A new video game that allows players to test their knowledge of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque -- and defend the site from Israeli police -- has captured the imagination of young Palestinian gamers.
Available for free online (on both IOS and Android platforms), Haaris al-Aqsa (“Guardians of Al-Aqsa”) has been downloaded tens of thousands of times within less than two weeks, its developers said.
According to Burj al-Laqlaq, a West Bank-based NGO that helped come up with the concept, the game is aimed at giving young Muslims a better understanding of Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.
“Arab children ought to have some historical background about Al-Aqsa,” Burj al-Laqlaq Director Muntasir Idyedik told Anadolu Agency.
Players must answer 250 questions -- through four increasingly difficult levels -- about the flashpoint religious site.
If they answer enough of these correctly (and collect enough energy-boosting stars and crescents), they will wrest the key to Al-Aqsa’s Al-Maghariba Gate from Israeli police and deliver it safely to Jerusalem’s Jordan-run Religious Endowments Authority.
Noting the game’s entirely non-violent nature, al-Laqlaq explained: “It delivers the message to players that the key to the gate -- i.e., Al-Aqsa’s liberation -- can only be obtained by acquiring knowledge and wisdom.”
According to Idyedik, Haaris al-Aqsa was developed by Palestinian programmers with the help of Turkey's Vakt-i Kiraat Association.
The development team, he said, is currently working on English- and Turkish-language versions of the game as well so that non-Arab players might also download and play it.
Mohamed Abdalhak, the game’s chief programmer, told Anadolu Agency that development of Haaris al-Aqsa had endowed him with a “great sense of responsibility”.
“I felt a tremendous responsibility, along with an indescribable joy,” he said. “Because this isn’t only a social responsibility, but a religious one.”
According to Abdalhak, he and members of his development team -- while working on the latest version of the game -- have received threats from extremist Jewish groups.
Even though the game is devoid of violent content, Israeli daily Hayom was recently moved to urge the Israeli authorities to takes steps to stop what it described as “anti-Israel” activities.
The game is certainly topical.
One week ago, Israeli police shut the Al-Aqsa compound’s Al-Rahma Gate, preventing worshippers from entering the site and triggering several days of Palestinian protests.
Writing by Maımaıtımıng Yılıxıatı