JERUSALEM, WEDNESDAY 23RD MARCH 2011, 4AM. What do you do when you are up and wide awake at 4am in Jerusalem? What else can you do but wash your underwear? My sainted mother would have been so proud. Anyway it was difficult to return back to sleep, not when Arjuna was snoring like a buffalo in heat in the next bed. As light dawned upon a cold (very very cold) and rainy morning in the Old City, I wandered out to the balcony for a cigarette. While shivering and puffing in my towel, I noticed that just across the road was a lawyer's office, "R.M. BEDOUN ADVOCATE" (zoom in on above pic). It crossed my mind to pay a visit to my learned friend later in the morning, but alas our tour schedule did not permit it. I stamped out the cancer stick on a bed of flowers and went indoors to the warmth of the room and my friend's melodious snoring. I remember wondering that, if we both snored at the same sound frequency, whether we would actually cancel out each other's snore. I never found out the answer.
WARM MILK is an excellent beverage when you find yourself being whipped by a bracing cold breeze in wet wet Jerusalem. It appears that despite what Abu Ayob said (No rain at all this year), we Malaysians have brought our Malaysian weather to the Holy Land. We are rainmakers. You can do the same too. Just try washing your car. While sipping my white drink, my friends returned from morning prayers at the al-Aqsa (yes, Taufiq... there was something better to do then washing your underwear). Less than 5 minute later a group of French Catholics returned from their morning worship too (probably not in the al-Aqsa). I timidly ventured a bonjour, and the old bidies replied cheerfully back Bonjour!
WHERE IS THE BUS?! Ariffin, myself and Ijan (who looked like Genghiz Khan in his furry hat) out in the entrance of the Holy Land Hotel. Waiting and waiting (and waiting) for the tour bus to arrive. As it turned out, the bus arrived almost 2 hours late, thereby pushing our scheduled tour, already precariously hanging on the ledge, into the ravine of the impossible. It will have dire effect later when the bus had to cross the border and reach Queen Alia Airport, Amman by 6pm to catch our flight to Medina.
THE DIVINE ELEVATOR. We visited the Chapel of the Ascension (on the Mount of Olives), where Christians (some at least) believed that Jesus ascended to heaven after calming down his companions following the exaggerated news of his death. Right next to the Chapel was a surau (small mosque). The signs says it clearly I think, but Ariffin, being Ariffin, went in anyway. I was shy and only took pictures from the outside. Yup. I should have just gone in. The secret of a successful pilgrimage is knowing when to follow the rules and when to disobey them. But I always get mixed up.
Well, there you see it - the Chapel of the Ascension, or some calls it the Dome of the Ascension. Both Muslims and Christians frequent this spot, much like many other holy places in this amazing city. One faith would enter the Chapel, examine the inside and probably pray to God, then the next would enter and repeat just the same.
Probably the most celebrated feature of the Chapel is the reputed footprint of Jesus. I looked pretty closely, but I cannot see it. Well, try and zoom into the picture and see if you can trace the outline. Maybe you can do better than me.
I noticed a pair of pigeons in the ledge of the Chapel. It would be the first pair of thousands of pigeons which appear to inhabit all the holy places that I would soon to visit, ergo the Maqam of Moses, the Prophet's Mosque, and the Masjidil Haram in Mecca.
"Well...? Are they Muslims or Christians?" one pigeon asked the other, perched on their bird's eye view of our group. The other replied in pigeon talk, "I don't know, Earl. They look kinda the same from here..."
"Jesus? You are looking for him? And so is Herod and the Elders? Well, I think he went thataway..."
RABI'AH AL-'ADAWIYAH. Her maqam was just next door to the Chapel of the Ascension. (But before we continue, let us be clear that when we refer to 'maqam' it doesn't necessarily mean 'tomb' or 'grave'. For many maqams, it is essentially a place of significance of the dead Prophet or Saint. He or she perhaps prayed or even lived there for awhile during their sainted lives. It makes sense really, as maqam also means 'station'. So you can say that this Maqam of Rabia's is her Jerusalem Station. Where she is in fact actually (and finally) buried is in the knowledge of her Friend, God. Well, station, substation or shrine, we were very delighted to finally arrive at Rabia's maqam. Most did not stay long in the subterranean cavern, but myself, Saiful and Ariffin remained for awhile longer with the presence of this amazing female saint, who was so sought after by many, many male saints of her day. If you do find yourself on Mount Olive, remember to contact and make prior arrangements with the custodian family of the shrine. They hold the key to her maqam.
ON THE SLOPES OF THE MOUNT OF OLIVES is a famous Jewish cemetery. Believing Jews would love to be buried here as according to their faith, whoever is buried on this holy slopes shall be the first ones to be judged by God and ergo, not to dwell too long in limbo. Our guide informs us that it can cost as much as USD90,000 for a single plot here. But if what theJews believe is true, I think it is a worthwhile investment to avoid an eternity in limbo, don't you?
MAQAM OF MOSES. After taking pictures in the freezing rain, we finally left Jerusalem on our way to the Shrine of Moses. (I will use the term maqam and shrine interchangeably. Why? Because I can. Okay, no more back-talk). After about 45 minutes drive across a grey and brown desert, the highway passing by many construction sites (what the heck are they building in the middle of this desert wilderness?), we finally arrived at our destination. Moses's Shrine stood in a solitary building complex (small-ish) far from any human settlement. Outside, Arab traders were making brisk business in ice-cream, rosary beads and a camel ride - "This camel, is the grandchild of the grandchild of the grandchild of the 300th generation of a camel that Moses once rode!" Okay, I am making that up. But you must remember that Jerusalem and Palestine-Israel has been in the God-bothering pilgrims' guidebook for centuries.
I was shy with the memory of the fiery red-headed and red-bearded Prophet. After all, he was known to be a strict Prophet (and I am not using the term 'strict' lightly here). After meandering about the compound listlessly, finally I took courage and entered the surau.MOSES KALAMULLAH, PROPHET OF GOD. In the cosy green carpeted interior I pulled out my journal, full of prayers and messages for Prophets from my friends and family. I went through the wish list of my friend Shal the Longhair, my brother Zahurein, my second brother Saiful and lastly my auntie, Mak Ndak. Then I spoke a little, sharing my feeling of happiness to be here, my desire for a better future, about my hopes and dreams. I even spoke of my regrets and sadness. I complained about my weariness of spirit and body. I think I may have drifted to sleep, because next thing I remember was a gentle nudge from the Shrine's custodian. Everyone else have left the surau. I gathered up my cane and bag, said goodbye to whoever was listening and walked out again into the cold desert air. Outside I met, Arjuna and Saiful. They smiled at me, and then took the picture of me below. It was lovely. And yes, as I mentioned earlier, there were pigeons here too.
It was a lovely visit, sunshine.