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Sheikh Aziz Bukhari

"I live with my family in the Old City of Jerusalem, on the Via Dolorosa. Our ancestors have lived here since 1616. They came from the Silk Road city of Bukhara in Central Asia.

For many years I have worked to encourage interfaith dialogue between all faiths. I believe in peace for the Holy Land. We meditatate and pray for it at our center. This continues the Sufi tradition of my family.

Sometimes I travel to Central Asia, Europe and USA, spreading the message that there can be peace in the Holy Land, and that the world has a lot to learn from our experience. I meet friends old and new, and invite them to visit us in Jerusalem.

No basis of religion asks people to kill each other. If we're all going to love each other in the end, why wait until then?

Jerusalem is most commonly known to the non-Muslim world as the site of the Dome of the Rock and home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, in terms of Muslim holy sites.

Traditionally, this is the site where God brought the Prophet Mohammed before bringing him into Heaven to receive instructions on prayer. Those who know a little bit of Muslim history would know that Jerusalem was the first direction of prayer until Mohammed changed it to Mecca, the direction that Muslims pray towards today.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, a Sheikh of the Naqshabandian Religious Method (Sufi) is head of the Uzbeke Community in Jerusalem, explained that Jerusalem was a holy city even before Mohammed walked on the earth. He said, "Jerusalem was meant to be a place for worship from the time of Abraham". Traditionally, God instructed Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to build a holy place where al-Aqsa stands today, after he and his son Ismael built the Ka'aba in Mecca.

According to Aziz, Muslims believe that Heaven's gates are just above Jerusalem. For this reason, God brought Mohammed first to Jerusalem and then into Heaven. "It's logical", he said, "like a red carpet, so that he can enter the gates straight", from a perpendicular angle. Also, for this reason, the Judgement of all Humankind will take place in Jerusalem, beneath these gates.

He also explained that there is a spiritual significance to living beneath the gates of Heaven and that many Muslims live their life and are buried in Jerusalem hoping that, on the Day of Judgement, God will not 'throw them out'. He also mused, "Wouldn't you like to see it before that Judgement Day?"

Aside from about twenty years of travel, speaking and discovering his own religious identity, Sheikh Aziz has lived in a house in the Old City that has been passed down in his family for three generations. He also plans to be buried in the family plot beside the house.

Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgernent, every man will be judged for his deeds. Aziz believes that, spiritually, living in Jerusalem is better than any good deed, since living in Jerusalem means being constantly beneath God's gaze.

He feels that people of all religions are failing to keep Jerusalem spiritually clean. He said that, during the Ottoman rule of Palestine, Muslims visiting Jerusalem would remove their shoes before entering the city, as they do outside a mosque.

Today the religious inhabitants of Jerusalem care about their own holy sites, but they allow the rest of the city to degenerate. He believes that, "Guns, knives and hate in the heart should not be allowed into the city". For this reason, he feels that any politician who uses Jerusalem as a political pawn should also be denied entrance to the city.

Aziz's message to all religious people is one of acceptance and cooperation. Muslims believe that Islam is not the only message from God. It is, rather, the third and final part of a whole message.

According to Aziz, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have significance in God's message, and "No basis of religion asks people to kill each other". He feels that true religion takes place between an individual and God. For this reason, many prophets left the city in order to pray on mountaintops. He also feels that many individuals use religion to isolate themselves from other people.

Aziz believes that on the Day of Judgement, Jesus will return and lead all Muslims into heaven. At that time, there will be no conflicts between Jews, Christians and Muslims. There will, instead, be a battle between good and evil. Aziz defines 'Muslim' literally as any person who submits to the will of God. Therefore he believes that although God will make the first Judgement, he will have mercy on any and all persons who make a conscious effort to follow the will of God.

Aziz feels that any attempt to make peace or to aid a fellow human being is considered worship to God, and any lack of respect, any act of violence, self-interest and ignorance are considered evil. He often questions why Jews, Christians, and Muslims focus and even fight over the 3% of their scriptures, which differ while ignoring the other 97%, which they have in common. He mused, "If we're all going to love each other in the end, why wait until then?"

SHEIKH AZIZ BUKHARI
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