200,000 Attend Al-Aqsa Prayers as Islam's Holy Night Passes in Quiet

Muslims flock to the Al-Aqsa Mosque overnight for Laylat al-Qadr, after the Israeli military allowed some West Bank Palestinians to enter

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
200,000 attend Al-Aqsa prayers as Islam's holy night passes in quiet
200,000 attend Al-Aqsa prayers as Islam's holy night passes in quietCredit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Around 200,000 Muslims prayed overnight into Thursday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Islam's holy night of Laylat al-Qadr. Despite recent tensions in Jerusalem, the prayer – the biggest religious event in the city – passed in relative quiet.

On Wednesday evening, worshipers flocked into the mosque from the West Bank and Israel after the military permitted the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank over the age of 40.

Following the prayer, police reported a few public disturbances, which were quickly defused, though one suspect was detained.

200,000 attend Al-Aqsa prayers as Islam's holy night passes in quietCredit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

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"Laylat al-Qadr" (the Night of Destiny) is considered to be the second-biggest religious event in Israel after Lag Ba'omer festivities. The prayer is marked during one of the odd-numbered days beginning from the 21st of the month until the end and usually on the 27th day of Ramadan.

Muslims believe that during the month of Ramadan the Prophet Mohammed received the first verses of the Koran from the angel Gabriel, and it is therefore considered the holiest night in Islam, and “better than 1,000 months” (Sura 97, verse 3). On the night, the gates of heaven are opened and God is especially receptive to the requests of the worshipers. In Israel, it is customary for Muslims to go up to Al-Aqsa that night, in order to pray and to read verses from the Koran until morning.

The compound has seen a spike in violence in the site sacred both to Muslims and Jews during Ramadan. A minority of worshipers threw stones and set off fireworks from the site, prompting a rare incursion by Israeli security forces into the mosque itself.

Meanwhile, Israel Police were documented cracking down on Palestinians with excessive force, though they halted a far-right march through the Old City's Muslim Quarter and have detained Jews seeking to pray and even perform ritual sacrifice at the site.

Despite this, Jordan says Israel is violating the status quo at the compound, which is under its custodianship, by allowing Jewish prayer at the site.

On Friday, Israel banned non-Muslim visits until the end of Ramadan, as it often does, and Jerusalem's Old City has been relatively calm since the ban went into effect.

The ban also allowed police to reduce its presence in Damascus Gate, one of the access points into Al-Aqsa Mosque and a site that has last year became a flash point for clashes between Israel Police and Palestinians. Last year, the clashes flared-up into an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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