The recent closing of Masjid al Aqsa, together with the cancelling of the Friday prayers is a stark reminder of the reality we are facing as a Muslim Ummah. Our perception of a perpetual cycle of Israeli aggression followed by a temporary lull is tempered by the fact that the Palestinian people face a daily struggle whilst they live under the reality of occupation.
In truth, it is a daily struggle that only grabs our attention when the flashpoints make the mainstream media or appears on our Facebook newsfeed. Sometimes it can feel like we are living in a different reality. Our 1st World concerns revolve around the collection of our wheelie bins during the latest bin strike. Whereas in Gaza / Aleppo the people live in sewage and even that is the least of their concern.
However, Islam builds within us a mentality of being concerned for the affairs of others who find themselves in difficultly.
An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah, (pbuh), said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” [Bukhari / Muslim].
The situation of Palestine and Masjid al Aqsa is central to Islam. Firstly, it is the 3rd most blessed place in Islam, where a single prayer performed in Masjid al Aqsa is worth 500 times the regular prayer. Secondly, it is significant in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It was the destination of al Isra (night journey), where the Prophet (pbuh) led all the other Prophets (as) in prayer. Thirdly, it is a land that has been occupied for over 70 years, with over 7 million displaced and those who remain live in oppression.
For most of us above a certain age, the struggle of the Palestinians in entrenched within our hearts and minds. But for the younger generation the connection might not be so strong as the Islamic significance, historical proceedings and awareness may be missing. Mentioning Masjid al Aqsa to some will bring blank faces. It is inconceivable that a person will feel for the plight of Masjid al Aqsa if they don’t even know where it is.
Creating awareness regarding the plight of Masjid al Aqsa and the Palestinians is not an easy task. The conflict has been skewed by a biased media who often present a distorted narrative of the events. Israeli aggression is often portrayed as defence and Muslim resistance portrayed as militancy. The death of 100’s of Palestinians in air strikes is termed ‘collateral damage’ whilst the killing of 1 Israeli termed slaughter.
In addition, as part of the government Prevent agenda there has been a blurring of the lines between criticism of Israel and Zionism and extremism. There have been calls to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, with anti-Semitism being perceived as a trigger sign for radicalisation. For Muslims, Israeli occupation of Muslim land is a crime and raising awareness of the cause and solution forms part of the religious duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. Many non-Muslims also view Israel as an occupying force and they speak out against the perceived injustice. Some Jews are also keen to distance themselves from Zionism. All views are not influenced by anti-Semitism or anything ‘anti-Jews’. Anti-Semitism is a tool being used to silence any political opposition of the Israeli state. Conflating this as a sign of Muslim radicalisation and extremism will also be used to silence the Muslim community. Although, as Muslims we should not let fear stop us from speaking the truth, our silence may lead to the false narrative gaining precedence, especially amongst the coming generation.
Our children will naturally learn about Makkah and Madinah as they are the birth places of Islam. They feature prominently in Muslim life. Whereas Masjid al Aqsa doesn’t have the same prominence in our teaching.
There is a need to build awareness in our children regarding the centrality of Masjid al Aqsa and Bait al Maqadis in Islam. Our children need to know about how Islam entered the region and the implementation of Islamic law brought harmony between the various religious groupings. They should know about the crusades and the role of Salahuddin in unifying the Muslims and liberating the region. They should be aware of the events of WW1 and how Britain determined in the Balfour Declaration that Palestine will be a homeland for the Jews. They should learn about the events of the creation of Israel and the fate of the millions of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christians. They should learn about the 70-year brutal history of Israel, the hypocrisy of the International community and the impotency of the surrounding Muslim countries.
With knowledge comes awareness. With awareness comes love and with love comes the motivation to come to their aid, both in speech and deed.
This week we set out to discuss the reality of Masjid al Aqsa with our children, but discovered that there was a distinct lack of material available for teaching younger children about these issues. Also, the complexity of the issues can make it difficult to discuss simply with young minds. Thus, we have produced a small workbook for 8 – 12 year olds to discuss the importance of Masjid al Aqsa and its occupation. Some of it is taken from https://imanshomeschool.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/history-of-masjid-al-aqsa-lapbook/ and a booklet on Palestine by Friends of al Aqsa.
Having ran through it with our own children we felt that it would be a useful resource to share with others. It opened numerous discussions, created an excitement around Masjid al Aqsa and made them more aware of the plight of others.
The link to the resource is attached below together with an aid to help in delivery.