The Holy City..
Jerusalem (Old City) is home to some of the holiest sites of the three Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). It has been a city conquered again and again throughout history, desired for its religious significance - the site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the site of Muhammad’s Night Journey, the site of the Foundation Stone, the site Abraham’s sacrifice, the site where Adam is buried, the list goes on and on…
Still, the most miraculous aspect about this city isn’t comprised of these ancient buildings, nor the designated holy sites, but it’s comprised of the very people who live and have been living in this city. Thousands of people from different religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds all live together in the Old City. The interplay between the three major religious communities (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) is quite an interesting relationship.
The current division of the city quarters are not the same ones as they were in the past. When the Jews held authority over the city, there wasn’t a designated Jewish Quarter, but once Salah ad-Din conquered the city, a Jewish Quarter was set up. Now, the Jewish Quarter occupies the opposite corner of where it used to be. This is true for all the ‘Quarters’ of the city and hence you will find mosques in the Jewish Quarter, churches in the Muslim Quarter, and synagogues in the Christian Quarter. It is impossible to draw clear cut lines to divide up the Old City into exclusive regions. Everyone shares the land, everyone shares this city.
One can even argue that some of the biggest divisions between communities aren’t the ones that exist between the three religions, but within each religion. For example, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - the holiest site for Christians built over Golgotha (the Protestants disagree) - is divided up by several Christian churches: Greek, Syrian, Ethiopian, and Coptic Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholics, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. Relations between all these churches remained extremely strained to this day. Fights have broken out during services as recent as 2008. The keys to this church were confiscated by Salah ad-Din and given to a Muslim family so that they will be in charge of opening and closing the church; to this day (more than 800 years after) the key is the hands of that Muslim family.
The disagreements and infighting was so petty that not one of these churches was deemed worthy to be in charge of the church’s doors. The fact that a Muslim third-party has been the custodian of the key to this day can serve as an example of a very practical example of interfaith relations. However, on the flip-side it speaks to the extreme division that exists within Christianity. Unfortunately, the one body of Christ is not existent within the walls of this church. Division and rituals fill this church. Mere symbols of what Christ stood for and what he taught are all that remains. Religiosity at its finest.
It is unfortunate that the biggest example of a contradiction to interfaith relations is not found between the three Abrahamic faiths, but rather within one of its own. Whereas, once we move away from the interiors of the walls and look beyond them, the interlaced lives of the inhabitants of the Old City speak much more truly about interfaith relations and how a community of different faiths can sustain one another for centuries.