I stayed at a camping hostel in the town Jebel Mussa, At-Toor and walked daily to this site at St. Catherine Monastery. It was about a mile's distance from where I lived. I saw Mount Sinai from the town and all the way on road to this site. From here all tourists walk on the left side to climb up the Mount Sinai. It takes three and half hours to reach the top at the spot where prophet Moses (AS) spoke with God almighty. That place is the holiest site on earth.
Brief history of St. Catherine's Monastery.
Information and writings displayed inside show that in the year 330AD Helena, the mother of Emporer Constantine constructed a small chapel at the site where The Burning Bush had been located. In 530AD Emporer Justinian constructed a much larger Church known as Church of Transfiguration. The Monastery took on an appearance of large fortification as it is seen today. This was meant to protect the monks from attacks of nomadic tribes of the desert. After the coming of Islam, prophet Muhammad (RSAW) granted his protection to a delegation of monks who had sought his help. A copy of the document confirming this protection is displayed in the Monastery and it has continued to exist throughout the history of Islamic Egypt until today. I find this very interesting proof that there had never been any conflict between Muslims and Christians in the middle east but Muslims were protectors and helpers of the Christian and Jewish communities. The name of Christian in Arabic is " Nasara" which means helpers and that is charitable occupation. The name of Jewish in Arabic is " Bani Israel" which means Israelite and prophet Moses (AS) belonged to them. Reflecting on this information, I believe that there never had been any conflict between the three great branches of the same religion. Inside the compound of the Monastry there are three places of worship of God, The Christian Church, The Jewish Synagogue and The Muslim Mosque.
Next to this St. Catherine's Monastery is station of Camels which the tourists mount on to go to the top. I decided to climb physically and was alone at first. On the way I met few Australian and American young men, some were walking down to ascend and some were in front of me and some behind. There were couple of cafeterias to take rest. I enjoyed fresh air and was so much impressed with beauty and holiness of the mountain. There were many pigeons flying above and also coming down to the steps of rocks and stones. There are so many stones and some are sharp. A fall on one of these stones can hurt seriously but I saw that the Camels had amazing skills of climbing the rocky mountain. Their long legs and flexible bodies were a gift of nature for mountain climbing. The Camels are also gifted specialists on land travel, walking across thousands of miles on the desert and also for transporting caravans of goods, merchandise and people. The camels with passengers on their backs made it to the top within an hour. It took me three and half hours to reach the top. I climbed actively and briskly, took only 10 minutes rest at one cafeteria. I was very thirsty and sweating. There was yet another climb on large rocks to reach the spot where prophet Moses (AS) stopped and talked with God almighty.
After I reached the top where all tourists alighted from the Camels, I started immediately to climb up the large rocks. Time was running out. Evening was approaching as I could see that the Sun was loosing it's power and getting red gradually. It was a hard climb. There were so many rocks and the path was narrow. I had interesting sight when I looked around right and left and saw how steep the mountain was. On the other side were largest rocks and boulders with fine surface that was reddish. I thought about the fire that prophet Moses (AS) saw before he talked with God almighty. It must have been reddish and these rocks and boulders bear evidence to that fact, that there was fire here and that prophet Moses (AS) did see that. It was here that the divine tablets of The Ten Commandments were collected by prophet Moses (AS). I have read in Sahih Bukhari the information given by prophet Muhammad (RSAW) that the complexion of prophet Moses (AS) was reddish. I saw so much truth here and my faith was much strengthened. I talked about God, Bible, Torah and Quran with all the tourists I met on the way and those who were already on top standing at the spot where prophet Moses (AS) had stood. It was only few minutes left for sunset when I reached that spot and was exhausted from climbing the large rocks and narrow tracts. Prophet Moses (AS) and the Israelite people who lived in this mountainous area, as their way of life, must have been very strong physically. Below the ground where people were gathered, I saw a small Christian chapel. Then, on another side I found a Mosque and prayed my evening Asr salaat prayers and then quickly left the place to descend. I should reach the gates before 08.00pm when the gates will close. The time was now past 05.00pm. On the way I stopped at the cafeteria for my sunset Maghrib salaat prayers.My legs pained and I had to take a bit extended rest to feel well and fit in order to continue with my downhill walk. The night fell, it was dark but the sky was brilliant with stars. There were sharp rocks and stones on the way on downward ascension about which everybody had warned me. I had carried a walking stick which I said was like a rod of prophet Moses (AS). this rod was very helpful and I found so many uses and benefits walking at night climbing down a rocky mountain. It ensured my health and safety, was a good support so that I did not run down too fast nor hit a rock in speed, kept my feet grounded, my posture in right balance, my speed well controlled, my walk was comfortable. I knocked on the road in front like a blind person and felt a sharp rock or stone which I avoided and kept onto a smooth and straight path in the night. Walking on a straight path is a favourite daily Islamic prayer. I successfully reached the gates at St Catherine's Monastery before they started to close. It was a very challenging experience of a lifetime !
My friends gave me photos of Mount Sinai in winter and when it was covered by snow. Snow is a purity and holiness and this proves that this mountain is really and truly a very holy mountain as it is not deprived of white snow.
My Reflections: There is likeness of Mount Sinai and the presence of God almighty on all the planets - Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Earth and all as we have seen on telescope images. The truth is one and the same everywhere.
So many great civilizations have lived here in the past but all that we see and we know is that the mountain and the presence of God remains forever and life has passed away.
This reminded me that really the place is " Muqaddas", meaning holy, as Allah has said in the holy Quran. My visit here was seeing the Ayat of the Quran and giving Shahada, evidence and witness, to the Ayat of the Quran. Allah has informed that only that person is a Muslim, a believer, who gives Shahada, evidence and witness, from what he sees ( Nazartaa) and what he hears ( Sameetaa).
I saw here the descending moon and the rising sun, they were in opposite direction. The sun was rising from the east and the moon was setting in the west, at early morning sunrise. This was the first time in my life that I saw the Sun and Moon in exact opposite location on the horizon of the earth.
I saw that the hills and mountains of Sinai, Mount Mussa, appeared like a very big Mosque, Masjid. A Mosque, Masjid, that is outstanding and largest in the whole planet earth. The hills looked like minaret of a big Mosque, hills attached to the mountain looked like domes on a big Mosque, the mountain looked like
the entrance and center of a big Mosque. Here, on top of the Mountain is a place where Nabi Mussa AS met Allah and spoke with Him. There is a small Mosque in the midst of large rocks, also a small Church, for prayers and prostration, sajda, to Allah. I read surah Taha of the holy Quran which was found in the mosque and prayed the salaat of Asr. It had taken me 7 hours to climb up on foot on my own, as I started my climb after Zuhr salaat outside St. Katherine's Church. It was hot, sunny afternoon but I did not feel the heat nor did I get tired or exhausted nor did I feel hungry or thirsty. The air was ever so fresh like breathing cool water.
I recommend that visit to Israel, Egypt and Sinai should be part of Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage of all Muslims from all over the world. Every single Muslim must visit Jerusalem, Cairo, River Nile and Sinai to see the evidences, Ayat of the Quran, Ayat of Allah, at least once in lifetime. These places are integral part of Islam.
Islam is the planet earth and in it the Mosques, Masjids of Allah, are four. The biggest Masjid, Mosque, in size, is Mount Sinai. The biggest Mosque, Masjid, in forgiveness and mercy of Allah is mount Arafat and Masjid Al Haram, the Kaaba. The biggest Mosque, Masjid of prayers and knowledge is mountains of Madina and Masjid Nabvi. The biggest Mosque, Masjid, of prophets of God is Mount Olives and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. There are no Mosques, Masjid of Allah, without being surrounded by mountains on earth.
When we read in surah Yusuf of holy Quran that prophet Yusuf AS and his father, prophet Jacob AS, and all his brothers fell prostrate to Allah when they were reconciled and entered Egypt, and prayed salaat and duaa to Allah, we may think that the palaces of the Pharaohs were converted to a Mosque, Masjid of Allah.
The pyramids were designed and built by them so they were Islamic in origin. I visited Ghiza in Cairo and river Nile and saw that everything was Islamic underneath the present day exhibitions and decorations of Pharaohs palaces and tombs and the bridges and ships on river Nile.
My further thoughts and reflections about journey to meet God
I have walked in Mecca from Arafat to Masjid Haram. Found it really to be a city Jameela, that is most beautiful place and city in the world. It's natural beauty is astounding, when we remove the modern stone and marble building and see underneath all that. Now the beauty is hidden and these modern stone and marble lofty buildings have become a burkha purda over the beauty of Mecca. Recently, when I saw mountains of Mecca being torn apart and split I saw Jameela white sand and soil thrown in air.
In olden days, Hajees traveled thousands of miles on camels and horses from China, made the great silk route of China up the high mountains of north Pakistan and it had a straight path ( sirat al mustaqeem) to Mecca and Madina. They travelled up and down the hills, mountains, valleys and deserts. They also walked so many miles on foot and prayed the talbiya " Labaik, Allahuma Labaik" and tasbeeh Subhan Allah all the way and every time. All life on earth saw them going with caravans like Ants that orbit ( do tawaf) of the earth, and heard them singing and reciting. The birds joined them and migrated with them as pilgrims on earth that orbit the whole planet in a lifetime. The clouds followed them with cool shade.
These fortunate Hajees never got tired nor did fatigue, exhaustion or stress overwhelm them. They did much better tawaf (orbit) of the Kaaba with fresh energy, vigour, strength of the body and spirit and excellent health. They did more zikrullah and prayerd more salaat and did more tilaawat of the Quran at Mina, Arafat, Jabal E Noor ( Mountain of enlightenment), Masjid Al Haram, mountains of Medina and Masjid An-Nabvi in Madina.
Also, Hajees from everywhere else in the world came on foot, camels and horses in the similar manner and spent 1- 2 years on Hajj journey. It was journey to go near Allah, to learn more about Allah, to meet Allah and be guests of Allah. It was for God only.
Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Israel had been a place of worship prophet Mussa AS and his community after their emigration from Cairo, Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments, the inspiration from Allah, at the Mount Sinai.
Having studied the religious books to find out the historical background, I believe it is a center of pilgrimage for all religious communities since the time of Noah. I imagine that the site where Al Aqsa Mosque is, that is Dome of the Rock, may have been the world's largest mountain at the time and it may been here that prophet Noah's AS ark first landed. This place has been a place of shelter and refuge throughout history as it is expected of an important holy Mosque or Church. It's surrounded by mountains and hills, including Mount Olives and other hills on other side. That makes the mosque in the center to be a holy mosque. It reminds of the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia which has similar characteristics of an ancient holy mosque. The mount Arafat has shrunk to about the same size as the hill on which Al Aqsa is standing. It, too, may have been the largest mountain in the world at the time of prophet Adam AS and Eva when they had first landed here.
Reading the history of King Richard I (1157- 1199 AD), Richard the Lion-heart of England, and Saladin Ayubi, a Muslim ruler and Caliph of Egypt I find that they fought few battles and afterwards reached a reconciliation and provided for freedom and independence of Jerusalem for both Muslims and Christians on the basis of justice and friendship. That negotiation probably brought an end of the crusades and also end of wars. The world was at peace. Actually, the name Jerusalem means peace.
I have been visiting the Al Aqsa since 1993. On my first visit I noticed with much interest the underground chambers and the gate of Saladin Ayubi from where he and his army entered Masjid Al Aqsa on gaining victory. These chambers have since been renovated and improved in recent years and the mosque is also now extended underground. It was neglected for many years. When Saladin and his group first took over management of the Al Aqsa they found that the Crusaders had damaged it so much. Everything needed cleaning up and repairing and lot of Muslim labour was employed to do just this. The underground chambers had horse stables and chains where people were kept as slaves just like how the gladiators and poor people were chained in Rome many centuries ago. There was evidence of return to paganism and savagery. It seemed as if there may have been revolting bad smell, waste and debris as we find in poor countries today, and so much illnesses and diseases that may have spread far away into city, as we find in developing countries.
During my visit in 2008 I found that lot of improvements have been made to convert the chambers into being part of the mosque. In Ramadhan and Idd day all the spaces were fully occupied and many people also occupied the open grounds for prayers within the boundaries of Al Aqsa.
Tourists from all over the world have since been allowed to visit the Al Aqsa and all the buildings and chambers. It has become a schedule of almost all tourists to visit here and they come as groups in guided tours provided by hotels and tour operators.
There is a restoration project office within the compound of Al Aqsa where I have volunteered my time for 6 months in 2008. New discoveries are being excavated all the time. Many collections have been put on display, some of which go back to the time of prophets David AS and Solomon AS. The big boulders which form part of the construction of Al Aqsa are believed to have been built by prophet Solomon AS and his labour force. The tomb of prophet Solomon AS has been renovated and is situated in an underground chamber with access from the gate outside of Al Aqsa.
I have also found the red soil outside Al Aqsa to be very interesting. The doves and other birds also showed red fur on the neck and wings and red eyes blending in with the inherent soil. It's very pleasing to hear their cooing and recital songs on olive trees planted on the grounds of Al Aqsa and also on the roofs of the buildings. The atmosphere is always cool and peaceful. I felt it is and will always be a really beautiful holy place in every sense of the word.
It will be well worth a visit to see the evidence of past long history at Mount Sinai and in the city of old Jerusalem, as well in Mecca and Medina.