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What is Ramadan and how is it celebrated in Israel?

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during Laylat al-Qadr, part of the holy month of Ramadan, in Jerusalem's Old City, April 17, 2023. (Photo: Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. For observant Muslims, Ramadan is a month of fasting to commemorate the giving of the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammed by the angel Jibril (Gabriel). 

All adult Muslims are required to observe the fast from sunrise to sunset as one of the five pillars of Islam.

The five pillars are the five mandatory practices required of all Muslims, which include: reciting the Shahada (Declaration of faith); daily prayers; giving alms; fasting during Ramadan; and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Muslims observe the fast by abstaining from food, drink, sexual relations and smoking from sunrise to sunset. Any adult with medical problems is not required to fast, along with pregnant or nursing women. 

The fast is broken after sunset in a family or communal meal called Iftar. Muslims are allowed to eat at any time during the night until the pre-dawn meal, called suhoor

Ramadan is also seen as the best time for exchanging gifts, increasing self-discipline, performing good deeds and devoting oneself to studying the Quran. 

There are several Islamic traditions related to Ramadan, such as reciting the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan has 30 days and there are 30 sections (called juz’) in the Quran, allowing for the recitation of one section per day. 

Another tradition is the recitation of extra nightly prayers, called Taraweeh, which are recited in the local mosque after the Iftar meal.

In Israel, as in many Muslim nations, most Muslims decorate their houses with lights, colorful decorations and crescent moons. 

In many Muslim countries, including among the Arab-Israeli Muslim population, it is common to break the fast by eating a date. 

Many Arab bakeries prepare special foods during Ramadan, including pancakes made primarily of semolina flour drizzled with honey or other syrups, qatayef (which are pancakes folded in half stuffed with nuts such as walnut or pistachio), or other sweet semolina-based delicacies. 

A common savory food during Ramadan both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is maqluba, a dish made of meat, rice, nuts, and vegetables cooked in a pot. 

After cooking, the pot is flipped upside down and served, giving the dish a layered appearance. 

In Israel, the sale of food, sweets, and gifts among the Muslim community almost doubles during Ramadan, not unlike the spending seen in the Jewish community during Passover and Sukkot festivities.

Ramadan ends with a three-day festival called Eid al-Fitr, considered to be one of the most important holidays for Muslims worldwide. 

In recent years, Ramadan has become associated with violence in Israel, especially connected to the Temple Mount (called Haram al-Sharif in Arabic, meaning the Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem, and a tense atmosphere can be felt throughout many Arab communities. 

This year, due to the war in Gaza, Israel has decided to restrict access to the Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan and will allow only entry to Arab-Israeli Muslims.

Israel has warned that the Hamas terrorist organization in the Palestinian territories, as well as Iran, is likely to take advantage of the Ramadan season to start another violent uprising

J. Micah Hancock is a current Master’s student at the Hebrew University, pursuing a degree in Jewish History. Previously, he studied Biblical studies and journalism in his B.A. in the United States. He joined All Israel News as a reporter in 2022, and currently lives near Jerusalem with his wife and children.

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