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When God Took Me to Palestine

My Beloved Legendary Land
By Dalia Salahuldin
Writer, Consultant
WhenGodTook-Me-to-Palestine
For years and years, I longed to step in and inhale the dark green smell of olive trees
All along my lengthy road to Gaza, I kept thinking to myself and asking: "Oh God, why me?"

It took me a while to believe that I was really on my way, heading to meet my long loved Palestine. It wasn't quite down-to-earth-realistic that God — really — is responding to my endless dreamy prayers. Yet, the moment I started, somehow, I knew I was going to make it!

The Dream of a Sunny Day

For years and years I have been dreaming of my Palestine. I longed to step in and inhale the dark green smell of olive trees. I would moisten my hands in orange dew when I snatch a couple of oranges from the legendary Palestinian orange trees. I would bring my hands to my face and smell its orange scent in childish laughter, opening my eyes to a horizon of green hills and valleys, crowded with endless orchards of almond trees.

A sunny day it would be. Young beautiful Palestinian girls, bejeweled in oriental Palestinian ornaments, enchanting Palestinian joyful songs would greet all my senses. Strong Palestinian men hitting their ground hard with their feet, while dancing their special dabka, would dazzle the scenery. Old chubby Palestinian women, loud in their laughter, shielded in their lovely Palestinian knitted shawls, would feed me Palestinian za`tar, dipped in their precious olive oil. All my senses would encounter freshness, laughter, and the brightness of the day.

 

I guess I would leave all this and run to Jerusalem and storm myself into the honored ancient mosque, known by Muslims as Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa. First thing, I would prostrate and peacefully lay down my head — in awe to Allah — on the ground of the mosque, honoring a blessed spot that has been mentioned to be so in my Noble Book: the Qur'an.

But that used to be… only a dream.  

If Born a Bit Earlier

Having been born within the previous sixty years of human history, my heart had to choose where to set the status of Palestine: either a legendary land of love and worship, or a refused entity that has to be eroded from the conscience of history. If only I was born a couple of more than sixty years ago, life would have been easier and the map much clearer.

Being a Muslim, Palestine has always had its favorite place in my heart. Comes second after Makkah, to which I direct my face daily in my prayer. History tells that the first Muslims used to direct their faces towards Jerusalem in their prayers, before they were permitted to pray towards Makkah. Before that permission came, Makkah was submerged in the worship of idols and idolatry. Thus — at that time — God chose for Muslims to pray towards a land where a Muslim Prophet, Jesus, among other Muslim prophets, was previously born and had lived; a land that witnessed monotheism intensively.

Conflicts of Logic

My favorite Palestinian shawl & my Palestinian olive tree necklace.  Photo by Dalia Salaheldin.

As a human being, it has always been very difficult for me to understand the Zionist Jewish religious plan and how it has been applied. Many Jews spread over earth for ages and chose not to follow Prophet Muhammad. They never realized the fact that he was simply the bearer of the same message of Prophet Moses and Prophet Jesus (peace be upon them all). They chose not to follow him and to deny his prophethood, just as those who chose to stay Christian did.

I could cope with such choice, for Islam clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion and that every soul has the right to choose to follow or not. But, what is nearly impossible for me to understand, or digest, is the logic behind gathering themselves after extended eras of history and choosing a specific spot of land to settle in together. The claim that it was once upon a time their promised land conflicts with my human code of ethics that respects human rights and patriotic feelings.

The logic would have been a bit justified if the land they chose was not inhabited by its very own people. In such case I would have told myself: "Maybe it has something to do with their personal belief and we have to respect others' beliefs." But the fact was that the land chosen was already busy occupied with its people! Seventy years ago Palestine was brimming with Palestinians and fourteen hundred years ago, when Prophet Muhammad appeared to history, it was also busy with its Palestinian people.

A bigger portion of the Palestinian people chose to convert to Islam ages ago. Thus, Palestine became a Muslim country following its majority of inhabitants. Yet, many chose to stay Christian or Jew, never were they denied. If they were, you wouldn't have found a Palestinian Christian or a Palestinian Jew seventy years ago. As simple as my words are, I couldn't ever take the logic of ripping a whole nation — with its triple religious entities — from their homeland and its domestic value, to fulfill the dream of a people who gathered previously — for centuries and decades — over a religious value, never in a homeland.

It has always sounded to me as if we Muslims woke up someday and chose to collect ourselves from our different homelands. Leave Asian lands, African lands and whatever lands we were born to know as our homes and directed ourselves towards Spain to settle, kick its people out and call it "our Long Lost Andalusia"! I guess we wouldn't look very sane in the eyes of today's world.

Well, Andalusia did exist on real grounds a couple of centuries ago. But, regaining its spirit wouldn't ever be fair today except if its people today chose to be Muslims. In such case today, they would be Spanish Muslims, none but the owners of lands who chose to worship in a manner following Prophet Muhammad.

Hey, Reader, don't get me wrong… I am not dreaming that Muslims would take over Spain! I am just dreaming of a world where people would live in their homelands, enjoy their domestic traditions and choose to worship God — or even not worship Him — in their own way…  

Hurting for Palestine

On my way to Gaza, my brain kept churning between my exhausted feelings and thoughts like a kitchen blender… couldn't rest a second throughout my thirteen-hour drive from Cairo to Egyptian Rafah, where Egypt meets with the borders of Palestinian Rafah. I sat beside my driver friend and trip companion, quite detached from so much of the others' enthusiasm about the trip. A couple of women we were, driving towards the unknown but heading steadily. We ignored all the worries, not the fears. Somehow, we had no fears!

How long have I hurt for Palestine...

How many times did my eyes flood with tears when I saw my Palestinian brothers & sisters burnt and cut to pieces that mix with the shreds of their young children in the daily news?

How many times have I prayed and pleaded to God, asking Him to save the souls and cherish the honorable land? A land where prophets stepped around and worshiped, a land where Prophet Jesus was born, a land where Prophet Muhammad prayed and placed his head on the ground in acknowledgment of His Lord: our Creator.

How many times have I asked God to take me there…

Part of me thought it would never happen, but the other part kept dreaming & praying.

The Old Love

My personal keychain engraved in the map of Palestine. Photo by Dalia Salaheldin

For years, I walked around with my personal key chain in my hands, engraved in the form of a silvered Palestinian map…  Palestinian flags decorated my car, where I would turn on my tape recorder and drive. The angelic voice of Fairouz — a Lebanese Christian singer favored by most Arabs, Muslims and Christians — would thunder through my heart while driving away, murmuring the Arabic lyrics after her:

"For your sake… city of prayers… I pray…

For your sake… city of bright homes… flower of cities…

Hey you Jerusalem… Jerusalem… city of prayers…

Our eyes towards you… travel every day…

Move around temples' pavements…

Embrace ancient churches…

And wipe away sorrow from the mosques…"

For years, my closet burst with Palestinian knitted ornaments, gowns, handbags, and shawls.  For long I wore a silver chain, around my neck and under my headscarf, which no one would see as long as I was outdoors, keeping my headscarf on. It carries a small silver diagram of a Palestinian olive tree with the letters forming the word "Palestine" in the Arabic language engraved at the bottom of the silver diagram.

I carried my love to Palestine tight to my heart and went on with life. I walked around the paths of life, trying every possible peaceful means to convey the essence of the message. As Muslims, we simply believe in a One Merciful Creator and we believe in all His messengers and prophets; among which are Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. We appreciate certain values and we cherish our lands, all of our lands, what about a blessed spot!

It Still Gets More Violent

I write, I preach, I teach, and pray. I try my best be tolerant with those who don't understand and those who are ignorant of what I see to be the truth. I choose to get close to those who differ with me, hoping for a better understanding. Yet, the world is still not changing. It is still getting more violent and aggression is prevailing. 

How many times have I felt pain and failed to understand the logic of some of my university students of Arabic and Qur'anic language; Americans they be, European they be, atheists, Christians or Jews, whatever they would be, when they talk to me about the right of Israel to exist. Tolerant as much as I can afford, I give them the excuse that they were born to find it exist. I pity the goodwill of some of my intellectual — but ignorant about the true history of the case — students and choose not to personalize matters with them. I expect that many of them, resembling their own nations and people — calling for human rights — would take a different stand. That is, if they knew the truth about how matters have developed the way they are today.

And, I guess the reader, along with many of my students, might not know that the name "Israel" is a name of a Muslim prophet, known in the Qur'an by the name Is-haaq. I guess if he was still living between us, he would agree with me if I speak to say:

"Stop the massacres shredding the children, the elderly and the women. Let go of the lands to its people, accept their values and let them worship peacefully. Plant the burnt lands green and sow the scalded orchards with lemon, olive, orange and almond seeds. Let history go back a hundred years when Muslims handled the blessed lands and have Jews and Christians worship there in peace."

What a dream!

When God took me to Palestine, I started my trip with a dreaming heart. But, by the time my trip ended, I realized that God took me there for more important reasons than fulfilling my personal dreams. I came back feeling responsible to write these words and more to come…

This article was first published in 2008 and it is re-highlighted due to its importance.
Dalia Salahuldin is a bilingual writer, proem poet and consultant of Ask About Islam. She is a local activist who has traveled widely throughout the world and has been studying Islam at length in Egypt since 1992. She currently teaches Arabic and Quranic language to non-Arabs at the American University in Cairo and is specialized in intercultural and interfaith affairs. She holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication and an MA in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language from the American University in Cairo. 

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