Today we had the honor of having a personal tour through the Old City from one of its residents, Omar. As a tour guide, no one could have been better because Omar was around our age, truly fluent in both English and Arabic, and accustomed to living in both the States and Jerusalem. In other words, he knew where we were coming from and could help us get what and where we wanted.
From his internet cafe shop on the Via Dolorosa, the route which Isa/Jesus (as) is supposed to have traveled, he took us to the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the Christians believe Isa’s (as) body is buried. Knowing that Jesus ascended into heaven and is still in heaven, waiting to return, we knew that perhaps the hype of the church didn’t really mean a thing. However, I still went in for the significance of the history of the place–the person who took his place on the cross is buried there. And that’s interesting enough history for me :). By the way, did you know that the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are in the hands of a Muslim family? They unlock and lock the church everyday…how’s that for interfaith understanding and peaceful coexistence for you?
We also stopped by the Mosque of Omar (ra) which was built on the spot where the companion of the Prophet (saws) prayed upon assuming control of Jerusalem. As the story goes, the caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) had just been given Jerusalem through surrender after a quick and bloodless siege. As the time for afternoon prayer approached, the Christian patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius, invited Omar to pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the most important Christian monument of Jerusalem), but Omar declined his invitation and prayed outside. He feared that Muslims in later generations might establish a mosque in place of the church if he prayed there. And so Salahuddin’s son built a masjid where Omar (ra) prayed instead! Another great example of interfaith understanding and coexistence from a strong leader to learn from…
Presently, the front part of the Mosque of Omar is under construction, but one can still make prayers there by walking around it. The masjid is kind of like a cave…the ceilings are rounded with stone that acts as it’s own natural air conditioning, mash’Allah. And there’s a beautiful courtyard outside which makes you want to stay there all day. But we didn’t ;).
After dhuhr prayer at the Mosque of Omar, we tried our hand again at shopping :). No more ten shekel stories for us! As a business man in the Old City and a relative of a lot of the merchants, we got Jerusalem bargaining at its best and got the best deals. It seemed like Omar was either related to or good friends with almost everybody! As for me, I’m making it a point to shop when possible at Omar’s family’s stores…for mutual benefit because the prices we were told B.O. (Before Omar) were nothing like the prices we were told once the merchants knew we were his friends…tsk,tsk, but everyone’s gotta try to make a dollar, right?
Later on in the day, our daughter had a fit for naptime, and Omar’s family was kind enough to let me give her a break from the busi-ness of the street at their house which is right above their cafe in the Old City! I never noticed that there were houses above the shops…it just looked like an open market on the eye’s level, but now I know where to look for the doors to the inner world of Jerusalem… So I stayed in the company of the sweet women of his family while my husband and Omar went on with their tour of the Old City, praying salatul asr at Al Aqsa.
Omar’s family then surprised us with a scrumptious iftar at their house, that left my mouth watering for more. I was ready to ask Omar’s mother for recipes then and there! Alhamdulillah, it was a truly beautiful day and we got to see the city through the eyes of two Omars.