Israel – the holy land – is uniquely welcoming to people of all faiths and none. It welcomes tourists who are Muslim, Christian and Jewish, those who are curious about religion and history, and those who just want to party!

 

Few countries in the Middle East, or indeed the world, are as religiously tolerant as Israel. Freedom of religion and worship is enshrined in law. Tourists of all faiths and none are welcome to visit all the holy sites throughout the country. In the city of Jerusalem alone there are 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques.

Pilgrimage Sites in Israel

The Bahai Gardens in Haifa are a major pilgrimage site for the world’s 7 million Bahá’í followers, as well as for millions more tourists who come to visit their beautiful gardens every year. These gardens surround the Shrine of the Báb, one of the founders of their faith. The Bahá’í religion was founded in Iran but its followers were persecuted there, so they were invited to establish their headquarters in Haifa.

 

Many different strands of Christianity have established churches all over the Holy Land where they worship according to their own traditions. At some holy sites there are shared places of worship – at the Yardenit baptismal site near the Jordan River, for example, and at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. In the Galilee region there are many sites that are associated with the life of Jesus, making the area a popular site for Christian pilgrimages.

 

The Western Wall in Jerusalem is the holiest site in the Jewish religion because it is the last remaining supporting wall of the Temple that once stood on Temple Mount. If you spend any time there you will see that not only Jews come to pray there. Perhaps because the Jewish faith is the basis of all the monotheistic religions, people of all nationalities come to the Western Wall to communicate with G-d, whether in silent prayer or by placing paper messages with petitions in the cracks between the stones.

 

Prayer services in the Western Wall Plaza are run along Orthodox Jewish lines, but there is a platform nearby, adjoining the Wall, where worshipers of other Jewish denominations can hold their own services and ceremonies.

 

The Temple Mount – known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the landmark Dome of the Rock. Uniquely in Israel this highly contested holy site is run by the Muslim Waqf, headquartered in Jordan. Non-Muslim visitors are only allowed to enter the site by one of its eleven gates, and they are prohibited from praying anywhere on Temple Mount.

Freedom of Worship

Muslim visitors and people of every faith and none are free to visit any of the holy sites around Israel, including Christian and Jewish sites. As long as one dresses appropriately and behaves with decorum, anyone can visit any of the holy places around Israel, and indeed many are shared on a daily basis according to carefully negotiated agreements.

 

In Hebron, for example, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is simultaneously a mosque and a synagogue, with its different chambers allocated between Muslims and Jews on most days of the year, and access is given over exclusively to each faith on its holy days. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has been a major Christian pilgrimage destination since the fourth century and it is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches, who worship there at different times in its various chapels. The Protestant, Anglican and Evangelical churches have a different tradition concerning the location of Calvary, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, and they pray at the Garden Tomb outside of the Old City. Walking along the Via Dolorosa will take you through the Muslim Quarter as well as the Christian Quarter, with mosques and churches along the route.

 

When visiting Israel it is possible to witness the peaceful coexistence of multiple faiths and heartwarming day-to-day interactions between religious people who believe in different deities but who respect each other’s rights to pray in their own way.

 

Talk to Shatour Israel if you are interested in a tour of Israel’s holy places. We even offer a special tour for Muslim tourists to Islamic sites around Israel.

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