Islam in Palestine

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Islam is a major religion in Palestinian Territories. Islam is the religion of the majority of the Palestinian population, with Muslims comprising 80-85% of the population of the West Bank, when including Israeli Settlers,[1] and 99% of the population of the Gaza Strip.[2] Palestinian Muslims primarily practice Shafi'i Islam, which is a branch of Sunni Islam.


Mosque in Ramallah.

Islam was first introduced to the region of Palestine during the Early Muslim conquests of the 7th century, when armies of the Rashidun Caliphate under the leadership of ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb defeated the armies of Persia and the armies of the Byzantine Empire and conquered Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, the region of Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and Spain..[3] Islam became the majority religion in Palestine in the 9th century, when Arabic became the lingua franca.[4] In the Middle East region and the region of Palestine in particular, indigenous peoples in various regions who until then spoke mostly Greek, Aramaic-Syriac, Coptic and Berber, began adopting the Arabic language and the culture associated with it. The creation of locally-rooted Sufi-inspired communities and institutions between 1000 and 1250 were part and parcel of the conversion to Islam.[5]

Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest city after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.[6] Although the Koran does not clarify from where exactly Muhammad ascended to Heaven, the Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) of Jerusalem is believed by Muslims to be the location.[citation needed] According to the tradition, during a single night around the year 621, the Islamic prophet Muhammad was carried by his mythological steed "al-Burāq" from Mecca to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to the tradition, from there he ascended to heaven where he spoke with Allah. This widely accepted Islamic belief is a source of the religious and spiritual importance of the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque.

During the 9th century, Palestine was conquered by the Fatimid dynasty. During that time the region of Palestine became again the center of violent disputes followed by wars, since enemies of the Fatimid dynasty attempted to conquer the region. At that time, the Byzantine Empire continued trying to recapture the territories they previously lost to the Muslims, including Jerusalem. The Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem who expressed their support to the Byzantine Empire were killed by the Muslim authorities. During the Fatimid era, the cities of Jerusalem and Hebron became prime destinations for Sufi wayfarers.[5]

Throughout the majority of the era Muslim rule existed in the region of Palestine, except for the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099–1291). Due to the growing importance of Jerusalem in the Muslim world, the tolerance towards the other faiths began to fade. The Christians and the Jews in Palestine were persecuted and many Churches and Synagogues were destroyed. This trend peaked in 1009 AD when Caliph al Hakim of the Fatimid dynasty, destroyed also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This provocation ignited enormous rage in the Christian world, which led to the Crusades from Europe to the Holy Land.

In 1099, the Christian Crusaders, under the support of the Roman Catholic Church, launched the First Crusade campaign with the aims of regaining control of Jerusalem from the Islamic Empire, and helping the Byzantine Empire fight the Seljuk Turks. During the campaign, the Crusaders launched an assault on the city of Jerusalem, captured it in July 1099, massacring many of the city's Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, and established the first Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Crusaders transformed the Dome of the Rock into the "Shrine of the Lord" (Templum Domini) and the Al-Aqsa mosque into the "Hall of Solomon" (Templum Solomonis). The local Muslim reaction was to try to find an accommodation with the Crusaders. During this era, the larger Muslim world looked upon the setbacks in Jerusalem with indifference.[7][8][9][10]

In 1187, the Ayyubid Sultan Salah ad-Din led his armies to win a great victory over the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin.[11] As a direct result of the battle, Islamic forces once again became the dominant power in the region, re-conquering Jerusalem and several other Crusader-held cities.[12] In 1189, the first lodge for Sufi ascetics was established at the Al-Khanqah al-Salahiyya Mosque in Jerusalem, which had been a palace of the Latin Patriarch prior to the reconquest of the city.[5]

The Christian defeat led to a Third Crusade aimed to regain the lost territories in the Holy Land. Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) launched a siege upon the city of Acre, after which he conquered the city and killed 3,000 Muslims. After a second victory won in the Battle of Arsuf, the Crusaders arrived to Jerusalem, but withdrew without trying to conquer the city. Following another military clash in Jaffa, which wasn't won by either side, Saladin and Richard the Lionheart signed the Treaty of Ramla in June 1192. Under the terms of the agreement, Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control but the city would be open to Christian pilgrims. The treaty reduced the Latin Kingdom to a strip along the coast from Tyre to Jaffa.

In 1250, the Ayyubid Egyptian dynasty was overthrown by slave ("Mamluk") regiments, and a new dynasty - the Mamluks - was born. In 1291, the forces of the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt al-Ashraf Khalil forced a long siege upon the city of Acre, which was the final Christian landhold in the Holy Land. The Mamluks captured the city on May 18, 1291, killing most of the Christian local inhabitants, thus ending the second Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.[13]

On September 3, 1260, at the Battle of Ain Jalut held in the Jezreel Valley, the Muslim Egyptian Mamluks under Baibars defeated the Mongols and stopped their advance. His successor Al-Ashraf Khalil completed the victory by sweeping the last of the Crusaders out of Palestine. The Mamluks were to rule Palestine for the following two centuries (1291-1516). The Mamluks, ruling from Damascus, brought some prosperity to the area, particularly to Jerusalem, with an extensive programme involving the building of schools, hospices for pilgrims, the construction of Islamic colleges and the renovation of mosques. The ascendency of the Burji over the Bahri Mamluks, together with recurrent droughts, plagues and pestilence like the Black Death and taxation to cover the costs of wars against Crusaders and Mongols (the last of which was "Tamurlane's horde") brought about both growing insecurity and economic decline. By the end of their reign, with the decay of internal control and massive population losses due to plagues, Bedouins moved in to take advantage of the decline in defenses, and farmers abandoned their lands. They sacked Ramla in 1481 and annihilated a Mamluk army that had been raised in Gaza to repel them.[14][15] By the end of the 15th century, Jerusalem's population amounted to approximately 10,000, mostly Muslims, with roughly 1,000 Christians and 400 Jews.[16]

On August 24, 1516, at the Battle of Marj Dabiq, the Ottoman Empire forces defeated the Mamluk sultanate forces and thus the Ottomans became the new rulers of Syria. On October 28 they defeated the Mamluk forces once more in the Battle of Yaunis Khan and they annexed the region of Palestine. By December of that year the entire region of Palestine was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed] As a result of the Ottoman advance during the reign of Selim I,[17] the Sunni Ottoman Turks occupied the historic region of Palestine. Their leadership reinforced and ensured the centrality and importance of Islam as the dominant religion in the region. Swamps with the risk of malaria made it difficult to settle and farm on the coastal plains and in the valleys throughout most of the Ottoman era.[18]

In 1834, a popular uprising erupted against the rule of Wāli Muhammad Ali. The main cause of the uprising was indignation at being drafted by the Egyptian army. At first the rebels managed to take over many cities, including Nablus, Jerusalem and Hebron. In response, Egyptian military leader Ibrahim Pasha commanded an army force of 40,000 people against the rebels and managed to put an end to the rebellion, conquering Gaza, Ramleh, Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and Acre. Ibrahim Pasha's conquests had a significant demographic change as the region of Palestine had an influx of Muslim tribal immigrants.[19] Ibrahim Pasha, in wresting control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, clashed with the regional ambitions of the European Great Powers and, in order to assuage their unease, he reversed Ottoman policy and opened the country up to both foreigners and non-Muslim populations. Despite the brevity of Egyptian overlordship, since the great powers restored the fortunes of the Ottomans and their sovereignty over Palestine, the long term effect was to lay the groundwork for the development of extensive European activities and interests in Palestine.[20]

In 1917, at the end of the First World War, the British Empire conquered the region of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire. The United Kingdom was granted control of Palestine (today's Israel, West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan) by the Versailles Peace Conference which established the League of Nations in 1919 and appointed Herbert Samuel, a former Postmaster General in the British cabinet, who was instrumental in drafting the Balfour Declaration, as its first High Commissioner in Palestine. The British occupation of the region brought an end to hundreds of years of successive Muslim rule in the region of Palestine.]

The gradual increase in the number of Jews in Palestine led to the development of a proto-Arab-Palestinian national movement, influenced and inspired by Muslim leader and Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini. Zionism, the ideology advocating the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, was increasingly identified as a threat by the Muslim-Arab population in Palestine. This anti-Zionist trend became linked to a fierce anti-British resistance (like in the 1920 Palestine riots and during the 1936–39 Arab Revolt).

The High Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel, issued an order in December 1921 establishing a Supreme Muslim Council with authority over all the Muslim waqfs and sharia courts in Palestine. In addition, in 1922 the British authorities appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini as the Mufti of Jerusalem. Until the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine took place, the Council operated as the Governing body of the Arab community under the British Mandate, and co-operated with the British government in Palestine. All along its operation, the Supreme Muslim Council advocated an active resistance against the Jewish "Yishuv", supporting the Arab underground anti-British movements in the country.[21]

On May 14, 1948, one day before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine led by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, made a declaration of independence, and the state of Israel was established. Contingents of Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi armies invaded the territory of Palestine, thus starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The nascent Israeli Defense Force repulsed the Arab nations from part of the occupied territories, thus extending its borders beyond the original UNSCOP partition.[22] By December 1948, Israel controlled most of the portion of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River. The remainder of the Mandate consisted of Jordan, the area that came to be called the West Bank (occupied by Jordan), and the Gaza Strip (occupied by Egypt). Prior to and during this conflict, 711,000[23] Palestinians Arabs fled their original lands to become Palestinian refugees, in part, due to a promise from Arab leaders that they would be able to return when the war is won.

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 places of Jerusalem and the areas around it. Following the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank during the war, King Abdullah I of Jordan removed Amin al-Husayni as Grand Mufti and appointed Sheikh Hussam ad-Din Jarallah as the new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on 20 December 1948. The Supreme Muslim Council was eventually disbanded in 1951 by the Jordanian authorities.[citation needed] On July 20, 1951 king Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated while visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque. The assassination was carried out by a Palestinian from the Husseini clan. The Palestinian gunman, motivated by fears that king Abdullah would make a separate peace with Israel, fired three fatal bullets into the King's head and chest.[citation needed]

After the conquest of the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War, the Chief Israeli Rabbinate announced that Jewish people are forbidden of entering the Temple Mount. Since 1967, Israel controls the security on the Temple Mount, but the Muslim Waqf controls administrative matters, taking responsibility for the conduct of Islamic affairs just as it did during the Jordanian occupation.[24]


Today Islam is a prominent religion in both Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Israel's Muslim population accounts for 16.1% of the population in the country (as of 2005),[25] making them the second largest religious group in Israel after the Jewish population. Most of the population in the State of Palestine are Muslims (80% in the West Bank and 99% in the Gaza Strip).[26][27] Palestinian Muslims primarily practice Shafi'i Islam, which is a branch of Sunni Islam.

Ahmadiyya Islam[edit]

Ahmadiyya is a small sect of Islam in Palestine. The community, which is not recognized as genuine Islamic by mainstream Muslims, faces persecution and experiences matrimonial restrictions imposed by local Sharia courts. Although no estimates are available, reports suggest that there may be "dozens" of Palestinian Ahmadi Muslims in the West Bank.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ West Bank. CIA Factbook
  2. ^ Gaza Strip. CIA Factbook
  3. ^ A Concise History of Islam and the Arabs
  4. ^ Mark A. Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Indiana University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-253-20873-4, M1 Google Print, p. 70.
  5. ^ a b c Ephrat, Daphna (2008). Spiritual wayfarers, leaders in piety: Sufis and the dissemination of Islam in medieval Palestine (Illustrated ed.). Harvard CMES. ISBN 9780674032019. 
  6. ^ From the article on Islam in Palestine and Israel in Oxford Islamic Studies Online
  7. ^ Esposito, John L., ed. 'The Islamic World:Past and Present 3-Volume Set: Past and Present 3-Volume Set. Google Books. 2 February 2013.
  8. ^ Karsh, Efraim. Islamic Imperialism: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. p. 73
  9. ^ Wasserstein, Bernard. The Politics of Holiness in Jerusalem. 21 September 2001. 2 February 2013.
  10. ^ Siddique, Tahsin. "Locating Jerusalem in Theology and Practice During the Crusades." University of California, Santa Cruz History. 21 March 2009. 2 February 2013.
  11. ^ Madden 2000
  12. ^ "Battle of Ḥaṭṭīn." Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 February 2013.
  13. ^ Fromherz, Allan James. Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times. Google Books. 4 February 2013.
  14. ^ Laura Etheredge, Historic Palestine, Israel, and the Emerging Palestinian Autonomous Areas, The Rosen Publishing Group 2011 p.43.
  15. ^ Michael Avi-Yonah, A History of Israel and the Holy Land, A&C Black, 2003 pp.279-282.
  16. ^ Richard G. Neuhauser, 'Jerusalem,' in John Block Friedman, Kristen Mossler Figg (eds.),Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, Routledge 2013 pp.300-302, p.302
  17. ^ Parkes, James (1970) [1949]. "Turkish Territorial Divisions in 1914". Whose Land?: A History of the Peoples of Palestine. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 187. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  18. ^ Ruth Kark and Noam Levin, ‘The Environment in Palestine in the Late Ottoman period, 1798-1918,’ in Daniel E. Orenstein, Alon Tal, Char Miller (eds.),Between Ruin and Restoration: An Environmental History of Israel University of Pittsburg 2012 pp.1-28 p.11.
  19. ^ Prof. Gideon M.Kresser; Dr. Reuven Aharoni. "Egyptian emigres in the Levant of the 19th and 20th centuries" (PDF). Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. 
  20. ^ Alex Carmel 'A Note on the Christian Contribution to the Development of Palestine in the 19th century,' in David Kushner (ed.) Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social, and Economic Transformation, BRILL, 1986 pp.303-304.
  21. ^ "al-Husseini, Hajj (Muhammad) Amin." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 360–362.
  22. ^ Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the Arab Israeli Conflict: A History With Documents. Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston. (2004). Pg. 198
  23. ^ GENERAL PROGRESS REPORT AND SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONCILIATION COMMISSION FOR PALESTINE, Covering the period from 11 December 1949 to 23 October 1950, GA A/1367/Rev.1 23 October 1950
  24. ^ Sela. "Jerusalem." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia. Sela. pp. 491–498.
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ "The World Factbook." CIA. 19 December 2015. West Bank
  27. ^ "The World Factbook." CIA. 19 December 2015.
  28. ^ Maayana Miskin (May 31, 2010). "PA's Moderate Muslims Face Threats". Israel National News. Retrieved March 11, 2015.