World Bulletin / News Desk
With sweets, a small religious ceremony, and proud poses in front of Jerusalem's iconic Dome of the Rock for photos destined for Facebook, young Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are giving the ancient tradition of getting married at the Al-Aqsa Mosque a modern twist.
Not only intended for families and friends, such photos are celebrated by Palestinian media and social-networking platforms as fresh signs of devotion to Islam's third holiest site -- and a means of asserting the Palestinian presence there amid fears Muslims may lose full prayer rights at the mosque.
Rami Majdi Kazzaz, 25, and his new wife, Amira Azam Ghaith, 20, both students at Jerusalem's Al-Quds University, described their wedding photos as an act of "resistance" that had inspired friends -- who had not considered tying the knot at Al-Aqsa -- to follow their example.
"[The photos] will be on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and inspire others to do the same. Many people who don’t even pray come to sign their marriage contracts at Al-Aqsa," said Kazzaz.
He noted that a Palestinian friend of his living in Israel -- who unlike Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza enjoys free access to Jerusalem -- had decided to hold his own marriage ceremony at the mosque after seeing their wedding pictures.
Referred to by Jews as the "Temple Mount", the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is a frequent flashpoint for violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, the latter of whom are sporadically restricted from entry prompting fears they may eventually lose their historical access to the site.
Many Palestinians even fear the mosque’s destruction -- a goal promoted by extremist Jewish settlers who visit the site with increasing frequency and attempt to perform religious rituals there.
"We were happy to hold [our marriage ceremony] at a holy place like Al-Aqsa," said Tala Serhan, a 26-year-old Palestinian. "We felt we should do this as a reply to the settlers’ violations and incursions into the mosque compound."
The marriage contract-signing ceremonies -- usually followed by larger, more lavish feasts -- are often conducted by prominent groups like the Fatah movement or the Israel-based Islamic Movement, members of which bring sweets, wedding rings and a religious scholar to formally register the marriage.
Serhan's husband, Basem Zidani, 29, who works as a cook, said political groups had succeeded with their marriage programs because of the Palestinian people's love for the ancient mosque.
"It [maintaining a presence at Al-Aqsa] is important for us as Palestinians in Jerusalem," Zidani said. "There’s a need to be here and to defend this place."