The Israeli Muslim community belongs to the predominant faith in the Middle East, which was begun in Arabia in the seventh century by Mohammad, who is the revered prophet of the faith and said to have brought people back to more strict observance of monotheism. The five central tenets of Islam are the oneness of God, prayer five times a day, giving alms, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. The Muslim sacred book, the Koran, reflects many stories from the Bible, particularly the Patriarchs and the prophets. Early in its history, Islam divided into two streams: Sunni and Shi’ite, with most of the world’s Muslims, including those in Israel, belonging to the Sunni stream.
Most of Israel’s Muslim citizens live in the scenic Galilee Mountains and in Haifa. About 20 percent live in and around Jerusalem, and 11 percent of Israel’s Muslims are Bedouin who live in the Negev. The Muslims of the Negev are generally said to observe a less strict version of Islam, traditionally praying in the open, with mosque attendance a fairly recent development, while city-dwellers are often more religiously strict. A mystic sect, the Shazaliyeh, founded in the 19th century, has its center in Acco, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, after its founder moved there from Tunis. Another 19th century sect, the Ahmadiyeh, which has its home in Haifa, originated in India and believes that Islam should be disseminated by education.
Many of Israel’s Muslims, which now number 1.2 million, or approximately 20 percent of the population, are said to have arrived in the country during Islam’s early days in the eighth century under the Ummayad dynasty. Others came during the 19th and the early 20th centuries from as close as Egypt and as far afield as the Slavic lands of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
In Jerusalem is the magnificent Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, Islam’s third holiest site. Also in Jerusalem, you can delve into the history of the faith in the Tower of David Museum’s Muslim history room. The impressive achievements of Islamic art and culture are showcased in Jerusalem’s L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art. Acco invites visitors to enjoy its historic sites, covered market and Arab cuisine. Another town famous for cuisine is Abu Gosh near Jerusalem is also home to a semi-annual classical music festival. Ramla, in central Israel, was the first town founded by the Muslims, in the eighth century, and boasts the 13th-century White Mosque, a distinct example of early Islamic religious architecture, and a colorful market.
Get acquainted with Israel’s Muslims by timing your visit to take part in the Galilee’s annual Olive Festival in October, or Arab Culture Month, which takes place in late spring and showcases Arab folklore in Haifa and 40 Arab villages in Galilee. To learn more about the challenges, contributions and achievements of Israel’s Muslims call Ahmadiyeh community leader Muad Awda at +972-(0)4-8385002 or +972-(0)52-2554316 or educator Issa Jaber in Abu Gosh (firstname.lastname@example.org).