Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All in the Family: The Mu'adhins of Jerusalem's Haram al-Sharif & al-Aqsa Mosque

Masjid al-Aqsa (the Farthest Mosque), in the Old City of Jerusalem. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad traveled from Mecca near the sacred Ka'ba to Jerusalem's al-Aqsa. Some traditions state that this "Night Journey" (al-Israa) was physical while other traditions say that it occured during a dream or a mystical state. Once at al-Aqsa, the Prophet ascended into the 7 Heavens where met the major prophets (Ibrahim, Musa, 'Isa: Abraham, Moses, Jesus) and entered into the presence of God. He ascended from a large rock formation, which is today housed within Jerusalem's most famous landmark, the Dome of the Rock.

The platform on which Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa are located is known in Arabic as the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Jews revere the platform because it was the site of King Herod the Great's Hellenic-style reconstruction and expansion of the post-Babylonian exile Great Temple, which in turn is believed to have been built over the ruins of the Davidian king Solomon's Great Temple. Although under Israeli control and policed by Israeli security forces, the Haram al-Sharif is maintained by the Muslim trust in Jerusalem (Waqf in Arabic.) The inside of al-Aqsa was damaged in a fire set by an Australian Christian Zionist in 1969. Among the things damaged in the blaze was a medieval minbar (pulpit) from the time of Salah al-Din, the great 12th century Ayyubid king of Egypt, Syria (historical Syria: modern Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel) and nemesis of the European Crusaders. The Second Intifada, dubbed by some the al-Aqsa Intifada, was sparked in late September 2000 when then Likud Party hawk and former Israeli general (and some would argue war criminal) Ariel Sharon made an intentionally provocative visit to Haram al-Sharif. The ensuing protests and fighting between angry Palestinians and Israeli security forces, coupled with the unsuccessful negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in the U.S. with President Bill Clinton and the failure of the Oslo Accords to deliver a viable Palestinian state, or any Palestinian state, led to the outbreak of a new Palestinian uprising.

The role of al-Aqsa's mu'adhin (مؤذن ), the individual who delivers the call to prayer five times a day, has been occupied for 500 years by the family of Naji Azzaz. Now, the 49-year-old Jerusalem native is preparing to make way for his son, Firas.


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