Islamic Tourism in Jerusalem: Could it be Spiritually Right but Economically Wrong?

Visiting Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque is a dream for Muslims around the world – but when traveling to Palestine, where is our money actually going to?

Visiting Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque is a dream for Muslims around the world – but when traveling to Palestine, where is our money actually going to?

It is a known fact that Palestine, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque are very significant in Islam, and are held close and dear to the hearts of Muslims. It is clearly evident in the undisputed Islamic legal sources; both al-Qur’an and the Ahadith mentioning about the values and specialties of Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque in Islam.

From there, Muslims of all ages and generations share a great sense of belonging to Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque. It is also a known fact that Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque have been under the occupation of, rule of, and desecration by tyrant foreign powers for more than a century.

We all know of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, followed by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, next would be the migration of Jews from all over the world into Palestine for the next three decades, which led to the establishment of the illegitimate Zionist State of Israel on the occupied land of Palestine in 1948.  

It is a known fact that Jerusalem, Baitul Maqdis or al-Quds, is regarded as a holy land in the three monotheistic religions namely Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Despite the unholy act of covering the history of pre-colonial Palestine, most religious scholars, theologians, and historians would find it very difficult to deny the position of Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque in the hearts of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

From there, Muslim in particular, have been travelling from all corners of the world to go to Palestine, to visit Jerusalem, and to enter and perform prayers in al-Aqsa Mosque, as we are all aware of the rewards for performing prayers in al-Aqsa Mosque. This special international tourism activity has been going on among Muslims, and performed by Muslims since Umar won Palestine from the Christians in 700 A.D.  until today. 

Among the well-known and significant hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) this one particular recorded by Al-Bukhari narrates that the Prophet Muhammad said: “There are only three mosques to which you should embark on a journey: the Sacred Mosque (Makkah, Saudi Arabia), this mosque of mine (Madinah, Saudi Arabia), and Al–Aqsa Mosque (Jerusalem, Palestine).”

Perhaps it would not be wrong for us today to look at the terms travel to, go on a journey to, and enter into, with special regard to al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Palestine as one of the two types of journey to Palestine. 

The first type could be the act of entering the Gaza Strip through Rafah, Egypt, which in most cases is to fall under humanitarian missions to assist in improving and developing the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, whom the whole world knows are living in the largest open prison in the world.

This could also include the act of entering the West Bank or Jerusalem in Occupied Palestine through Amman, the capital city of Jordan by crossing the Allenby bridge, to provide by hand humanitarian assistance materials, items, goods, materials, and others to suffice the lives of Palestinians living in those parts of Palestine. 

The second type could be international citizens, particularly Muslims from outside of Palestine, coming to, or entering Palestine as Islamic religious pilgrims into the holy land, or as participants of Islamic tourism packages in Palestine, which is a pure contrast against the objectives of the first type of journey into Palestine. Most probably these tourists enter Occupied Palestine, into Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque to be specific, to bring the hadith mentioned at the start of this writing to life, and to get the reward for praying in al-Aqsa Mosque, which is evidently described in a different hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him). 

Let us stop there on the first premise and let us now move into looking at another widely shared and widely-spread hadith of the Prophet on Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque, with particular reference to the Palestinian freedom fighters defending al-Aqsa Mosque from the control of, and desecration by, the Zionist Israel Offense Forces (IOF).

In a hadith recorded in the compilation of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, hadith number 22320, the Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying, which may be translated as: “There will always be a group from my Ummah triumphant upon the truth, victorious over their enemies, there will be no harm from those who oppose them and they will not be harmed until the order of Allah comes and they will be like that (triumphant). They said, “O Messenger of Allah, where are they? He replied: “In Bayt al – Maqdis (Jerusalem) and around Bayt al – Maqdis (Jerusalem).”

This hadith, if it is to be understood and interpreted in our contemporary setting and modern times, perhaps it is not wrong to be referred to the Palestinian freedom fighters resisting the occupation and rule of the Zionist regime, through all means possible and available from social media, political, and physical military warfare, regardless of the various indigenous political parties within Palestine, or the various factions of military groups fighting for the independence of Palestine from the Zionists.  

If we took some time to try to seek and understand the material, economic, and financial connection between these two Ahadith, perhaps it would not be wrong if we look at it through the angle of Islamic tourism and freedom fighters, and from there maybe we could try to link and try to connect these two quite contradicting terms.

Yes, no one would deny that to travel on a  journey into Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque is to gain individual spiritual benefits, and along the way, might have the opportunity to witness with their very own eyes, the treatment of the Israeli Offense Forces (IOF) on the Palestinians, and from there the awareness to care for and to help the Palestinian struggle is grown and strengthened. This is most probably the comprehension of most Muslims of the first hadith in this writing. 

Yet, looking from a different perspective, viewing in our modern contemporary setting, where the premise today is a century of Zionist occupation of Palestine, one question arises: “How does this Islamic tourism in Jerusalem benefit the Palestinian freedom fighters mentioned in the second Hadith in this writing?”

Speaking in terms of the material, economic, and financial connection between the international inbound Islamic tourists into Jerusalem, and the Palestinian freedom fighters resisting the Zionist occupation, brings us to another question: “Do these international inbound Islamic tourism activities contribute to the economic prosperity of Palestinians in general, and to the funding of these freedom fighters?” 

By chance, it was very difficult to determine the Shariah opinion on Islamic tourism activities in Jerusalem based on the answers to the above-mentioned two questions as it was difficult to ascertain the figures of the income generation through international inbound tourism activities since generally that particular item of the economy is not very much touched by Muslim economists.

Maybe another factor is that Muslim Shariah jurists from then until today have been very cautious and careful in taking into consideration of probable outcomes (Maalat) in producing opinions, let alone probable outcomes which are not accurately and precisely tested and measured. 

Fast forward to the year 2023, where it would be very difficult, and almost impossible for us to make decisions, and for policy-makers to produce policies, without understanding precisely and accurately, what would be the possible outcomes or results deriving from our decisions, and the implementation of the produced policies.

I believe it would not be wrong for us to predict or project what would the effects of international Islamic tourism in Jerusalem on the economy of the Palestinians be. Today, it is almost impossible not to find an annual report of the tourism economic income of any sovereign country in the world.  

Yes, everyone would agree on the importance of; the benefits to our spiritual, intellectual, and humanitarian elements; and the rewards for performing ziyarah in Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque. But would it not be more effective and efficient for us to know, clarify, find out, research, and analyze first the beneficiaries of our payments, prior to spending amounts of money to go on the trip, rather than spending and going on the trip without knowing who are we really paying to, and who truly benefits economically from our payments? 

In the age of widespread usage, applications, and utilization of Data Analytics, Data  Management, Data Mining, and Data Massaging tools and software to analyze business, financial, and economic quantitative information, perhaps it would be a good option to analyze the true economic benefits of this particular international Islamic tourism activity to the  Palestinians, all the while putting aside the division of FATAH and HAMAS authorities in the  West Bank and Gaza.

Would we feel good spending and paying to travel to, and enter Jerusalem, without knowing whether we are funding the Palestinians or the Zionists? I believe that with all the Data Analytics tools that we have for our usage, at our disposal today, we can answer the question of which country’s treasury truly benefits economically from the international Islamic tourism in Jerusalem.  

Yes, undoubtedly each and every one of us is able to, and would definitely argue on the encouragement to visit Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque based on the Islamic scriptures as mentioned in the first paragraph of this writing, but it would not be wasteful (mulghah) if it is not to be considered as a supportive or external (kharijiy) determinant (daleel) in Islamic Jurisprudence (Usul Fiqh), for us to analyze to the most precise and accurate level; the projected economic benefits of the international Islamic tourism in Jerusalem to the  Palestinians.

If the cards of Shariah goals (Maqasid Shariah), public benefits (Maslahah), removal of harm (Dharar Yuzal), and shutting the doors to evil (Sadd Zari’ah) are to be put on the table and played, it would be significantly easy to prioritize the economic benefits of the Palestinians against the individual spiritual benefits of the international Muslim tourists, by all means possible, including considering the option to discourage Muslims to enter Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque as tourists.  

If we are to look into the multiple spectrums or various angles of Maalat or the probable outcomes of international Muslims playing tourists in Palestine, perhaps it would not be wrong to look at these four spectrums.

The first spectrum could be what an individual would benefit from this particular Islamic tourism activity where most probably the person would (1) gain spiritual development, stronger faith and belief in the one true God and His power, the person would (2) get the reward for performing prayers in al-Aqsa Mosque, and would (3) strengthen one’s awareness and compassion towards the Palestinians’ struggle for independence from the  Zionists. 

The second spectrum would be its impact on the sovereignty of Palestine, and the international recognition of the Zionist State of Israel, which by far, ever since the Abraham Accords took place, the Normalization of Muslim Countries with Israel has been rapidly gaining ground as more and more Muslim countries chose to end decades of enmity with the Zionist state.

It may be wrong to infer that as long as the Zionist government allows international Muslims to visit  Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa, Muslim governments would not become enemies of the Zionist government. These developments take place all the while international Muslims travel into Palestine as tourists. 

The third spectrum could be on the aspect of brotherhood and solidarity of international Muslims with our brothers and sisters in Palestine. Since the burning of al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, this spirit of Islamic brotherhood has been very evident and is always made clear and heard to the Zionists in particular, and to the citizens of the world generally.

Each time the Israeli Offense Forces (IOF) attack and harass Palestinians, or set foot in, and desecrate al-Aqsa Mosque, these global Palestinian supporters would go down to the streets around the world in protest against Israel. If necessary, these good men and women would perform donation drives to channel to Palestine for the development and improvement of the lives of the Palestinians.

The fourth and final spectrum would be on the spectrum of state financial benefits, and monetary gains on revenue in particular from international Islamic tourism activity. As for now, its benefits to the treasury of the Zionist State of Israel seem much clearer and more obvious than to the treasury of FATAH or HAMAS authorities.

I believe that among these four spectrums of Maalat, it could be very difficult to reject that the fourth spectrum is the most quantifiable, the most material, and the most projectable probable outcome if we are to take up and conduct a tourism economic analysis to project the financial losses on Israel if international Muslims stop entering Palestine as tourists.  

Yes, some, or maybe even many of us would argue that to take accurately-projected probable outcomes as a justification to review the encouragement or discouragement to visit Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa would practically mean applying probable outcomes or Maalat as a supporting or external determinant in this particular question. If so, perhaps it is not wrong to take this as Maalat Muayyanah Biz-Zat which literally means Materially-Specified Probable Outcome, which would be questionable if it is not to be considered at all as a justification in the Ijtihad or Fatwa on visiting Palestine, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque.

Finally, when it comes to the question of whether it is permissible or not to visit Palestine, Jerusalem, and al Aqsa Mosque as tourists, up to date we have quite a number of opinions which are divided into two; permissible and impermissible to visit Palestine, Jerusalem, and al-Aqsa Mosque, but I believe that at some point of time, we would all come down to this thirteen-word question: What if we are contributing to the economy of Israel by visiting Palestine?