I set off to visit the Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third holiest site, on a sunny winter day. At the time I was staying in a hostel in the Armenian quarter of the old city so the walk was long enough to mentally prepare, yet before I knew what was happening I found myself at the entrance to the Temple Mount.
I had a pocketful of shekels in my pants and these coins did little to encourage the Palestinians guarding the entrance to look upon me kindly. Nonetheless, after a brief pat-down during which the offending coins were discovered and explained, I entered the sacred ground.
1) The Dome of the Rock from outside the walls of the old city
I am not an expert in these matters but the octagonal structure, completed around 690 AD, is held to be the spot where Mohamed ascended to Heaven. I have also heard the actual rock, which the shrine surrounds, is the site where Abraham made a sacrifice. I’m not sure of the veracity of these stories. The rock has been known for millennia as the Navel of the World, an interesting concept more typically found in South America and Polynesia.
2) Ongoing repair-work 0utside the Dome
I walked to the Dome and, my heart beating fast, entered. A few guards and pilgrims meditated in front of the Foundation Stone, as the Jewish people call the rock. I approached it with caution. So much blood had been spilled over this geological formation throughout history, I wondered what would happen to me if I came too close.
But nothing did, of course. The vibe inside the Dome was serene and peaceful. I retreated to a dark corner and sat down, thinking to meditate for a time. I crossed my legs in the correct pose and took a deep breath, letting the sensations of history wash around my body. The feeling was sublime.
I don’t know how long I remained so, sitting cross-legged. But I was brought back to the present when shouting began. Opening my eyes, I saw two or three guards hastening in my direction, looking displeased. I quickly rose and a padded to the Dome’s exit; no one followed.
I could only surmise what had caused the displeasure of the guardians. Perhaps they thought I was trying to cast a spell on the place with some esoteric rite. More likely, visitors were not supposed to sit down inside.
Hard to say and I never asked. I lingered quite a bit longer on the Temple Mount, unmolested. Its tragic past and present are a constant reminder that our spiritual pursuits are governed by petty and human squabbles over faith, doctrine, and politics.
Photos by Ken and Peg Herring