Amid tensions and beefed up security in Jerusalem, Muslims prepare for Ramadan
Islam’s holy month of fasting and prayer begins tomorrow and ends on 21 April with Eid al-Fitr. With the Islamic observance coinciding with Easter and Passover, security measures have been tightened on Jerusalem’s holy esplanade. In Saudi Arabia, restaurants remain closed from dawn to dusk. In the UAE, working hours have been reduced. The economic crisis will affect activities this year.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia, home of the two holiest places of Islam Makkah and Madinah, announced that the holy month of Ramadan will begin tomorrow, 23 March, allowing 1.6 billion Muslims to start fasting, from dawn to dusk, between 12 and 17 hours depending on the latitudes.
This year, the annual period of praying, meditation and reflections coincides with the Christian feast of Easter and the Jewish observance of Passover. In Jerusalem, this means heightened tensions, exacerbated by violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians over the past few months.
The holy city is under maximum alert over possible violence, especially on or near its holy esplanade (Temple Mount/al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf), which is disputed by Jews and Muslims.
Police in Jerusalem are making final preparations to ensure peace and safety as well as respect for the status quo. Israeli and Palestinian officials met to work measures to ensure this.
Israel is also granting twice as many permits for adult Palestinian men to come to the al-Aqsa compound, while Muslim women, children and seniors will not need any.
In previous years, the holy month saw tensions rise and violent clashes break out between Israelis and Palestinians. To ensure this does not happen this year, Israel and the Palestinian Authority held a meeting on Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss steps to avoid escalation.
This follows a growing cycle of violence in the West Bank, Israel’s domestic crisis over a proposed reform of the country’s justice system, and the behaviour of certain Israeli leaders, most notably National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
The latest factor fuelling tensions is the decision by the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to allow Israeli citizens back into the sites of four settlements in the occupied West Bank, evacuated at the time of the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which now can be rebuilt.
Since the start of the year, 85 Palestinians have died, several of them civilians caught up in Israeli raids against radical groups. This is one of the reason police presence is being boosted in the holy city for Friday prayers during Ramadan.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, restaurants are set to open only after sunset for iftar, the evening meal. Despite the reforms imposed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Ramadan remains one of the dominant aspects of life for the entire country.
This year around three million pilgrims are expected for the peak of the annual Umrah season, the minor pilgrimage to Makkah.
In the neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE), authorities have cut working hours for both government and private sector workers; while federal employees’ shifts will be 70 per cent remote and 30 per cent in-person on Fridays during this period.
Much of the Middle East will have to deal with the economic crisis and rising food prices, especially for iftar.
The traditional fast-breaking evening dinner is unaffordable for four people out of five, this according to the charity American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA).
Price hikes will be especially felt in Turkey and Syria, both of which were recently hit by a major earthquake. In the latter, this comes on top of 12 years of brutal civil war.
Ramadan will end on 21 April with Eid al-Fitr, a feast traditionally accompanied by celebrations and lots of food. Until then, Muslims must also abstain from smoking and sex.
According to tradition, in this month God revealed the Qurʾān to the Prophet Muhammad. Fasting (Sawm) during this period is one of the five pillars of Islam along with the Muslim creed (Shahada), prayer (Salah), almsgiving (Zakat), and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj)
Ramadan was established on the second year after the Hijrah (AD 622), Muhammad’s flight from Makkah to Madinah. Tradition has it that fasting begins when a white thread is distinguished from a black thread.
The sick and the elderly are exempted, and can perform an act of charity towards the poor. Many parents have their children observe a half-day fast.