Gazans observe Ramadan and pray for peace amid ruins of mosques

More than 500 places of worship have been destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombs

Palestinians perform the first Friday noon prayer of Ramadan in front of the ruins of Al Farouq Mosque in Rafah, which was destroyed in Israeli bombardment. AFP
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Gazans are holding Ramadan prayers in the rubble of destroyed mosques, some centuries old, after months of heavy Israeli bombardment.

With food and shelter scarce, communal worship is among the few ways they can mark the holy month, many told The National.

At least 223 mosques have been destroyed since the war began on 7 October, with about 300 damaged, local authorities say.

The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs estimates the cost at $500 million - though priceless heritage has also been lost. One place of worship, Al Omari Mosque, was established more than 1,400 years ago.

Very few mosques remain, with the rest flattened to the ground in an attempt to eradicate all Islamic religious landmarks
Hudhaifa Al Masri, imam of a mosque in Beit Hanoun before the war

The loss of mosques that families have visited for generations has had a profound impact on the holy month, at a time when many fear what awaits them.

At this time of year, they are alive with the sound of taraweeh prayers, with long recitations of Quranic verse this year replaced with the sound of Israeli bombing.

Hudhaifa Al Masri, imam of a mosque in Beit Hanoun before the war, holds prayers in Jabalia camp. He condemned “the criminal Israeli enemy that has declared war on God and His Messenger, targeting mosques and destroying them extensively”.

“Only a very few mosques remain, with the rest flattened to the ground in an attempt to eradicate all Islamic religious landmarks,” he told The National.

“Due to the war this year, people have been deprived of all these rituals. The image of people coming to taraweeh prayer makes me and all the Muslims so happy, but this scene is absent this year unfortunately.”

Worship amid war

War leaves Gazans hopeless during Ramadan

War leaves Gazans hopeless during Ramadan

But he still tries to encourage people to carry out some religious practices.

“We have held prayers in the courtyards of displacement centres and some public spaces. Some people have been keen on conducting Quran memorisation circles to teach the youth and recite verses from the Quran to them,” he said.

In Gaza city, at the Imam of Al Omari Mosque, Sheikh Fadi Aarif calls the Adhan and holds prayers in the rubble of the building, which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes on the heart of the old town.

He leads prayers in a covered courtyard inside the mosque, which bears characteristics from the Mamluk and Ottoman eras.

Residents of Al Remal neighbourhood in Gaza city conduct taraweeh prayers in a nearby yard beside Al Abas Mosque, which was one of the oldest in the city and was destroyed in the first week of the war.

“In the north of the Gaza Strip, there isn't a single mosque left,” Mohammed Al Kafarn, a young man from northern Gaza, told The National.

"But we insist on holding prayers in public squares and fields, despite the danger and repeated targeting from the occupation. We always feel that victory may be closer to us every time we get closer to our God."

In Rafah on the Egyptian border, worshippers gathered in the first week of Ramadan to pray in the rubble of Al Farooq Mosque.

Once a city of 300,000 people, it has swelled to accommodate more than one 1.5 million. They fear a threatened Israeli ground attack is imminent, despite calls from the US, EU and UN for restraint.

Ahmad Abu Hashim, 26, who came for taraweeh prayers, encouraged young people in his neighbourhood to join him.

“They destroyed our homes and mosques but they will not destroy our relationship with God,” he told The National. "The sound of the Quran spreading among people gives you an inner peace - and makes you feel sure that everything hard we experience will soon be only a memory."

Updated: March 18, 2024, 6:58 AM