Islam in Israel

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Islam is a major religion in Israel. Muslims, who are mostly Arab citizens of Israel, constitute 17.4% of the Israelis,[1] making them the largest minority group in Israel.

Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest city after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.[2] The Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) of Jerusalem is believed by Muslims to be the location from which Muhammad ascended to Jannah (paradise).[3] This widely accepted Islamic belief raises the religious and spiritual importance to them of the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque. Only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount which is managed day to day by the Islamic Waqf, an administrative body taking responsibility for the conduct of Islamic affairs in the region of the Temple Mount.


Islam was first introduced to the region of Palestine during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, when armies from the Arabian Peninsula under the Rashidun Caliphate conquered a territory previously under the control of the Byzantine Empire.[4]

During the Middle Ages, the region became increasingly Islamized. This tendency was temporarily reversed during the 2 centuries of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a Christian state established by European Crusaders.[citation needed]

As a result of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, from 1516 to 1917, the Sunni Ottoman Turks ruled the Levant. In Ottoman Palestine, Islam was the state religion, 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 in to the 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 places of Jerusalem and the areas around it, particularly strong when Jordan controlled the West Bank (1948–1967).

In 1922, the British created the Supreme Muslim Council in the 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% of the Israeli population.[1] The majority of Muslims in Israel are Sunni Arabs,[5] with an Ahmadiyya minority.[6] 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 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.[7][8] There are about 2,200 Ahmadis in Kababir.[9]


Sunni Islam is by far the largest sect in the country. Most Israeli Muslims shared the same school of thought as with many Sunnis in the Levant that is Shafi'i even though there are also Hanafi presence as well. There is a strong community of Sufis in several parts of the country and Sufism has garned popular attention to non-Muslim Israelis. An annual Sufi Festival in Ashram desert in Negev is dedicated to Sufi arts and traditions.

Alawite and Shia[edit]

Alawites are a secretive branch of Twelver Shia Islam. 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 and Shia community in Israel. During the British rule in Mandatory Palestine, it used to have seven Shia 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, non-Alawite Shias are extinct in Israel today.


The Druze are Arab-speaking ethnoreligious group that follows the Druze religion, an Abrahamic religion which was founded in Egypt in the 11th century during Fatimid Caliphate. Druze religion is technically an offshoot of Fatimid Ismaili Shia Islam which later absorbed many elements of other faiths and philosophies, making Druze a distinct religion of itself. Despite being a separate religion, the Druze are usually considered a sect of Islam by neighbouring countries like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon but in Israel they are a separate ethnoreligious group from the Arab Muslims and Christians even though most Druze considered themselves as Arabs and some of them still considered themselves as Muslims. There are 130,600 Druze in Israel, third largest in the world after Syria and Lebanon.


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%).[5]


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 amount 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.[5]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Political affiliation among Israeli Muslims[5]
United Arab List
Israeli Labor Party
Yesh Atid
Yisrael Beytenu
Other party
No party

83% of Muslims in Israel fast during Ramadan,[5] which was the lowest among Muslims in any Middle Eastern country.[10] 33% of Muslims believe that Jesus will return during their lifetime, which was similar to the amount 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.[5]


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.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Israel. CIA Factbook
  2. ^ From the article on Islam in Palestine and Israel in Oxford Islamic Studies Online
  3. ^ Janin, Hunt. The Pursuit of Learning in the Islamic World, 610-2003. McFarland, 2005. ISBN 0786419547. 
  4. ^ A Concise History of Islam and the Arabs
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Israel's Religiously Divided Society" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017. 
  6. ^ Ori Stendel. The Arabs in Israel. Sussex Academic Press. p. 45. ISBN 1898723249. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Kababir and Central Carmel – Multiculturalism on the Carmel". Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  8. ^ "Visit Haifa". Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "Kababir". Israel and You. Archived from the original on 30 January 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  10. ^ "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 9 August 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2017.