Islam in Israel

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Islam is the second-largest religion in Israel, constituting around 17.7% of the country's population. The ethnic Arab citizens of Israel make up the majority of its Muslim population,[1] making them the largest minority group in Israel.

Jerusalem (Al-Quds) is Islam's third-holiest city after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.[2] Al-Ḥaram ash-Sharīf (Arabic: اَلْـحَـرَم الـشَّـرِيْـف‎), The Holy Sanctuary, which is originally part of the Jewish Temple Mount of Jerusalem, is believed by Muslims to be the location from which Muhammad ascended to the Heavens. It is also believed to have been built by Suleiman, who is revered as a prophet in Islam.[3] This widely accepted Islamic belief raises the religious and spiritual importance of the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. Likewise, only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, which is managed day-to-day by neighbouring Jordan's Islamic Waqf (Arabic: وَقْـف‎), an administrative body that takes responsibility for the conduct of Islamic affairs in the region of the Temple Mount.


Islam was brought to the region of Palestine during the early Muslim conquests of the 7th century, when armies from the Arabian Peninsula, under the Rashidun Caliphate, conquered territory (Ash-Sham)[a] that was previously under the control of the Byzantine Empire.[7]

During the Middle Ages, the region became increasingly Islamized. This tendency was temporarily reversed during the two centuries of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a Christian state established by European Crusaders following the First Crusade.[citation needed] As a result of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, Sunni Ottoman Turks ruled the Levant from 1516 to 1917. In Ottoman Palestine, Islam was the state religion administered remotely from Constantinople, while Christians, Jews, and Samaritans were mostly tolerated as dhimmi.

The conquest of Palestine by British forces in 1917 and the subsequent Balfour Declaration opened the gates for the arrival of large numbers of Jews and Arabs and into Mandatory Palestine. However, the British transferred the symbolic Islamic governance of the land to the Hashemites based in Jordan, and not to the House of Saud. The Hashemites thus became the official guardians of the Islamic holy site of Jerusalem and the areas around it, particularly when Jordan controlled and illegally annexed the West Bank of the Jordan River (1948–1967). In 1922, the British created the Supreme Muslim Council in Mandatory Palestine and appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini (1895–1974) as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The council was abolished in 1948.


Muslims comprise 17.7% of the Israeli population.[1] The majority of Muslims in Israel are Sunni Arabs,[8] with an Ahmadiyya minority.[9] The Bedouin in Israel are also Arab Muslims, with some Bedouin clans participating in the Israeli army. The small Circassian community is composed of Sunni Muslims uprooted from the North Caucasus in the late 19th century. In addition, smaller populations of Kurdish, Romani and Turkish Muslims also live in Israel.


The city of Haifa in Israel acts as the Middle East headquarters of the reformist Ahmadiyya Islamic movement. Kababir, a mixed neighbourhood of Jews and Ahmadi Arabs is the only one of its kind in the country.[10][11] There are about 2,200 Ahmadis in Kababir.[12]


Sunni Islam is by far the largest Islamic group in the country. Most Israeli Muslims share the same school of thought with many Sunnis in the Levant (Shafi'i), even though there is also a Hanafi presence as well. There is a strong community of Sufis in several parts of the country, and Sufism has garnered attention from non-Muslim Israelis. An annual Sufi Festival in the Ashram Desert in Negev is dedicated to Sufi arts and traditions.


During the British rule in Mandatory Palestine, it used to have seven Shia Twelver majority villages, especially in northern Israel, near the border with Lebanon, before it was deserted during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, in which the residents of those seven villages fled to neighbouring Lebanon as refugees. Because of this, Twelver Shias are a very tiny minority in Israel.


There are around 4,000 Alawites in Israel and majority of them lives in Ghajar village in the occupied Golan Heights near the border with Lebanon. Most residents in Ghajar considered themselves as Syrian but majority of them have Israeli citizenship. They are currently the only Alawite community in Israel.


15% of Muslims in Israel have a college degree, which was lower than the number of Jews (33%), but similar to the number of Christians (18%) and Druze (20%) with a degree. The overwhelming majority of Muslims believe that giving their children a good secular education is very/somewhat important (93%). 53% of Muslims say “science and religion are in conflict,” which was lower than the number of Jews agreeing with that statement (58%). On the particular topic of evolution, 38% of Muslims believe humans and other living things have evolved over time. More Muslims in Israel believe in evolution than Christians (37%) and Druze (24%), but fewer than Jews (53%).[8]

Religiosity, beliefs or practices[edit]

While Muslims living in Israel, overall, are more religious than Israeli Jews, they are less religious than Muslims living in many other countries in the Middle East. For example, about two-thirds of Muslims in Israel (68%) say religion is very important in their lives, which was similar to the number of Lebanese Muslims who agreed with that statement (59%), but lower than the share of Muslims in Jordan (85%), the Palestinian territories (85%) and Iraq (82%) who say this. Israeli Muslims nearly universally say they believe in Allah and his Prophet Muhammad (97%). A majority of Muslims say they pray daily (61%) and roughly half report that they go to a mosque at least once a week (49%). Muslim women are more likely to say that religion has high importance in their lives, and younger Muslims are generally less observant than their elders.[8]

Political affiliation among Israeli Muslims, 2015[8]
United Arab List
Israeli Labor Party
Yesh Atid
Yisrael Beytenu
Other party
No party

83% of Muslims in Israel fast during Ramadan,[8] which was the lowest among Muslims in any Middle Eastern country.[13] 33% of Muslims believe that Jesus will return during their lifetime, which was similar to the number of Christians who held that belief (33%). When surveyed in 2015, Muslims were most comfortable with their child marrying outside of the faith compared to Jews, Christians, and Druze. The overwhelming majority of Muslims say that (97%) believe strong family relationships is very/somewhat important to them and the majority (68%) say having the opportunity to travel around the world is very/somewhat important. Younger Muslim adults are considerably more likely than older Muslims to say they value world travel. Among Muslims ages 18–49, 73% say having the opportunity to travel the world is very or somewhat important to them, compared with 52% of older Muslims.[8]


In a 2015 survey, one-third of Muslims report having experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months including being questioned by security officials (17%), being prevented from traveling (15%), physically threatened or attacked (15%), or having suffered property damage (13%) because of their religion. However, about a quarter of Israeli Muslims (26%) say a Jewish person has expressed concern or sympathy toward them in the past year because of their religious identity.[8] Muslim and Christians within Israel have equal rights and many become parliamentarians, judges, diplomats, public health officials and IDF generals.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ash-Shām (Arabic: اَلـشَّـام‎) is a region that is bordered by the Taurus Mountains of Anatolia in the north, the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Arabian Desert in the south, and Mesopotamia in the east.[4] It includes the modern countries of Syria and Lebanon, and the land of Palestine.[5][6]


  1. ^ a b Israel. CIA Factbook
  2. ^ From the article on Islam in Palestine and Israel in Oxford Islamic Studies Online
  3. ^ Janin, Hunt (2005). The Pursuit of Learning in the Islamic World, 610-2003. McFarland, 2005. ISBN 0786419547.
  4. ^ Killebrew, A. E.; Steiner, M. L. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: C. 8000-332 BCE. OUP Oxford. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-19-921297-2. The western coastline and the eastern deserts set the boundaries for the Levant ... The Euphrates and the area around Jebel el-Bishrī mark the eastern boundary of the northern Levant, as does the Syrian Desert beyond the Anti-Lebanon range's eastern hinterland and Mount Hermon. This boundary continues south in the form of the highlands and eastern desert regions of Transjordan.
  5. ^ Article "AL-SHĀM" by C.E. Bosworth, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume 9 (1997), page 261.
  6. ^ Salibi, K. S. (2003). A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered. I.B.Tauris. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-86064-912-7. To the Arabs, this same territory, which the Romans considered Arabian, formed part of what they called Bilad al-Sham, which was their own name for Syria. From the classical perspective however Syria, including Palestine, formed no more than the western fringes of what was reckoned to be Arabia between the first line of cities and the coast. Since there is no clear dividing line between what are called today the Syrian and Arabian deserts, which actually form one stretch of arid tableland, the classical concept of what actually constituted Syria had more to its credit geographically than the vaguer Arab concept of Syria as Bilad al-Sham. Under the Romans, there was actually a province of Syria, with its capital at Antioch, which carried the name of the territory. Otherwise, down the centuries, Syria like Arabia and Mesopotamia was no more than a geographic expression. In Islamic times, the Arab geographers used the name arabicized as Suriyah, to denote one special region of Bilad al-Sham, which was the middle section of the valley of the Orontes river, in the vicinity of the towns of Homs and Hama. They also noted that it was an old name for the whole of Bilad al-Sham which had gone out of use. As a geographic expression, however, the name Syria survived in its original classical sense in Byzantine and Western European usage, and also in the Syriac literature of some of the Eastern Christian churches, from which it occasionally found its way into Christian Arabic usage. It was only in the nineteenth century that the use of the name was revived in its modern Arabic form, frequently as Suriyya rather than the older Suriyah, to denote the whole of Bilad al-Sham: first of all in the Christian Arabic literature of the period, and under the influence of Western Europe. By the end of that century it had already replaced the name of Bilad al-Sham even in Muslim Arabic usage.
  7. ^ A Concise History of Islam and the Arabs
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Israel's Religiously Divided Society" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  9. ^ Ori Stendel (1996). The Arabs in Israel. Sussex Academic Press. p. 45. ISBN 1898723249. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  10. ^ "Kababir and Central Carmel – Multiculturalism on the Carmel". Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Visit Haifa". Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Kababir". Israel and You. Archived from the original on 30 January 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  13. ^ "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 9 August 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  14. ^ "Arabs Are Prominent in Israel's Government | National Review". National Review. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2018.