My Name is Zain Alnobani, a junior at Loyola with a double major in Political Science and Philosophy and a minor in Arabic language and Culture. Being a member of a Palestinian family in diaspora worldwide is a very interesting dynamic. We all live in countries that we may love, but it is not our true homeland, and for many, it is very difficult to make the trip back home with the severe restrictions imposed due to the ongoing occupation. My very first time visiting Palestine was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. With rich diverse cultures, valuable resources, and beautiful scenery, I can now realize why this land has been so intensely contested throughout history.
The first place I visited was the old city of Jerusalem, where my father and I prayed at the Dome of the Rock, which at the time was being called for demolition by Israeli politicians. Tensions were very high also due to the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh the day we arrived. Once I had arrived at The Dome of The Rock, its beauty overtook me. Covered in blue and purple tiles and Qur’anic calligraphy in a majestic sight. I was mistaken in believing it was the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. So, after seeing the Dome, my father kept telling me we had to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque, and I was confused because I thought we had just gone there. It is interesting how most media representations share photos of the Dome of the Rock whenever they refer to Al-Aqsa Mosque!
The next day I visited other holy sites like The Holy Sepulcher. It has several corners of special reverence to Christianity surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The most interesting part of the church to me was that each section housed a differing denomination, yet they all prayed under the same building. The artwork was absolutely breathtaking, with vibrant colors and depictions from biblical stories.
On my final day in Jerusalem, my father and I woke up for Fajr Prayer (dawn prayer for Muslims), and I was finally going to see the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Walking closer, it seems hidden slightly behind the other monuments and trees around the compound. But as you slowly approach, you can see Muslims coming from all gates of the old city to congregate in one place. I was bewildered once I had entered the awe-inspiring mosque. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life, and I truly felt at peace there. The amount of detail in this house of God was gorgeous. From the walls to the mosaic windows, I wondered to myself why I had not spent more time there.
I will definitely be returning to my home country whenever given the opportunity! It was a trip of a lifetime that I wish I had taken earlier. To experience it with my dad made it even more special!