Palestinian plan to bring Muslim pilgrims back to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque
The grand mosques in Mecca and Medina, the two holiest in Islam, draw millions of pilgrims annually. Al-Aqsa, the last of the three sacred sites the Prophet Mohammad urged Muslims to visit, sees only a few thousand foreign worshippers a year.
The difference is political, not religious. The first two mosques are in Saudi Arabia, a proudly Muslim kingdom, while Al-Aqsa stands on Israeli-controlled land that may be the most disputed religious spot on earth.
Jews call the raised ground at the eastern edge of Jerusalem’s Old City the Temple Mount, while Muslims know it as the Noble Sanctuary. Both claim sovereignty over it. Muslims have kept up an informal boycott of the walled esplanade since Israel seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in a 1967 war, saying visits would amount to recognition of Jewish occupation of Palestinian territory.
Palestinian and Jordanian officials now want to reverse that. President Mahmoud Abbas urged Muslims last February to resume the journeys to Jerusalem to counter what he called Israel’s attempts to “Judaise” the city and in solidarity with the Palestinians.
“Visiting a prisoner is an act of support and does not mean normalization with the warden,” he said.
Since then, several high-ranking Arab and Islamic leaders have turned up to pray at Al-Aqsa and – they hope – kickstart a new wave of pilgrimages.
“Some Muslims haven’t visited Al-Aqsa mosque since 1967, but this was a big mistake,” said Palestinian Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud al-Habash.
“We have now decided to correct our mistake.”