Al-Aqsa Mosque // © 2016 David DiGregorio
Feature image (above): The Temple Mount is open to non-Muslims from Sunday to Thursday. // © 2016 iStock
The Temple Mount is said to be the location from which the world was created, where God created Adam and where Abraham bound Isaac. It was the site of the First and Second Temple of the Jews, the latter destroyed by Romans in the year 70 C.E.
For Muslims, this is the location of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven and the home of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, which were built over the ruins of the long-ago destroyed Jewish temple. In many ways, the Temple Mount is the physical manifestation of the intersection of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, and it quite literally sits above all the other major sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
While visiting Jerusalem as a tourist, I attempted to access the Temple Mount from one of the 11 gates throughout the Old City. Israeli police quickly picked me out of the crowd and turned me away. The site is largely considered to be for Muslim use only but, as I soon tested, there is a way to visit the Temple Mount as a tourist.
In the summer months, non-Muslims can visit the Temple Mount on Sunday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. In winter, the hours shift to 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the same days. Times are tentative as the site can be closed at any time, especially during holidays. Be sure to schedule the visit early in the itinerary in case it is necessary to reschedule.
Entrance is free and possible only through the Mughrabi Gate, which is accessible via the wooden bridge immediately adjacent to the Western Wall. Arriving early is advisable since waiting in line can take more than an hour. Modest clothing is essential. Men and women must both cover their legs, and women must cover their upper arms and chest. Security is also strict and passports are checked. Since non-Muslims on the Temple Mount are not permitted to pray or enter Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa Mosque, it is prohibited to bring any sacred Jewish objects into the area.
After all the security checks, long lines, crowds and stress of accessing the site, I emerged through Mughrabi Gate into a pristine and peaceful courtyard. Although I was concerned about how I would be received as an outsider, I was met only with smiles. Gentlemen presented me with a free copy of the Quran so that I could further educate myself on Islam. Though I am not particularly religious, visiting the Temple Mount gave me chills.