In a few years Ramadan will fall on the hot months, then it will be really tough," says Hadj Ibrahim, owner of a small grocery shop on Salah a-Din Street. During the day the shop is even busier than usual, as housewives and their children pile up the groceries they need for the first meal of the day, the iftar. During the month of Ramadan, after the sun sets, the eastern part of the city looks empty and deserted. This is the family time, when members of the family join together to have the iftar together, watch an annual Ramadan TV show on Dubai TV or Egyptian Dream and enjoy the famous "Ramadani spirit." Now in his seventies, Hadj Ibrahim still remembers how Ramadan was celebrated in Jerusalem 50 years ago. "The economic situation was not all that great back then either, but somehow, things were much more simple. After the iftar, many people used to walk the streets of the Old City, sit in small cafes next to the Damascus Gate or go down to Jericho or out to Bethlehem to visit family and friends. "Ramadan was a time for socializing and enjoying life. Not much is left of this spirit today," he says. And then he adds that of course, everything is relative, as he recalls the years of the second intifada, when people were afraid to leave their homes after dark because they were afraid they would be arrested. Businesses didn't open for weeks in a row. One of the customers in the shop, a bearded man in his fifties, joins the conversation. "Today there are no shootings on the streets, AlHamdulillah (Thanks to God), but that doesn't mean that we can go back to our usual routine. Ramadan is a family time but because of the separation barrier our relatives, who live just around the corner, can't come and visit us anymore. "Jerusalem has been separated from the neighboring villages and towns" he adds angrily. Another customer approaches this reporter. He wishes to speak "discreetly," he says, "for security reasons." He calls himself abu-Muhammad. "It's because of men like him, Abu-Lahiya ('The Bearded One'), that Ramadan has lost its vivaciousness and charm in this city," he says confidentially. "Twenty, even 15 years ago, fasting on Ramadan was a personal choice for each individual. You could fast or not, but you still felt that you were part of the festive atmosphere and holiday. "Nowadays, if you ask around, everyone will tell you that he is fasting on Ramadan, because this has become the norm. A person is ashamed to admit he is not following the tradition, even though he might feel entirely differently." Does this change have anything to do with Hamas's climb to power and the overwhelming victory in east Jerusalem? Abu-Muhammed says that the Hamas victory is merely part of a general trend in the region. "You see it less in Jerusalem than in Nablus, Tulkarm or Gaza, but the fact is that Hamas won the people's hearts and now they just gather the harvest," he explains. Although in ancient Arabia, Ramadan was considered to be the time of peace, when all parties engaged in battle or war would lay down arms and cease fire for 30 days in deference to the holiness of this month, in modern Arab and Muslim countries, the sacred crescent, the symbol of Ramadan, can no longer stop the fighting and bloodshed, as this week's events prove. Over the past week, at least 13 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 were wounded in fighting between rival Fatah and Hamas factions in Gaza. The riots soon spread to West Bank cities. In Jerusalem the rivalry has taken a different form. As Israeli security forces control the city, armed faction activists cannot simply run with their weapons. So in Jerusalem, Fatah and Hamas hold generosity contests. It has long been customary for wealthy individuals and political parties to arrange for festive iftar meals for the poor who cannot afford to honor the Ramadan with the traditional foods. Today, "Mawa'ed ar-Rahman," ("The Tables of the Merciful"), a special feature of Ramadan, abound throughout the city. According to Palestinian sources, numerous soup kitchens and mosques, including al-Aksa, serve nearly 7,000 iftar meals every day. When it comes to "Mawa'ed ar-Rahman," the rivalry between the political factions is quite fierce. Traditionally, Hamas activists, representing the Islamic faction, took responsibility for this activity in most east Jerusalem neighborhoods. But over the past few years, Fatah, originally a nationalist and secular movement, also joined the "Mawa'ed ar-Rahman" club and began competing with Hamas for the hearts and souls of the poor. Ramadan isn't over yet, but it seems that this year, despite the severe financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas will sponsor most of the festive meals for the Jerusalem poor, especially in areas such as Sur Bahir, Umm Tuba and Azariya, where Hamas activists distributed foods and beverages to the needy. Although strangers may have the impression that Ramadan is mostly about fasting, festive meals and celebrations, any learned ulem (Islamic scholar) knows that this is merely the external coating. Ramadan is a month filled with rituals and discipline, at least theoretically. Ramadan commemorates the month-long revelation of the holy Koran to the Prophet Muhammad. In addition to fasting from sunrise to sunset, Muslims must pay alms, increase meditations and pray. The nightly Ramadan prayer, taraweeh, recited in addition to the regular five daily prayers and usually much longer, has a special merit. Taraweeh is derived from the Arabic root word, "raaha", which means to rest or relax. After every four raka'at (genuflexions in prayers), pious Muslim would stop for rest, relaxation and contemplation and would then resume their prayers. "Ramadan Kareem" (literally, "Ramadan is generous") is the common greeting during this month. "Allahu Akram," ("God is more generous"), is the traditional answer, in recognition that God provides for man's spiritual and material existence. On the evening of the 27th day of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Laylat-Al-Qadr (the "Night of Power" or the "Night of Destiny"). On this night, the Koran was first revealed to Muhammad. It is believed that the Almighty will fulfill wishes made at this time, as it is the Almighty who determines the destiny of all mankind on this night. On the 27th day of Ramadan, thousands gather in mosques, especially in al-Aksa, to ask for health, luck and love for themselves and their loved ones, hoping that the light of Ramadan will continue to light their path throughout the coming year.

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