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Muslim Holidays

Muslim holidays are celebrated by and large only in the eastern sections of Jerusalem, where most of the city’s Muslim population resides.  Worship sites are local mosques, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, and most centrally, the Dome of the Rock. Below we highlight some of the most important Islamic holidays.

Laylat al-Miraj: Muhammad’s Night Journey to Heaven

One of the most central holidays in Islam, Muslim’s celebrate this day marking Mohammed’s rise to Heaven from what is now the Dome of the Rock.

Islamic tradition holds that from this very place, the Angel Gabriel accompanied Mohammed  on his ascension to Heaven, and thereupon met with Judaism and Christianity’s greats: Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

This holiday is Jerusalem-centered since its focus is on the Dome of the Rock. On Laylat al-Miraj, children are the main focus, with families journeying up to the Dome of the Rock in celebration.

Eid ul-Fitr: Conclusion of Ramadan

“Eid” is Arabic for a festive time, and “Fitr” means “break the fast”. Often referred to as “Little Eid” (as opposed to the “Big Eid” of Eid Al-Adha), this three-day celebration concludes the month-long Fast of Ramadan, during which Muslims refrained from eating from sunup to sundown. People don their best clothes for prayers and often pay “zadak”, or charity, and recite one of Islam’s central tenets, Allahu Akbar – “Allah is Great.” And if you’re in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City at this time, you just might catch young Muslim men and boys celebrating by horse racing!

Eid Al-Adha – Sheep Slaughter in Honor of Ishmael’s Near Sacrifice

While the Bible tells the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac, the Koran differs by saying it was his other son, Ishmael, whom Ibrahim – as he is known in Arabic – was called to sacrifice.  The Eid Al-Adha (known as the “Big Eid”, in contrast with Eid ul-Fitr, the “Small Eid”) is of ultimate importance to Islam, in that it celebrates Ibrahim’s high calling and ultimate willingness to do Allah’s will.

The sacrifice of a sheep, or goat, is in celebration of the ram which was sacrificed in Ishmael’s stead (the same as in the Bible story).  Ritual regulations abound as to the particulars of this sacrifice, signifying its importance, and participants eat the sacrifice. Also, other commemorative foods, such as dates and nuts, are prepared well ahead for this highly celebrated holiday.

Ashura –  Shi’ites Markings of  Hussein, Noah, and Moses

Shi’ite Muslims consider Ashura to be one of the major Muslim holidays. A fast day, Ashura commemorate’s the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, for his martyrdom (680 CE).  The Ashura holiday also marks two other major historical events in Muslim tradition for figures from the Hebrew Scriptures: 1) The day Noah left his ark, and 2) the day that Allah saved Moses from the Egyptians.

Islamic New Year

Unlike other cultures’ new year celebrations, the Islamic new year is not one of fanfare. Instead, the Islamic New Year is merely commemorative, marking Muhammad’s establishment of the Islamic calendar in conjunction with Islam’s first state in the city of Medina.

Muslim Holidays While Touring Jerusalem

If you are interested in witnessing any of the Muslim holidays, it is best to check ahead as to exact dates, especially since the Islamic lunar calendar varies in relation to the Western calendar.