Friday, August 26, 2011

Ramadan in Jerusalem

There is so much going on in Israel at any given time that your experience here will be different depending on where you spend your time. Simultaneously, in August, there have been ongoing cultural events and festivals at the Israel Museum, the Jewish holidays of Tisha B'Av and Tu B'Av, an Arts & Crafts Fair in the Artist's Colony, the opening of the highly anticipated Light Rail system, a Jazz Festival in Eilat, exhibit openings in Tel Aviv, busy beachfront life, terrorist activity in the Negev and also the month long festivities of Ramadan. Whew, that's a lot going on in just one single month! Thus, I wanted the chance to show you guys out there what has been going on in the periphery of Jerusalem (and arguably August's main event) which are the month long events of Ramadan.


I say that it's been "in the periphery" of Jerusalem simply because the various different faiths of Jerusalem seem to inhabit completely and utterly different lives while simultaneously occupying the same city. We live so close to one another physically, yet so far away from each other mentally. We live in different areas, pray in different quarters, attend different hospitals and shop in different vicinities. We come into contact with each other, for the most part, on public transportation, at school, and if you literally enter specific neighborhoods that are home to various faiths (i.e. Mea Shearim  and Nachlaot are neighborhoods that are home to Orthodox Jews whereas places like Sheik Jarrah and Beit Safafa are home to Arab populations). For the most part, everyone stays out of everyone's way. Being American, I stick to the many western style neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Thus, though Ramadan has been going on for the entire month of August, my closest connection to it is the sweet Muslim girls  and the respectful Arab men in my ulpan.

I like to think of myself as a pretty open person when it comes to faith. Though I was raised a reform Jew, I attended an Episcopalian high school, took classes about both the Old and New testaments, worked in Orthodox Jewish schools (which is quite different from my own practices) and went to a Methodist graduate school. Thus, when it comes to making friends and learning about other cultures, I am not only open, but curious. So here's the overview when it comes to Ramadan and the experience thereof:

My classmates tell me (and remember, we are speaking in Hebrew, so I might have lost some things in translation) that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which happens to fall between August 1 to August 30 of this year. It is a month long fast, during which time Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during the daytime hours. From 8 pm to 4 am daily, they are allowed to eat and drink, but the fast begins again at 4 am on the dot. The intended lessons are patience, humility, empathy for the less fortunate, self-restraint and self-control, spirituality and what I understand to be submissiveness to G-d. More prayer than usual happens during the monthly fast and you are supposed to make an effort to actually do the five calls to prayer per day as is required in the Islamic faith. As you can see in the pictures above, there's sort of a mass influx of Muslims from all over the country (and possibly world) who make a pilgrimmage to the holy city at this special time of year. Of course, prayers are also going on in the Palestinian territories, as seen below in this photo behind the diving wall:

At 8 pm, according to my classmates, the daily feast begins. This is a celebratory time in contrast to the heavy day, full of hunger, that they have just experienced. It is common to eat together and to rejoice. During the day, they have refrained from food, water, temptations, evil thoughts and bad memories. Every part of the body must restrain itself: the ears must refrain from hearing gossip, the feet must refrain from entering unholy places, the eyes must refrain from watching sinful things and the hands must restrain themselves from touching or taking things that don't belong to them. After consciously purifying their minds and bodies during the day, they have the reward of feasting at night, preparing themselves for the next day's fast and active process of restraint:

During the month long festivities of Ramadan, the entire Qur'an (Islamic holy book) is to be read from beginning to end. Thus, this goes back to the importance of attempting to attend all the prayers during the month of Ramadan:

No matter where you are in Jerusalem, you will likely be able to hear the call to prayer (five times a day) coming from the loud speakers in the Old City's Arab quarter, the sound of which seems to magically transcend for miles. And, yes, now that it's summer and we are sleeping with the windows open again, I am indeed being woken up frequently around 4 am for the morning call to prayer. However, the whole purpose of the loud speakers and the call to prayer is so that  people like this lady below can join in the prayer along with the others at the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque:

Here is an image of Muslims praying in Jerusalem during one of the five calls to prayer. Their uniformity never ceases to amaze me:

And here outside of the Dome of the Rock is a nighttime prayer being had in the Arab Quarter of the Old City. As you can see, the area becomes absolutely swamped with visitors as is the case at the Vatican during Christmas and on Easter:

One of the more visual aspects of Ramadan is the decoration throughout the Muslim portions of the city. If you walk through a Muslim neighborhood, like the Arab quarter of Jerusalem, you will find it filled with festive decorations, jazzy lights and colorful lanterns. Christians do the same thing for Christmas, as you all know, but I have to say I was surprised by the festive mood since it seems to be a holiday of repentance and restraint. The colorful decorations are kind of meant for the nighttime when the 8 hours of nourishment take place. Here are a few images of what you might see if you were to walk through a Muslim neighborhood during Ramadan here in Jerusalem:



Pretty, isn't it? This time of year is also a time of charity, when good deeds should be done and help should be given to those less fortunate. When we pass by the Old City, it's possible to see the lights strung up and the crowds coming and going through the Damascus Gate, the entrance to the Old City's Arab Quarter:



Below you will find a few interesting videos, if you choose to watch them, of various Ramadan events happening here in Jerusalem. The first video shows you a panorama of the Old City from the Mount of Olives, looking into the Arab portion of the Old City. You will then see Muslims streaming into the Old City for prayer and various sights and scenes along the way:

This video starts out with the call to prayer in the Old City, where you left off in the video above. It also shows you Ramadan prayer in various nearby locales including Hebron and Bethlehem:

This short clip will show you the vast number of people who flood into the Old City of Jerusalem during the daily prayers for Ramadan. Here they are seen exiting the Old City through the Damascus Gate:

Showing a more festive side of Ramadan, this clip shows a celebratory beginning to the month long holiday of Ramadan. You will see lights, music, and an overall festive mood:

Well, I hope this post has educated you in one way or another to the happenings during the month of Ramadan. I know that my classmates are eagerly awaiting August 30 to be here already, which is just a couple of days away. It's interesting that such a majority of Jerusalem, at this current moment, is taking part in these festivities when it seems nearly invisible to the other neighborhoods and other quarters. Just another example of multiple faiths and religions cohabiting a singular city. If you pay attention, however, you will be sure to see the decorations throughout the various neighborhoods, the influx of people in and out of the Old City, the sound of mass prayer coming from outside the Dome of the Rock and the rumbling of stomachs next to you in public.

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