National Geographic : 1972 Jul
mosque. Today a small mosque does mark the spot where Omar prayed. Daily the minaret moves its shadow across the holiest shrine in Christendom. I remember vividly my last visit to Jeru salem, a city still divided on the eve of the 1967 six-day war. From the terrace of my hotel in Jordan I could look over into the Israeli sector, a scant mile away. With Said, a Palestinian friend, I watched the fireworks of Israel's Independence Day bursting high above a military parade. I pondered the bitter dispute between Arabs and Israel, and put it to my friend: Couldn't the Arabs at least allow the Jews to visit the Wailing Wall? After all, to them it is one of the most sacred spots on earth. "Tell me this," Said cut in sharply, "what place on earth is more sacred than a man's own home? Mine was in Jaffa." A few days after I left the Holy Land, the Israelis invaded Jordan and quickly took all Jerusalem. After twenty years Jews were once more free to visit their holy sites. But now it was Moslems who were restricted in visiting this troubled city, holy to half of humanity Christians, Moslems, and Jews alike. DURING THE RULE of Caliph Omar, the Arab conquest gained its greatest momentum. In ten years most of the Middle East fell to his armies, fanning out simultaneously into Persia and North Africa. Along the Nile a fortress called Babylon where Cairo stands today-surrendered in 641 after a bloody seven-month siege. Within 18 months its conqueror, Amr ibn al-As, had taken Alexandria, Byzantium's main naval base, a metropolis second only to Constanti nople itself. His spoils included "4,000 villas with 4,000 baths, and 40,000 taxpaying Jews and 400 places of entertainment for the royalty." More than three centuries passed before the Fatimids, a later Arab dynasty, founded Cairo - now Africa's largest city and a focus of Springboard to empire, Medina now crowds around the Mosque of the Proph et, where minarets rise above the green dome that marks Mohammed's tomb. Fleeing persecution in Mecca, Moham med founded the first Islamic community at this date-palm oasis in A.D. 622. Like Mecca, Medina is closed to nonbelievers.