Arriving in Jerusalem took me back to the origins of the people of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. To see and experience the living presence of the three faiths, and how they are interconnected through this historical, Middle-Eastern town named Jerusalem, opens my mind and heart to listen and hear more fully. I heard the voice of the Islamic conquest of 632 of the city known as al-Qudsash-Sharif (“the noble and sacred”) in the call for prayer as it awoke me each morning. It gave a welcome song to my spirit and served as a spiritual and physical alarm clock, reminding me that the day ahead must begin with a sacredness and that my tasks are bigger than I know myself to be as a student of religions called to the work of justice and liberation.
The morning call to worship gave me a geo-physical foundation for the interconnectedness that Islam honors with Christianity and Judaism through the prophets that are important to the three religions’ collective narrative, including King David, Solomon and Jesus. Jerusalem is just as sacred to many Muslims as it is to us who are Christians, as well as to our brothers and sisters who are Jewish. Islam is a part of our collective Abrahamic tradition. Muslims see Jerusalem as a setting of the same spiritual and ethical traditions that began with the common prophets and which today call us to transcending the bigotries we see today in the US and in Israel/Palestine.
Muslims hold Jerusalem to be so important because it is where Muhammad (the “seal of the prophets,” the one upon whom Muslims invoke blessings when they name him) was taken to Heaven. Thus, they built the Dome of the Rock as a sacred place celebrating the prophet Muhammad’s presence. I saw unity among the Jewish people and Muslims when walking the streets just as I see it in the pages of church history books I have read while attending New York Theological Seminary. However, it was when I walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw the place where Jesus was lain, it took my very breath away because it solidified the call within me to be a champion for radical reconciliation. Jesus’s tomb became tangible proof to the political and social risk that he took for the oppressed. It also demands that I take the same risk.
While visiting this place, I saw the reality of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and understood the assertion that the occupation is a sin against the Palestinian people, but also that it is a sin against humanity and the God who created us. This occupation has forced itself upon Holy Ground and ignores the historic voices of those ancient voices who champion justice. I believe that different expressions of Zionism--both Christian and Israel--are not of God because they exclude Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. Historically, Palestinians have lived in community in Jerusalem together with Jews, for centuries. Co-existence is the identity of Palestine itself, although became very distant from the Jewish people during the Roman occupation and eventual destruction of Jerusalem. Christians, Muslims, and Jews have lived together throughout many periods on the Sacred Land called Jerusalem and found their/our way home. History is important for understanding context. As people of faith, we must draw from the past to move toward the future. Exclusivity and bigotry ignores the truth of this local narrative: that Palestine has been home for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The character of Jerusalem is an “in our face” reminder the she is that city on a hill that represents one city and three faiths calling us toward a place of collective integrity. Jerusalem located in a place called Palestine--the land that we know as Israel--is holy ground, and any exclusion has no place there!
Reflection by Short-term Volunteer, TJ Williams.