by Shoaib Bajwa, UK
When talking about religious similarities, particularly between the three great Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the city of Jerusalem is not the first place that springs to mind as a shining example of such unity. However, my professional commitment very recently took me to Israel for a short trip and I was struck by its beauty, history and the sense of evolved multiculturalism. Jerusalem is a truly unique place, and despite the well- documented, on-going problems in the region – in which I travelled extensively (Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Hebron and Galilee) – the Jerusalem itself is testament not to religious unrest, but rather to centuries of coexistence, tolerance and faith.
The three major religions all have holy sites in the city, from the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount and its Western Wall, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. All have great religious, cultural and historical significance, revealing the similarities between these ancient cultures. To each of them Jerusalem is a symbol of their deepest faith, a tangible link to God, and a site to be cherished and shared with others.
Modern Jerusalem is the product of local and global upheavals, conflicts and migrations, both recent and ancient, creating a diverse, multicultural and proud society. Whilst the Israel-Palestine conflict should of course not be forgotten, the overwhelming lesson that I took from my visit was one of tolerance and co-existence on an individual level which still exists in large. Despite obvious differences, the traditions and identities of Islam, Christianity and Judaism are not as different as they would appear apparently, linked as they are by Jerusalem’s religious sites. All three hold the Temple Mount and its holy places, including the Dome of the Rock and the First and Second temples, to be of great religious significance. Islam and Judaism venerate the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – one of Christianity’s most important sites – which has had a Muslim family act as custodian for generations. Though the religious traditions are different their core faith and values are linked through shared scripture, a shared deity, shared holy people and shared beliefs.
Indeed, many of the core precepts of the three faiths are markedly similar. In basic terms, all are monotheistic, and no matter what name is used (be it Allah, God or Jehovah) all are referring to the same Supreme Being. All follow the teachings of this deity, and those of the individuals through which He revealed His holy word. Also, the religions revolve around the key rituals of faith. For Muslims it’s the five pillars (Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, Hajj), for Christians it is through ceremonies such as communion and confirmation, and through membership of religious orders. For members of the Jewish faith it’s through observation of Shabbat and via ceremonies such as Bar mitzvah. Prayer is of course also centrally important to each of the three faiths.
The key figures in each religion, Muhammad, Jesus and Abraham (peace be on them all) are also linked through their values and principles, and the influence they exert over the very fabric of the religions which venerate them. Jerusalem shows this more than any other place. To go there is to walk in the footsteps of the Prophets and their teachings and proclamations remain relevant today to all those seeking to better themselves and others.
Jerusalem can rightfully be proud of its reputation as a melting point for the Abrahamic religious communities. Co-existence and familiarity can breed understanding and friendship – something which should be encouraged and nurtured. As the international community continues efforts to secure a two-state solution in the region – which I believe to be the right way forward – local political leaders should take inspiration from the region itself to ensure a negotiated and long-lasting peace.
Jerusalem has been a symbol to the world, for better or for worse, for thousands of years – and it can still act as the lightening rod for positive changes in attitude across the globe. I would urge anyone who is able to, to visit this incredible city and see and feel for themselves the places where some great holy leaders lived and what true religious cohabitation is like.
Author is London based banking professional, believe in liberal politics and takes a keen interest in current social and political issues. He can be reached on @shoaibkbajwa