

“I feel that the holiest spot in the entire compound is in the center of the mosque,” he told Arab News. “It is the place from where Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens to meet God Almighty with all the prophets with him.”

For Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, a spokesman for Fatah, the Palestinian political party, the most special spot is a small room under the Dome of the Rock mosque.

“It is called the Souls Cave,” Abu Zayyad told Arab News. “I like it for the high level of energy and spirituality that can be felt while praying inside it.”

His views are echoed by Ahmad Budeiri, a former BBC staffer, who was born in Jerusalem and has spent all his life there. “I enter the mosque to experience the beauty of its architecture,” he said. “Then I go down to the cave and I get the feeling that all the spiritual meaning in the mosque is condensed in that small space.”

Abla Rweis, a mother of three from Nablus, told Arab News that her favorite spot is the mosque itself. “It has a special holiness to it as it is where the holy prophet Muhammad spent the night on his ascent to heaven.”

Rweis is talking about Al-Isra wa Al-Miraj, the two parts of a Night Journey that Prophet Muhammad took. In Islam, Al-Isra wa Al-Miraj signifies both a physical and spiritual journey.

A little more than a decade on, Caliph Omar was in Jerusalem and he began building the first Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Aqsa means “the farthest,” a reference to the distance of Islam’s third holiest shrine from Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

For Khalil Attiyeh, a Jordanian parliamentarian, the feeling while going down the stairs from the Dome of the Rock to Al-Aqsa Mosque is special. But for many worshipers and visitors, the entire 144 dunum (144,000sq meters) of the Al-Aqsa compound is sacred.

Political activist Hazem H. Kawasmi said that his favorite spot is across from the water fountain, where worshipers come for the ritual washing. “I have been coming to Al-Aqsa since I was a child. I love to sit on the stairs across from the mosque and gaze at the water fountain,” he said.

For Arafat Amro, the Islamic Museum located within the compound is special because of its priceless contents. “It is a window to civilizations and history,” said Amro, who is also the musuem’s director.

“Everything here, from parchments, wooden works and metal items to stone carvings, reflects different times. Visitors who came to this mosque down the ages from different locations went back with the history of their Arab and Muslim forefathers etched in their memories.”

The Islamic Museum is located close to both Al-Buraq Wall and a gate through which groups of Jewish extremists often make uninvited incursions with an armed Israeli security escort.

The area was cleared of Palestinians soon after the capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem by Israel, marking the beginning of the occupation.

For Hazem Shunnar, a respected Palestinian economist, Al-Buraq wall is what he often thinks about “because the Israelis took it by force.”


Egyptian eco-activist turns agricultural waste into crafts

Enas Khamis’ Cairo workshop spreads the recycling message. (Supplied)
Updated 18 January 2020

Egyptian eco-activist turns agricultural waste into crafts

  • Workshop set up by Enas Khamis in 2007 is recycling agricultural waste into paper crafts
  • An estimated 22–26 million tones of dry agricultural waste is burned annually in Egypt

CAIRO: The sustainable disposal of agricultural waste has long been a challenge in Egypt.
Despite a 2012 government ban on burning rice straw at the end of the harvest, every year thick black clouds choke the nation’s skies as farmers set their waste ablaze.
An estimated 22–26 million dry tons of agricultural waste in Egypt is burned annually, according to figures from the American University of Cairo.
As well as being burned in fields, agricultural waste is often used as fuel in primitive ovens that can cause health problems and damage the environment.
The type and quantity of agricultural waste in Egypt differs from year to year and village to village because farmers cultivate whichever crops are the most profitable at any time.
The five crops with the highest amount of waste are rice, corn, wheat, cotton and sugarcane.
In the past decade, government and civil focus has turned towards reducing agricultural waste, but much more needs to be done.
Enas Khamis, one of Cairo’s leading anti-waste activists, was ahead of her time when she set up El Nafeza, a waste reduction workshop, in 2007.
“The disposal of agricultural waste plays a big role in the pollution of our Egyptian skies. Yet a lot of the wastage can be recycled,” Khamis said.
Her social enterprise turns the huge amounts of dumped rice straw into a resource for both humanity and the environment. The workshop also trains and hires people with disabilities to recycle rice straws into paper products that are sold all over the country.
Proceeds from selling El Nafeza crafts are used to run further workshops for young people, women and people with disabilities, teaching them how to use papermaking skills to create products from agricultural refuse.
“It’s important that we empower these groups and teach them a craft that enables them to live in dignity,” says Khamis.
El Nafeza has established specialized training centers to teach and spread art techniques —especially skills working with rice straws, Nile water lilies and bananas stalks.
“The handmade paper industry is considered a non-traditional source of income in poor areas and the development of these crafts will help to solve the unemployment problem in Egypt,” said Khamis.
The El Nafeza workshop in Cairo produces more than 150 handmade products, including paper, envelopes, notebooks, handcrafted cards and frames.
Khamis relies on this workshop to act as a marketing tool for the brand, which sells to both locals and tourists.
“It is easy to sell our products from there because it is better for the customer to see the steps of our work in detail. They can see what a distinctive product it is and how much craftsmanship goes into it,” she said.
Khamis is busy working on a business and marketing strategy to take her wares into the international arena.
“We have plans to export our products to many countries, such as Germany, Italy and the US.
“We already have beautiful and unique products which we will continue to improve. Now our biggest challenge is selling our products and opening up our markets,” she said.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.