Jerusalem, January 2000
Between December 8, 1999, and January 7, 2000, the Moslem world celebrated the holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is characterized by a daily fast lasting from sunrise until sundown. During this time observant Moslems neither eat, drink or smoke tobacco products. When the sign is given at sundown – in Jerusalem for example a ceremonial cannon is fired – the mood changes notably as families gather for festive meals and entertainment.
Along with their brethren throughout the world, Moslems in both Israel and in the Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank and Gaza took part in these observances, which are among the most important in Islam.
The Moslem population in Israel numbers 936,000, constituting about 15 percent of the Israeli population as a whole. In addition, around three million Moslems reside in the areas under PA jurisdiction.
The State of Israel, in keeping with its commitment to ensure a pluralistic society based upon religious freedom for all its citizens regardless of religious creed, goes to great lengths in order to facilitate religious observances for its various communities. The special arrangements made to ease Moslem observance of the month of Ramadan are most illustrative of this Israeli practice.
In a special greeting extended this year by President Ezer Weizman to the members of Israel’s Moslem community and their families, on the occasion of the end of the Ramadan fast and the beginning of the Id al-Fitr holiday, the Israeli President expressed the hope that the holiday would usher in a period of peace, brotherhood and joy for all of the communities in Israel, and for the people of the Middle East at large.
Nowhere is Israel’s commitment to religious tolerance more evident than in the efforts made to facilitate Ramadan prayer at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Jerusalem, a city holy to the world’s three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – is often the focal point of the many religious rites and holiday practices observed by the various communities in the area. Even when tension between the sides is running high, Israel has made every effort to guarantee peaceful and orderly religious observances in Jerusalem’s holy sites.
For the Moslem community, the Friday prayers held at the Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem constitute a major focal point of Ramadan observance. This mosque is considered the third most holy site of Islam, and often more than 200,000 worshippers, from both Israel and the areas under PA jurisdiction, pray at the mosque and adjoining locations.
This year, on the last Friday of Ramadan (December 31) about 400,000 worshippers gathered for prayer on the Temple Mount. While security measures were in effect, as any gathering numbering in the hundreds of thousands would require, Israel police and other security forces made allowances in order to accommodate the throngs of the faithful.
Requirements for entry into Jerusalem were waived for Palestinian worshippers on their way to Ramadan prayers at the Temple Mount. Furthermore, in a step to facilitate participation in the prayers, the Ministry of Public Security provided free shuttle buses for worshippers entering Jerusalem from the West Bank, transporting them directly to the Temple Mount from the city’s southern entrance and back again.
The peaceful conduct of the prayers in Jerusalem, and the orderly dispersal of the worshippers afterward is noteworthy, especially in light of the unprecedented numbers of who gathered on the Temple Mount, concurrently with the observance of the Jewish Sabbath, the New Year holiday and the celebrations of new millennium.