It was the first time I saw my mother cry. I had just returned home after a day at school to find her in front of the television, watching a scene where a young child was seeking shelter behind a figure larger than him, as bullets rained upon them from all directions, amidst distressed commentary crying out in reaction to the gruesome scene. My mother said, "May God punish those who desecrate Al-Aqsa and grant victory to Palestine." As a child of ten, I instinctively empathized with my mother's sentiments, without realizing that the scene I had witnessed would later be known as the tragic incident of Mohammad al-Durrah's martyrdom in the year 2000, a child who was just two years older than me at the time. It was also the inception of what would be later referred to as the "Al-Aqsa Intifada."
That scene became etched in my memory, as well as in the collective memory of my generation, and it has never faded. It marked the beginning of our awareness that there is a place called Palestine, and that there is a conflict that escalates to the point of public killings in cold blood. From that day forward, monitoring what happened in Palestine became an integral part of our childhood and adolescence, not because we chose it, but because the incidents have not ceased. Each time, my stance remained the same: supporting Palestine, as my mother had taught me it was the land of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Later on, when the Salafi sheikhs and preachers became an influence in my life, they provided another reason for my support: the Jewish occupiers were "desecrating" the world's third holiest site, and the first of the two Qiblas. Therefore, I had to support it as a matter of religious duty and belief.
Al-Aqsa is not our ultimate goal
Everything changed after 2011 when I expanded my reading and encountered certain narratives that suggested that Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine was not the intended site mentioned in the Quran. According to these narratives, it referred to another mosque located on the outskirts of Medina and was thus named "al-aqsa", meaning "the farthest." Although the accuracy of these narratives remains a subject of debate, I rejected them not because of their authenticity but because accepting them would invalidate all my reasons for supporting Palestine. This would negate the sanctity of the land and the alleged Jewish conspiracy against it, and my support would no longer be driven by religious or doctrinal motivation.
The first time I saw my mother cry was when I came from school to find her watching a young boy hiding behind a man as bullets rained upon them. I didn't know that what I was witnessing would later be known worldwide as the brutal killing of Mohammad al-Durrah
The state of denial I lived through for a temporary period led me to many questions, such as:
What if there was no Al-Aqsa in Palestine? Does this mean I should not support a people facing injustice and occupation?
What if Palestine were non-Muslim or if it was being occupied by a Muslim country, would my stance change?
Would I support a non-Muslim nation with the same fervor if it faced similar circumstances?
If I were not a Muslim, would my supportive stance remain the same or change?
Finally, am I against injustice, or am I against injustice only when it happens to Muslims?
The losses of religious bias and its dangers
These questions that I started asking myself were not merely trivial or secondary. They were essential to shaping my perspective and position. My passion, which could wane at any moment, was no longer simply religious zeal, as it was when I read about the Al-Aqsa Mosque's previous location. And far beyond personal concerns, I believe it is better to support Palestine because it is an occupied country, not because it is a Muslim country, for several reasons.
The brutal scene became etched in my memory, and the collective memory of my generation, and has never faded, marking the beginning of our awareness that there's a place called Palestine and a conflict that reaches the point of public killings in cold blood
The first reason is that our bias based solely on religion transforms the entire conflict into a religious struggle, in which every group argues their religious right to the land, leading us to become lost in the labyrinth of narratives, historical accounts, and interpretations. Moreover, this religious bias reduces the state itself to its religious sites. This is precisely what has occurred, and we can observe it in most official and public Arab discourse. In every war on Gaza, including the current ongoing war, most demands focus on "holy sites" as if their liberation would signify the end of the conflict. In other words, we are telling them, "Give us our Al-Quds and our Al-Aqsa, and do as you wish with the lands that are deemed illegally occupied under international law."
Secondly, this purely religious stance effectively alienates those of different faiths and beliefs from standing in solidarity with us with the same force. Instead of conveying that there is a country under occupation and its lands are being violated, we present the world with a conflict between Muslims and Jews over holy places. Consequently, if an individual does not share the same religion or hold the same sanctity for those places, they might feel less compelled to provide support and assistance. I argue that this greatly plays into Israel's hands because it allows them to portray the issue not as a matter of land but as a religious conflict, garnering support from Jews worldwide. The question here is, why should we deprive ourselves of the support of others through a narrow view of a just cause?
Thirdly, and what is most troubling to me, is that support solely based on religious grounds squanders over half a century of the Palestinian people's political struggle. It jeopardizes hard-earned gains achieved through personal sacrifices and the blood of thousands of martyrs. Furthermore, it opens the door to ambiguity and manipulation because the world will not readily comprehend a religious conflict, and if it does, it will misinterpret it. We have internationally recognized cards in our hands, so why do we not play them?
We need to support Palestine because it deserves it, even if it didn't have an Al-Aqsa Mosque, even if those oppressed are Muslims. Our cause isn't tethered to a mosque or a specific faith but is about advocating for the oppressed, irrespective of location
Yes, I don't want to merely chant "Save Al-Aqsa" and "Rise, Muslims of the world," with every event. I want the world to know that there is a land under illegal occupation, a fact acknowledged in UN Resolution 242 since 1967. I want the world to know that there are illegal settlements, acknowledged as such by international organizations, and that there is a people subjected to forced displacement and daily racial segregation for decades. Even if Palestine did not have an "Al-Aqsa" or "Quds," we would still demand the liberation of the lands specified in international law. I can't find any description for those who object to this except that they support killing and occupation, and therefore, they have no connection to humanity.
Lastly, and despite my belief that religion is a fundamental pillar in the views and vision of any individual, now more than ever, we need to support Palestine because it deserves it. Even if it didn't have an Al-Aqsa Mosque, and even if those being killed are Muslims, our stance should still stem from this principle. And this remains our opinion if any other country, regardless of its religion, were to face similar circumstances. Our cause is not related to a mosque or a religion but to supporting the oppressed, irrespective of their location.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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