While many of us only dream of performing Salah in the third holiest masjid of Islam, devotees from around the world have in recent years annually travelled to East Jerusalem for a spiritual journey like no other – I’tikaaf in the precinct of Masjid al-Aqsa. Mussalies’ discovered within the besieged territory, a spiritual gem, where they humbly experience the Mubarak precinct in which anbiya performed Salah behind the Rasool of Allah [may peace be upon Them]. For South African, Ayoob Dadabhay, experiencing I’tikaaf within the compound, left him with a constant yearning to return.
Speaking to VOC’s Drive Time, Dadabhay explains that after having performed I’tikaaf both within his local masjid and within Masjid al-Nabawi, he was soon inspired to travel to the third holiest site and observe I’tikaaf in Masjid al-Aqsa.
“I went a few years to perform I’tikaaf in Masjid al-Aqsa and I fell in love with the place and the people and ever since then I made it my intention that if Allah accepts I want to go every year – alhamdullilah so far I’ve been able to do that,” Dadabhay stated.
He affirmed that despite the decades old conflict that has plagued the disputed territory, numbers of I’tikaaf observers has only increased over the years.
During initial years, approximately 20 South Africans made the journey to East Jerusalem and has now increased to approximately 150.
“The guys from the UK [United Kingdom] have overtaken us. When we started, the guys from the UK were about 10, last year they had about 1500 – half of them sat for I’tikaaf and half came with their families,” Dadabhay elaborated.
Over the years, I’tikaaf in the beautiful precinct has transformed into a melting pot of mussalies from around the world, all converging for the blessed month after travelling from as far afield as China, Germany, and the United States.
Given the political context in which Palestinians find themselves, Palestinians are often restricted from accessing the precinct and have, therefore, encouraged the international community to make the journey and pray in the holy grounds, safeguarding the presence of Islam within the precinct.
“They can hear the athan, but they can’t perform Salah there. [So] we are fortunate that we can eat and read Salah in al-Aqsa. That is the sad thing – we have the opportunity, but we don’t take it.”
Mussali’s observing I’tikaaf, are housed in the Marwani area or ‘Solomon’s Stables’ of the precinct, which is an underground area that was renovated under the auspices of Sheikh Raed Salah, who successfully maintained the original architectural appeal of old Jerusalem.
While the Marwani section, following the Roman era, remained a devotional area, in recent years it has once again been alive with the prayer of devotees travelling from all corners of the globe.
“If you go to Makkah and Madina and you go to the imams you have security guards that push you away. [But] here the imams [of al-Aqsa] are open to you and you can sit with them. In fact, every year without fail, the imams have a meal with us one night after taraweegh,” Dadabhay noted.
In addition, mussalies are spoilt with access to the rich Islamic history within the confines of the precinct, including the Buraq Masjid, the museum, and a library.
“If you sit for I’tikaaf you are confined. But in Masjid al-Aqsa it is very different – the whole haram is your boundary and you are not confined to a small space,” he continued.
For more information about performing I’tikaaf in Masjid al-Aqsa, contact, 082 786 0078.