Celebrating Ramadan in Jerusalem

Ramadan, is the name of the ninth month of the Muslim calendar year and in that month Muslims around the world practice the fourth pillar of Islam which is the “Sawm” of the Fast of Ramadan.

As Muslims keep the lunar calendar, the Ramadan month travels through the secular calendar, coming ten or eleven days earlier each year. This means that when Ramadan falls during the winter months the fast is fairly easy, however, in the summer months the fast is quite strenuous due to the long hot days.

Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims as it was during Ramadan that Allah chose to call Mohamad (pbuh) to be a Prophet and sent the first revelations of the Qur’an. That’s why Ramadan is considered a time of spiritual and physical discipline and for making extra effort to spread love, peace and reconciliation.

The Ramadan Fast involves giving up all food, liquid, smoke and sexual intercourse during the hours of daylight for the entire month along with the peaceful and prayerful attitude of mind, however all these things are allowed after sunset, until the first light of the next day’s dawn.

Although fasting makes people feel very tired and weak, food is prepared very carefully during Ramadan, a difficult task for those preparing the food as they have to resist the temptation of eating or tasting the food, if this is done it will not be counted as breaking the fast as long as it wasn’t deliberate. As the time of breaking the fast called “Iftar” (also known as breakfast) draws near, people feel excited, hungry and proud of their achievement. They wait for the call to end the fast that comes from the minaret which is broadcast on TV and radio. As soon as the sun sets, the fast is broken with a sweet drink such as apricot juice and some fruit, often dates because this was the habit of the Prophet. The main meal will be served after the evening Maghrib prayer is said. This can be an elaborate feast as friends and relatives are often invited.

Buying Ramadan decorations in Jerusalem's Old City

Buying Ramadan decorations in Jerusalem’s Old City

Special pastries called Qatayef, made during Ramadan

Special pastries called Qatayef, made during Ramadan

Old City of Jerusalem is decorated for Ramadan

Old City of Jerusalem is decorated for Ramadan

Most Muslims read the entire Qur’an during this month, and many men go to the mosque each night for prayers known as “Tarawih” during which the whole text is read through often by special “huffaz” (people who know the Qur’an by heart) to lead these special prayers.

People who would undergo real suffering by a fast are excused from the fast, this applies to people who need to be nourished, such as small children and old people, and expectant and nursing mothers. People whose condition would be made worse by fasting are also excused, such as menstruating women, soldiers in battles, people travelling on long trips, and the mentally ill. All these people should however make up for the fasts they have missed any possible other time throughout the year or if not possible then they should donate the cost of two meals to the poor for each missed fast-day.

Some Muslims go into retreat for the last ten days of Ramadan, this is called “I’tikaf”. They withdraw altogether from ordinary life and devote their entire time to prayer and reading the Qu’ran.

Traditionally, the night of the Descent of the Qu’ran is celebrated on the 27th day of the month of Ramadan, this is called “Laylat al-Qadr”. Many Muslims spend this entire night in the mosque, reading the Qur’an and praying together with the belief that if they spend the whole night in prayer and meditation, they will be granted the blessings as if the had prayed for a thousand nights.

Ramadan is a time of joy and Muslims look forward to it as a time of great joy, family celebrations, entertaining of guests and reconciliation. It is normal during this month to stay up very late at night and get up early for the “Suhur” or the pre-dawn meal in preparation for another long day of fasting. Traditionally, a drummer called the “Musaharati” still roams the streets drumming and waking people up for prayer and this early morning snack, in some cities this call is still made by a cannon being fired.

One can feel this beautiful and celebratory atmosphere as the street, shops and homes are all decorated with colorful lights that come into effect at sunset when the fast is broken. Special meals and sweets can only be seen and bought during this month. A time of joy that will peak with the “Eid el-Fitr” or the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan and end of the Ramadan fast.

Wishing our Muslim friends and colleagues a blessed fast and Ramadan Kareem!!

If you go:

Should you be in Jerusalem during Ramadan you can get a sense of the holiday by visiting East Jerusalem.  A few favorite spots include:

1.Jerusalem’s Nablus Road, which is filled with vendors sellling all types of gifts, household, crafts, specialty foods and other items,

2. The Damascus Gate in Jerusaelm is bustling with people of all ages and there are many vendors selling grilled food items, teas and other food and drink items

3. The Muslim quarter within the Old City of Jerusalem is decorated with festive lights that have been strung along the walls and across the alleyways.

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