We got off the bus and walked through the old bazaar to the Mosque of Omad, "The Dome of the Rock" which, for Muslim Arabs, is the holiest place in Palestine, built in 690 AD. This was once the site of the Jewish Temple, first built in 950 BC by King Solomon and rebuilt in 165 BC, the place of the Hanukkah battle. The mosque was a magnificent building with a dome made of 22 windows of mosaic.
We placed our weapons in a guarded outhouse and approached the entrance. Moslems remove their shoes before entering. How they ever find their own shoes when they come out is anybody's guess. It is a very grave offense to steal shoes from outside a Mosque. It is alleged, a thief is paraded through the city, riding backwards on an ass! with his crime printed on a board around his neck. Then he is sent to prison. Of course, if the police catch him first the ass ride is omitted. We, as non-believers, were allowed to rent overshoes made of paper.
Just as I reached the mosque I had an urgent need to rid my body of the few beers I had consumed on the way, purely medicinal of course. I approached an Arab guard and explained my predicament, as he could not speak English, I used signs. To my amazement he angrily told me "no, no women here this holy, holy place", so much for my skills at charades, becoming more demonstrative and adding audio, I got my meaning through. I was directed to a large building; inside cubicles with no doors lined the walls, each cubical had a tap of running water a foot high off the floor. Luckily my needs were simply met so I had no need to experiment. I was informed later that Moslems do not use toilet paper, or anything else, which can be written on, to cleanse himself or herself. They wash the needed parts with water using their left hands, and will only use the right hand for eating food, what lf you are a lefty? too bad I suppose.
I soon rejoined the group a wiser and by far a happier man.
The Mosque guide was old and kept mumbling 'this holy, holy, holy place' in broken English before describing anything, in fact they were the only clear words we heard. The Mosque was beautifully carpeted throughout. Directly under the dome was a huge rock on which, in the year 2000 B.C. Abraham was alleged to have offered to sacrifice his son. There was an outer circle around the rock, which had different altars. The pulpit and the roof, other than the dome, was made of carved wood, inlaid with gold and silver. No electricity was used; the only light was from numerous oil lamps and candles.
We were guided under the holy rock to the "Cave of the Prophet's". It was in this cave that Solomon and other saintly men were said to have prayed. There was a large hole in the center of the rock, which allowed light to illuminate the cave.
On leaving the Mosque of Omad [sic] we went across the Mosque Square to the Mosque of AI Aqsa. In front of which is a circular fountain-like structure, which served visitors to both Mosques, to cleanse their face, hands and feet before entering. Again, as non-believers, we were not required to do so. As far as the Arabs were concerned, we were a lost cause anyway. There were some men at the fountain preparing to go to prayer, this reminded us we had to be out of the Mosques by 11.00 hours.
The Mosque of Aqsa was shaped like a cross. The floor was covered with beautiful carpet. The guide pointed out the place where the Child Jesus was found preaching to the wise men. At the top of the cross was the high altar, when you face this altar you also face Mecca. Behind this altar was the High Priest's quarters. On the right hand side was the pulpit, which was made of, carved wood with no nails or screws. Huge white marble pillars, said to have been imported from Italy, each pillar in one piece, supported the roof. An earthquake in 1927 damaged the Mosque. The cost of the repairs, which were still being carried out, was underwritten by the Egyptian Government. It was a pity we could not stay longer in this wonderful place but our time was up and reluctantly we had to leave.
So, non-Muslims could visit the Temple Mount compound.