Hundreds of thousands flock to Al-Aqsa mosque for Laylat al-Qadr

Hundreds of thousands flock to Al-Aqsa mosque for Laylat al-Qadr
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers from across historic Palestine gathered to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan and of the Islamic year.
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Muslims gather at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the night of Laylat al-Qadr to perform prayer in Jerusalem on April 17, 2023 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty]

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from all over historic Palestine gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday to celebrate Laylat al-Qadr, considered to be the most important night in the Islamic calendar.

This happened as Israeli forces withdrew from the entrances to the Al-Aqsa compound and repositioned themselves on the major junctures of the roads leading into the Old City of Jerusalem.

They also set up hundreds of metal barriers blocking the entrances to the city especially from neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem to the north of the Old City like Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi al-Joz, forcing those coming from these areas to walk long distances on foot.  

Muslims pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Laylat al-Qadr on April 17-18, 2023 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty]

Officials at the Jerusalem Waqf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Department estimated that over 280,000 worshippers came to mark Laylat al-Qadr by taking part in the isha and taraweeh prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Laylat al-Qadr translates as "Night of Power" and falls towards the end of Ramadan.

The Israeli police issued a statement indicating that around 130,000 were Palestinians from the West Bank.

An official at the Jerusalem Waqf Department who wished to remain anonymous described the huge number of worshippers as "unprecedented". He added that many were unable to find room in the courtyards and "large numbers of women were forced to pray standing up, or on the steps to the Dome of the Rock."

He told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition, that employees from the Jerusalem Waqf and Al-Aqsa guards had worked with volunteers and formed teams to organise the entry and exit of groups of worshippers into the mosque.

Emergency clinics set up by the Jerusalem Waqf and local Red Crescent first aid teams were on site and provided first aid to over 110 people. Cases treated included suffocation, low blood sugar, and high and low blood pressure – in some cases a result of overcrowding or the long walks to reach Al-Aqsa.   

Mohammed Salaymeh volunteered with one of the organising teams.

"We made every effort to create an orderly system within the compound and at the gates to the mosque, despite the huge numbers of worshippers, which meant we had to separate the women from the men at the gates, and allocate specific areas for the women which the men couldn't enter," he said.

A Palestinian organisation provided hundreds of thousands of meals at sunset for the iftar meal to those praying at Al-Aqsa, as well as dates and water bottles.

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Meanwhile, Israeli forces stationed along Lion's Gate Street, next to King Faisal Gate, stopped around ten women who have been banned from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound from breaking their fast as they had grown used to doing in that area since the start of Ramadan.

One of them, Ayida al-Saidawi said: "This time they stopped us from breaking our fast near the King Faisal Gate - they pursue us everywhere we go. We have the right to be in Al-Aqsa but they stop us with repeated decisions to ban us."

Nafisa Khuwais, who has also been banned, said: "They are trying to stifle us. Al-Aqsa is ours whatever they do. They will not prevent us from praying at Al-Aqsa or at its gates."

Not far from Al-Aqsa Mosque is the Damascus Gate and its adjoining plaza, which is filled with street vendors and stalls, where huge numbers of Palestinians, especially young people, gather, as religious chants and children's songs fill the air.

However, Israeli forces have taken control of a section of the area adjacent to the Damascus Gate where a large number of soldiers and police have been deployed and placed on high alert.

They have also been positioned along the route of Jerusalem’s light rail system. This has been used by many Jerusalemites from Palestinian neighbourhoods who prefer using it to driving due to the heavy traffic around the old city and due to the Israeli police closures of entire Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.