Sunday 6 July 2014

Ramadan in Abu Dis - Week 1

I arrived in Abu Dis on the first day of Ramadan. I closed my fast at the airport. Prior to the trip I was told about how the work day changes and how most things are open later in the day. So the opening of the fast is signified by the Maghrib Azaan (Call to prayer for the sunset prayer). As a Muslim who comes from England where we have timetable which differ from the timetable of other mosques to determine our fasting times, it was refreshing to see how the whole town breaks the fast together with the Azaan. The stores and work hours are shifted more towards midday. Then within half an hour of Maghrib, everything closes and people are home preparing their meals. It becomes like a ghost town, very quiet, very peaceful. The locals, as mentioned in a previous post, are very hospitable and generous, and within my first week I have been told by five people to do iftar (open the fast) at their home. We visited the house of a local lady on Tuesday and did iftar there. One distinction I can already make is between Abu Dis and Bethlehem. Abu Dis is predominantly Muslim population whereby Bethlehem is a mix of Muslims and Christians. So when in Abu Dis the tw becomes closed and quiet at iftar, Bethlehem remains open and operational like normal, yet the people in Bethlehem are equally as nice and friendly.
After Iftar, the town comes to life, children can be heard playing and enjoying themselves and letting off fireworks. You don’t see this before iftar time because it is so hot and people have less energy. The shops and cafes open and the people are out shopping and meeting friends or just going for a walk. I have been to the gym which was quite full after iftar as well around 11 at night. Even going for a walk after iftar in Abu Dis already feels safe after only a week because there are so many friendly people around. The World Cup is currently happening so some cafes set up outdoor screens and show the games. The atmosphere and set up is brilliant because back home there’ll be one or two screens in a sheesha cafe but these are almost like outdoor cinemas. The weather at night is very nice and cool so it makes sitting outside more enjoyable and more so bearable . The atmosphere for the Algeria game was incredible, people were united and cheering everything they did from tackles to saves. Unfortunately they lost that game but it would have been amazing to see how Abu Dis would respond to their winning. I’ve learnt that there are certain sweet dishes that are only made during Ramadan which is pretty cool, I still need to learn the names of them though.
The struggle of the occupation still remains in Ramadan and this year it has only amplified with the current events taking place like the killings and clashes etc. During Ramadan last year, a friend told me up to 10, 000 permits were given to Palestinians around the Abu Dis area to go and pray in the Al Aqsa mosque. Add that number to an assumed number of permits given in other areas and then take all them away from how many people are allowed this year. So far I have not come across anyone who has a permit in Abu Dis. Al Aqsa is the third most sacred sight in Islam and many Muslims who live nearby and can actually see it, are unable to visit during Islams most blessed month. Another very significant day is the first Friday of Ramadan. Al Aqsa was closed to all under the age of 50 and it was the day of the funeral of the 16 year Palestinian boy that was killed by Israel. Apparently the number of Muslims in Al Aqsa that day went from the usual 80,000 down to 8,000. As a Muslim and citizen of the UK I was able to go to Al Aqsa the following day. Now, when leaving the UK and going to such a sacred place, it is normal for other Muslims back home to ask me to pray for them in Al Aqsa. However, when a Palestinian, who lives only 20 minutes from the place is asking me to pray for them in Al Aqsa, it shows the strength of the chokehold the occupation has Palestine in.

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