Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Laylat al-Khadr

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Tonight is Laylat al-khadr, considered the holiest night of Ramadan.

This was the night in 610 A.D. when the angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared to Muhammed during his fast in isolation on Mount Nur outside of Mecca.  "Recite!" were the first words from Gabriel's mouth, and what followed was the first of many revelations over the course of two decades that were later compiled as the Qur'an.

So thousands of Muslims -- tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands is more like it-- are making their way to the Haram al-Sharif in old city Jerusalem to spend the night in prayer.  The Israeli authorities announced that they would open the check point for Muslims--women, children, and men over the age of forty.  Buses and more buses fill all roads to the old city.

Ramadan, the ninth month in the lunar calendar, is, of course, the month of fasting from sun-up to sun-down.  It's not just food, but no water, no smoking, no sex, no evil thoughts or words.  Then with the setting of the sun, communities gather for an iftar, to break the fast.  First, a word of prayer, then the taste of fresh dates, and a glass of water.

We have adopted the custom of sitting on our patio on the Mount of Olives overlooking East Jerusalem and the old city to observe sundown each day of Ramadan.  The streets are now deserted with only a few stragglers heading home.  At about 7:30 p.m. the sun sets over West Jerusalem (and the Mediterranean somewhere in the distance), and immediately our most-talented muezzin begins the call to prayer, followed by several others from mosques in different directions.  Then a few moments of silence while the city is enveloped in prayer.  Then our eyes are fixed straight ahead until we see a flash and a puff of smoke hovering over Saladin Street north of the old city.  Two and a half seconds later (sound does travel much slower than light!), the sound "Boom!" of the Ramadan Cannon, announcing to Muslims, "Take and eat!"

For the last 120 years the family of Ranjay Sanduka has been responsible for setting off the Ramadan cannon each evening from the Muslim cemetery just north of the old city in view of a signal from al-Aqsa Mosque.  You can read about him in this BBC article or watch him in action in this YouTube video

Ranjay pauses for a well-deserved drink after fulfilling his task of signaling every Muslim in Jerusalem that the time has come to bite into that tasty date.

We think of fasting periods in our religions--Ramadan and Lent alike--as times for giving up something.  Muslims tell us that it is a time for adding something or emphasizing the spiritual part of their lives-- especially other pillars of Islam like prayer and charity, and in the recitation of Suras from the Qur'an.   

Each evening we hear the sound of hymns raising up from Haram al-Sharif.  Each morning as I walk through the Muslim Quarter, shopkeepers are engrossed in reading their Qur'ans.  And then there is the shopkeeper across from Redeemer Church who each Friday of Ramadan shares his earnings with anyone in need, no questions asked.

To be sure Ramadan is a time for celebration-- in Jerusalem for Jerusalemites and in the West Bank for West Bank residents.

People buy gifts for their children or new clothes.  Lights and decorations are purchased to decorate homes.

toOur favorite felafel stand has been re-equipped  to make a special Ramadan pancake, called Katayeh,  for people to take home to stuff with nuts and cinnamon, and bake in dripping honey.

And for many the evenings are for celebration. 
And each Friday of Ramadan, as also on this night of Laylat al-Khadr, West Bank Muslims numbering in the thousands  line up for hours at the check-points, standing in the hot August sun without food or drink, humbling themselves in hopes of being admitted. . .

. . . for the privilege of praying at their holy shrine in their holy city.

Haaretz newspaper later reported that Israel unexpectedly increased permits from 16,700 from last year to 123,514 this year.

photo credits: Reuters news service
by Fred & Gloria Strickert