Visiting the Western Wall, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as a Muslim Woman

September 22, 2015 | Qanta Ahmed
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In light of the latest outbursts of violence in Jerusalem, Qanta Ahmed reflects on visiting the Temple Mount and the spirit of intolerance that dominates much of contemporary Islam:

My first visit to al-Aqsa, and to the Dome, and to the Western Wall was in the month of May just two years ago. Because I am privileged in the eyes of Israel as a Muslim, I could visit, and worship at all three, while I could not offer the same opportunity to a Jew. . . [Yet] I still feel the sharp rejection of the bearded sentry at the Dome of the Rock, [and] my humiliation as the sentry challenged and rankly tested evidence of my Islamic identity. . . .

The experience tainted my entire visit to the Dome of the Rock. Even deep inside the cave within the Rock, as I prayed, the harassment continued. As [my guide] stood respectfully to one side to avoid observing my prayer (as is customary for a Muslim man) he was ceaselessly heckled by boorish Muslim women chastising him for not praying.

Later, approaching the Kotel with my handwritten page-long prayer, I was struck by the contrast, the quiet acceptance among Jewish women I was afforded. Women who asked not whom I worshiped, nor how I prayed, but merely understood through my gestures my desire. For them it was enough that I wished to stand among them as we prayed to our Maker. . . . I invited no harassment, no scrutiny, no challenge, no rancor. . . .

By contrast, the territorial and ruthless domination of the public space, of public worship, of external religiosity, is a hallmark of Islamism. The policing of belief, and that of believers, is an archetypal feature. Forbidding worshippers from entering holy sites in Islam, including non-conforming or pluralist Muslims who reject both the ideology and accouterments of Islamism, is an impassioned pastime of fervent Islamists who foolishly believe [that] only they are the arbiters of faith [and] only they the guardians to our Creator.

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