Palestinians break their Ramadan fast together with an Iftar meal at the al-Aqsa Mosque during the March 30, 2024.


Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

Blog Post

Praying in al-Aqsa Mosque as an Act of Patriotism

For the first time in years, Abu Abdullah, 64, a resident of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukabbir in Jerusalem, decided to have his entire family accompany him to al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan for iftar or the breaking of the fast at sunset as well as the late evening tarawih prayers.

Getting to al-Aqsa, however, is not that easy. First, finding a parking lot anywhere remotely close to Jerusalem’s Old City is impossible. And then comes the task of reaching the al-Aqsa Mosque and contending with the potential harassment and restrictions of Israeli police along the way. Having a family with you is a burden and trouble for them, but Abu Abdullah was determined to go to the mosque and take his family this year. For this elder Palestinian, especially since Israel’s assault on Gaza, going to al-Aqsa has become a patriotic act, a confirmation of his attachment to this holy place.

Jabal Mukabbir, a congested mountain side with the golden Dome of the Rock visible in the background, 2007

Jabal Mukabbir, with the Dome of the Rock seen in the background, 2007


Tamara, GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2,

“Believe me, since the war of extermination in Gaza began, something within me has changed. I feel that I must be present here. This is the bond imposed on us Jerusalemites, it is how we preserve our identity and sense of belonging,” he told Jerusalem Story.

“Since the war of extermination in Gaza began, something within me has changed. I feel that I must be present here.”

Abu Abdullah, Jerusalemite resident of Jabal Mukkabir

As soon as Abu Abdullah’s family sat in a corner on the steps of the Dome of the Rock, he noticed to his surprise that many other large families from the neighborhoods of Jerusalem and from inside the Green Line were huddled to break their fast with food that they had brought with them. Abu Abdullah’s family had decided on a simple but nutritious meal of humus and falafel sandwiches, as well as the traditional appetizers of dates. The food was actually the least of their concerns; they were happy and comfortable just being in the holy place with one another.

After breaking their fast, Abu Abdullah’s son hurried off to buy coffee for his parents from a café in the Qattanin market. He wanted to be back before the evening (‘isha) prayer began, because that would be followed by the tarawih prayer, when even more Jerusalemites would flock to the Haram al-Sharif compound specifically for this prayer.

Abu Abdullah’s family found significance and meaning in their simple presence at the mosque: they were heeding the call of ribat—responding to the call to go physically to the mosque—and i‘tikaf, remaining in the mosque even after the mandatory prayers are concluded.

This year, i‘tikaf has been reinterpreted. In the past, i‘tikaf was understood as a 24-hour overnight practice often carried out during the last 10 days of Ramadan, but this year, and due to the situation in Gaza, the very act of staying at the mosque past the regular prayers is considered an act that God rewards. This year i‘tikaf has developed into a two-tier act: “i‘tikaf-light” is the act of remaining at the mosque until the end of the tarawih prayers, whereas worshippers who embrace the full-fledged i‘tikaf stay in the mosque overnight from iftar at sunset to suhur, just before the sun rises and the fast begins.

This year, i‘tikaf has been reinterpreted.

In previous years, Israeli soldiers physically removed worshippers who stayed put at the mosque, but this year, the Israelis decided to lay off and allow Muslim worshippers to remain in the mosque for longer periods. In addition, Israel decided to stop the usual unwanted visits of Jewish zealots to the mosque area between prayers, with the result that al-Aqsa Mosque has been filled with Muslim worshippers throughout the day and even between prayer times since Ramadan began on March 11.

Once Abu Abdullah and his family had broken their fast, drank their coffee, and performed both the evening and tarawih prayers, they were ready to return home, satisfied with their trip.

On the way home, Abu Abdullah noticed that the fastest way to Damascus Gate, al-Wad Street, was crowded, so he began looking for other routes. Familiar with all back roads and allies in the Old City of Jerusalem, he decided to take the Via Dolorosa to Bab Khan al-Zayt, hoping to avoid the crowds that way. He was surprised to find that the Khan al-Zayt Gate was empty of pedestrians, and even the shops were mostly closed. By contrast, al-Wad Street was congested with pedestrians and shops were open, giving the feel of the night of Eid al-Fitr.

As soon as Abu Abdallah arrived at his home in Jabal Mukabbir, he heard the news that the Israeli police had stormed al-Aqsa after worshippers completed the tarawih prayers and detained those who had planned on an all-night, full-fledged i‘tikaf.

Then and there, Abu Abdullah decided to return the next day, taking his family to al-Aqsa for tarawih prayers. As he later explained to Jerusalem Story, “al-Aqsa is our identity.”

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The second Friday of Ramadan passes peacefully; worshippers rejoice at finally being allowed to enter their holy site.