Today begins the holy month of Ramadan. All around us millions of our neighbors are commemorating the first revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Mohammad according to Islamic belief.As the Koran states: “The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Koran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful” (Chapter 2, Revelation 185).According to Muslims, the prophet rode the flying steed al-Burak to Jerusalem to Beit al-Makdas, and from al-Aksa (the distant point) ascended to heaven to receive the revelation of God. During this month Muslims are commanded to fast for the entire month.They explain that this is to equalize everyone before themselves and before God. Every evening at the Iftar meal is a celebration, one that is shared with family, neighbors and friends. Despite the month of fasting, it is really a month of feasting. All of the best local dishes are cooked and no one eats alone. From after Iftar, at sundown, until the wee hours of the morning, streets are alive with people walking from home to home to visit, to bring sweets, to drink coffee, to smoke nargila, to tell stories and to enjoy life. In three Ramadans that I have spent living in Arab communities it is the one time where I witnessed men and women, boys and girls, families and friends sitting together for hours on end.
See the latest opinion pieces on our pageI just came back from a week in Cairo. Millions of people were in the street buying gifts and food for the coming month. Cairo is always an endless stream of people moving and in the days before Ramadan the action is faster paced, the streets are filled with vendors and the billboards and television advertisements are all about the upcoming special Ramadan television series, which capture the attention entire Arab world. This year one of the big ones is called Harat al Yehud.It is about an Egyptian army captain who falls in love with a young Jewish woman. Everyone is talking about it and it hasn’t even begun. In one scene shown in the promos, the captain is invited by Rachel’s family for a Shabbat dinner. The Jews are not presented as evil, or as the enemy, but as neighbors. Nonetheless, even in Cairo of the 1950s, the time that the series takes place, this is a most complicated matter for both families.In the West Bank many are also busy with their shopping and preparations. I visited several government offices and private companies, which seemed hyperactive compared to regular days. Everyone is trying to get things done before Ramadan because they know that from Thursday onwards, what doesn’t get done before Ramadan will wait until after Ramadan.According the IDF the relative security situation is good and therefore it announced that men over 40 years of age will be allowed to enter Jerusalem on Fridays for prayers at al-Aksa without a permit. Special buses will be provided to make it easier and more efficient for so many people to enter the city. This is a very good decision and if things remain quiet we can expect to see around 200,000 people every Friday of Ramadan. Women from the West Bank of all ages can enter without permits. Even 400 people from Gaza will be allowed to come to Jerusalem for prayers. If things remain relatively calm, some 150,000 Palestinians from the West Bank will receive permits and will be able to enter Israel during Ramadan as well. It is always great to see young Palestinian from the West Bank see the beach for the first time.The climax of Ramadan is Laylat al-Qadr, which in Arabic means “the night of power” or “the night of decree,” and is considered the holiest night of the year.This is the night in which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Koran was sent down to Muhammad, stating that this night was “better than one thousand months [of proper worship],” as stated in Chapter 97:3 of the Koran. Many Muslims believe, especially those who don’t pray on a regular basis, that a prayer offered on Laylat al-Qadr has a much better chance of being fulfilled than prayers offer throughout the year, especially if the prayer is made in al-Aksa.For those who might be interested, the proper greeting to someone during Ramadan is “Ramadan Kareem” (an honorable and generous Ramadan) and it is also proper to wish people “Kul ‘am u’intum bkheir” (each year and you are blessed with good).I wish all of our Muslim neighbors a peaceful and fulfilling Ramadan. The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.