Dr Qanta Ahmed is Associate Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York (Stony Brook). Dr. Ahmed is also a non-fiction author. Her first book, ‘In the Land of Invisible Women’ (Sourcebooks 2008), details her experience of living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and has been published internationally in 13 countries including in translation, and is now in its 11th edition. Since 2009, she has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post where she blogs about political and religious issues pertaining to Islam, the Middle East and terrorism.
She just published a four part series for the Times of Israel on her visit to the Temple Mount – Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa.
In part 4 she wrote some astonishing information revealed to her by the Muslim guide.
As we walked in, my eye fell on the shelves of books encircling massive pillars. They looked suspiciously homogenous- copies of the Quran, all from the same publisher. No one had moved them from their place. Ramshackle shelves lay bare awaiting shoes of the faithful. We were between prayer times. Al Aqsa was empty.
Low domed roofs arched overhead, each rendered in the same limestone. Pleasing corridors stretched in longitudinal halls. Here and there, a lone woman studied her Quran. Other than that, Ibrahim and I were alone. We walked around the corner and, approaching a smaller vestibule, we confronted enormous columns. Their diameter deeper than the height of a tall man, they were disproportionate to the low roof. Each of the massive pillars were carefully supported by modern concrete abutments and steel girdles. These pillars looked much older. They didn’t belong to Al Aqsa. Nearby, Ibrahim pointed out the roof overhead. A distinct break in the brickwork was evident.”
“This was the entrance to the Second Jewish Temple that was here before Al Aqsa. You can see it is absolutely distinct.” And without doubt, it was easy to see, this had been a place of worship for Jews centuries before. Perhaps we were standing at the gate. Somehow, these hardy arches, these massive pillars had escaped even the Romans’ determined destruction of the Second Temple. Before this place was made ours, it had clearly been theirs. We were on borrowed ground. Incredible at something so ancient, confronted with the profound reality preceding Islam, we fell into the shared silence of young believers.
Retracing our steps, we returned to the main level where Ibrahim pointed out the obscenely lavish series of pillars that stood in stark distinction to the main structure.
Mussolini’s Pillars (photo: Qanta Ahmed)
“Gifts from Mussolini,” he explained. Il Duce had been currying favor with the then Mufti of Jerusalem, an overt anti-Semite and eager pro-Hitler fascist. The pillars of Carrera marble had been either a bribe or a pay off, possibly both. Either way, they were an architectural affront. In the austere seventh century structure, theirs was the clarion call for the marriage of arrogance and wealth that would come to define the modern petro-Islamic empire. After viewing the carved staircase of an imam’s pulpit, a gift from Syria, and studying the spectacular stained windows which had somehow remained intact Ibrahim asked me if I wanted to wait for Asr prayer. I did not.
For the rest of the story follow this link: Times of Israel