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Monday, December 9, 2013

Jerusalem: A Journey Back In Time

I was really lucky yesterday (after the eagle attack) to attend, all fingers intact, the launch of a wonderful new book, Jerusalem: Journey Back in Time. It's a photography book/travelogue written by my ENT specialist, Dr. Iftikhar Salahuddin, who told me about the project early last year when I visited his clinic and saw beautiful photographs of various places in the Islamic world on the walls.

He asked me for help with the book and I readily agreed - when he sent me PDFs of a few of the chapters, I gasped. For in them were some of the most stunning photographs I've ever seen, of Jerusalem and the path he and his wife took to get there from Jordan into Israel. The writing too was exquisite: warm and intimate, balanced, filled with detailed information that never got boring about this beautiful city, its history, its present circumstances, and its future significance.

I did what I could to help garner some blurbs and reviews for the book, and also managed to put him in touch with the editors of the journal Critical Muslim: they published a chapter of the book with photographs in their issue on The Muslim Archipelago.

Over a year later I went to Mohatta Palace last night and attended the launch, but along with that was a photography exhibit called Glimpses of Muslim Architecture. Dr. Salahuddin's photographs were being sold to raise funds for the Quaid E Azam Center for the Rehabilitation of Special Children, which I thought was a genius idea. There were pictures of Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa, but there were also stunning photographs of the Alhambra Palace in Granada and buildings in Esfahan and Shiraz, Iran. Words can't do the pictures justice and most of them were sold, but there are still many on display at the Louvre Gallery in Karachi if you've got the time to take a look and want to get any for yourself.

It was very interesting to listen to the speakers at the launch event, in particular Dr. Ishrat  Husain and Dr. Salahuddin himself. Husain spoke about how the Jewish-American community had managed to achieve excellence in almost every sphere and how that allowed them to exert huge influence over American policy through AIPAC and its major contributions to all political campaigns and elections. It was the unity of the community, he said, that made it strong, and he also said that Pakistan had a lot to learn from them.

Dr. Salahuddin described how difficult it was to get the book published - most publishers shied away from the subject even though it was about one of the biggest Islamic sites in the world, second only to Mecca - because it was located in Israel. Finally, though, a sponsor from the private sector came through and helped make the book a reality, and BBCL, a local publishing house, committed to producing the book.

Then he described some aspects of his travels - how he and his wife and their group crossed the border between Jordan and Israel, some of the things they saw while in Jerusalem, what it was like traveling by bus. He made it clear that the Arabs of the area were disempowered and living under a very harsh occupation, in penury and poverty, while Jewish settlers had beautiful lives on the other side of the security walls built all over the West Bank. He didn't employ any fiery rhetoric, but gave an eyewitness account of the things he'd seen: how Palestinians were harassed by Israeli security forces every day on the streets of Jerusalem, how their lives and livelihoods had been disrupted by the Israeli occupation, and how visitors to the Dome of the Rock and Masjid Al-Aqsa had to recite Surahs from the Quran to prove they were Muslim in order to gain access to the holy sites.

Neither man displayed any of the anti-Semitism you get so used to hearing when you live in Pakistan, and this kind of plain speaking was a refreshing change from the fire and brimstone of the religious right. But Dr. Salahuddin's speech stood in stark contrast to the admiration of Dr. Husain's speech, reminding us that the success of the Jewish community in America was what made possible the continuing injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. At any rate, I felt like I'd learned an awful lot more about the world than I knew when I walked in. And I left in possession of a beautiful photograph of the Alhambra which now graces my room, like a portal to another world.

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