Poetry:  Jummah, March 8, 2013

Poetry:  Jummah, March 8, 2013

by Noor-Malika Chishti

The Middle Eastern Focus speaker from the West Bank

had a slide show and narrative about non-violent struggle.

                        Each click presenting another image from pages of his life.

Click, 3:00 a.m. and soldiers came into his home,

            generations roused, soldiers carrying machine guns

                    refusing to let parents be the ones to awaken the children.

                                            Seems in the middle of the night

                    their house, the long-time family home,

              is suddenly on Israeli land and they must leave.  Now.

That was just one slide. Iyad Burnet[1] had many slides.

                    Sincerely, I asked

how does one using the tools of non-violent resistance

            keep their heart open under such circumstances?

                                        There was a long pause,

a telling deep look across his face,

            the room full of people silent

                            many feeling this question in their own heart,

                until Iyad responded, we support each other when we feel weak.

                                So knowledge from Iyad’s story is tucked away

            until I anchor it in my own experience.

Everyone knows to be careful of what they pray for

                and, my opportunity came quickly

in the midst of an interfaith pilgrimage,

        Jews Christians Muslims journeying[2] to sites holy to each.

                                Our first morning the Adhan awakens me for Fajr

and the Muslims in our group go the Noble Sanctuary[3].

                    This sister’s dream of Jerusalem, come true.

        Entering the Old City,

the Imam[4] led us through the dark and narrow streets,

    past the ever-present cats scampering across the early morning

to where soldiers decided if we could enter our house of worship.

        Passing through the checkpoint

we had a different welcome when the Palestinian guards checked our papers

        and discovered the Imam’s uncle lived nearby,

as a cat scurried by with a breakfast mouse.

                Gratitude fills me as I recall this pilgrimage began

                                when I told a friend

                                        I was more interested in going to Jerusalem

                than to the neon city Mecca has become.

Now, I approach the Farthest Mosque,

                holding unnamed friends in my heart

                                for their kindness in sending me on this journey.

                                        I enter the splendor of al-Aqsa, heart overflowing with gratitude, not knowing that

            tomorrow I would return and go into the cave below

                      where history is seen in layers and which I was to explore.

        Jummah, March 8, 2013,

the Imam and a brother took the four Muslim women pilgrims

        to the Dome of the Rock

                          and then joined the men at Al-Aqsa Masjid.

We found a sea of women and children,

                        barely a place to put the foot.

        Sisters breathed in enough to make room for us to slip into

a spot and we became drops in this ocean.

        We were given a loving welcome to Jerusalem.

                        Barely was the last raka’[5] offered when there were

flashes of light outside and the sound of guns,

                        windows rattling—

            inside, women crying, gathering together, Allâhu Akbar.

Cell phones ringing, paramedics helping a woman slumped on the floor.

        My sisters and I move to the center where the Foundation Stone[6] stands

            covered in filigree brass; we touched the place our Prophet stood

as he continued on his Night Journey.

                    It was here he greeted the Prophets of the Book.

    It was here we hovered in each other’s comfort,

                        not feeling we were going to be hurt or die

    but thinking, with humor, if we did, this was a good place to be.

The doors to the Dome were locked from the outside

for over an hour by the soldiers.

                Once opened, the Imam came inside and led us to the cave

under al-Aqsa[7]. It was here I was able to stand

                    on the familiar Jerusalem pale pink and grey hued stones

            where long ago Zachariah asked Mary,

who had brought her food? Her purity expressed it simply,

God gives to whom He will[8].

Here I stood,

nourished by a state of Grace, making adamant Iyad’s lesson.

From there we went just outside of Al-Haram al-Sharif

        where the Imam’s uncle lived;

our visit was a surprise

                    but we were greeted as if expected guests.

                        Mint tea and lunch in the heart-filled home

                perched over the shops in the narrow street below.

Climbing to the roof on ancient ladders

                we saw through the fence which we were warned not to touch.

        Cameras, lights and fence installed by the Israeli government.

It could not hide the view we saw of the Dome,

but it changed the experience and reminded me

        of the difference between religion, people and government.

While at Jummah our Christian and Jewish pilgrims

        were a short distance away at the Western Wall;

                they could hear the guns, smell the tear gas,

                        see the stones thrown onto those at the Kotel[9],

                                but they had no idea of our story.

            It was a long journey from Jummah to Shabbat

at the St. George Landmark Hotel.

                    We entered and quietly blended into the room

where the Shekinah[10] was being welcomed.

As the adrenalin wore off, I began shaking,

                    softly crying, until comforted by the soothing arms of my Jewish cousin[11],

    a true-sister of heart.

                The next day our pilgrimage took us to the Western Wall

        and it wasn’t until later I learned

                                it was this sister of heart I had heard,

        wailing for the experience of the day before.

That is how we must cry for the hurts of each other.   

                                        This is how Iyad’s lesson was made my own.


[1] Iyad Burnat leads Bil’in’s non-violent struggle in the occupied West Bank. He is the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall, which has led weekly demonstrations since 2005 against the Israeli West Bank barrier.

[2]  reGeneration’s Interfaith Pilgrimage For Possibility: http://regenerationeducation.org/interfaith-pilgrimage-for-possibility

[3] The Noble Sanctuary is one of the three most important sites in Islam. Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are there. It is one of the holiest sites for Muslims. It commemorates The Prophet Muhammad’s miraculous Night Journey, or, Mi’raj. It is also known as Al-Haram al-Sharif

[4] Imam Jihad Turk, President of Bayan Claremont University

[5] A rakat, or rakʿah, consists of prescribed movements and words followed by Muslims while offering prayers.

[6] The Foundation Stone is the name of the rock at the heart of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Noble Sanctuary, where the Foundation Stone is located, is the place to which the prophet Muhammad traveled on the first leg of his Night Journey.

[7] Cave under Masjid Al Aqsa; ruins from early times are evident in most sites in the Holy Land.

[8] ‘Whenever Zacharias came to her temple, he saw provisions there and asked her: ‘From where did you get this?’ She would answer him: ‘God provides everyone as He likes, He is the Provider!’’ [3:37].

[9] The Western Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem and is one of the most sacred sites in the Jewish religion.

[10] Shekinah, (in Jewish and Christian theology, the glory of the divine presence, conventionally represented as light or interpreted symbolically (in Kabbalism as a divine feminine aspect).

[11] Shepha Schneirsohn Vainstein, Founder of reGeneration

©Noor-Malika Chishti, March 8, 2014; Pasadena, California