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Religious Travel

Making a pilgrimage to a holy place is a way many people reaffirm their faith. Visiting the birthplace of Jesus or Mohammed can provide a powerful illustration of the historic events behind religion. Read on to learn about the primary holy sites of Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Jerusalem

Perhaps the holiest city in the world is Jerusalem, which contains structures sacred to three religions. Most of the buildings are on Temple Mount in the Old City. The Muslims revere Al Aqsa Mosque, where Islamic legend says the angel Gabriel took Mohammed to meet the other prophets. The Dome of the Rock is the familiar gold dome seen in many photos of Jerusalem. The shrine, built around 687 A.D., marks a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.

Nearby is the Western Wall, the holiest place in the Jewish religion. After praying at the wall, Jews write their prayers on a piece of paper, which they slip between the stones. For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem marks the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism offers travel news and lodging information. The site also suggests itineraries of holy sites for Muslims, Catholics, Jews and Protestants. Find tour, hotel and insurance information at Discover Israel Inside.

Due to recurring violence in the area, travelers must be cautious. The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning advising Americans to avoid Israel and the Old City. See the Consular Information Sheet for more travel precautions.




Islam

The holiest city for Muslims is Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The fifth pillar of Islam states that all Muslims with the financial means must travel to Mecca at least once in their lives. Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, is also the city that Muslims face during their five daily prayers.

The Kaaba in Mecca is the focus of the Hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage. Each year, more than 2 million Muslim pilgrims convene at the Kaaba and commence a series of rituals. Islam.org maintains the Hajj Information Center, which explains the rites and offers travel advice. The Hajj Information Package explains the merits of the pilgrimage and offers practical advice on visas and transportation.

Another Islamic holy site is the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. Visiting Madinah explains the procedures for entering and praying at the mosque. The City of the Prophet explains the complete history of the Prophet's Mosque, where Mohammed is buried.

For photos of holy sites and mosques, visit Islamic Interlink and Mosques Around the World.

Christianity

Besides Jerusalem, Christians revere other sites in modern Israel, such as Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus, and Galilee, where Jesus performed many miracles. Bethlehem is thought to be Jesus' birthplace.

In the year 2000, the Pope celebrated the Jubilee and thousands of Christians visited Vatican City. Because the Holy See is the center of the Roman Catholic world, pilgrimages will continue for many more years.

Mass is celebrated daily inside St. Peter's. If Pope John Paul II is in the Vatican, he blesses the crowd in St. Peter's Square Sunday at noon.




   --- J. Britten


 
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