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The Shīʿīs in Palestine: From the Medieval Golden Age until the Present

This book includes a study of Shīʿī shrines in Palestine, as well as showing the importance of these Muslim sites and holy towns in Palestine in the Shīʿī religion.

In The Shīʿīs in Palestine Yaron Friedman offers a survey of the presence of Shīʿism in the region of Palestine (today: Israel) from early Islamic history until the contemporary period. It brings to light many pieces of information and interesting developments that are not widely known, in addition to the general point that, contrary to common belief, the Shīʿī community has played a significant role in the history of Palestine. The volume includes a study of Shīʿī shrines in Palestine, as well as showing the importance of these Muslim sites and holy towns in Palestine in the Shīʿī religion.


Studying the history of Shīʿism in the region that is today the state of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, is an unusual experience for a researcher. The Iranian Islamic Republic, which leads most of the Shīʿī world today, declared Israel its enemy. Nevertheless, for long periods of its history (before and after the development of Zionism), Palestine was a place where Shīʿīs and Jews coexisted.

The fact that there is almost no remaining Shīʿī presence in present-day Israel and that almost the entire Muslim Palestinian population is Sunnī makes the reconstruction of the history of Shīʿism in this region a challenging yet fascinating task.

When I began the present research, I realized that in that year, ʿāshūrāʾ (the tenth of Muḥarram 1438 AH), coincided with Yom Kippur (the tenth of tishrei, 5777 of the Jewish calendar). This was the first time after thirty three years that these two occasions happened at the same time, as it used to be originally in the eve of Islam, when the tenth of Muḥarram and Yom Kippur fell on the same day. The day of the tragic massacre of Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī, the Prophet Muḥammad’s grandson, took place on the date of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. These two events are considered the holiest days in the year, for Shīʿīs as well as for Jews. The same coincidence occurred in the second year of my research. On both 11–12 October 2016 and in 29–30 September 2017, ʿāshūrāʾ and Kippur happened to occur at the same time.

As part of my field research, I visited the two most important Shīʿī sites in Palestine. On the morning of ʿāshūrāʾ, 10 October 2016, I visited the place that was, more than a thousand years ago, the holiest Shīʿī site in medieval Palestine, namely, the location where it is believed that the head the Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī was buried. I arrived at the site, near the Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, hoping to witness Shīʿī pilgrims from the Ismāʿīlī Bohrā community performing taʿziya (mourning) ceremonies. Instead of the historical mausoleum, I found a small modern and modest sanctuary, without even the typical mosque or dome. Unfortunately, the Bohrās did not come that year. My visit reflected my impression about the history of Shīʿism in Palestine: it was a phenomenon that existed in the past, then disappeared, but its traces can still be found.

On another trip, on 2 September 2017, I traveled to the tomb of al-Nabī Yūshaʿ (the Prophet Joshua) in Galilee; for the last three centuries, this was the holiest Shīʿī site in Palestine. Although it was partly in ruins, I could easily see that it was still attended and venerated by locals, though most of them are Sunnīs and Druzes, not Shīʿīs, as in the past. The new graffiti on the walls and the remnants of cloth and food inside the domed building indicated that people continue to make pilgrimages to this site. This phenomenon reflects the need of Arabs from Galilee to seek the spiritual support of the ahl al-bayt (People of the House), the close family of the Prophet Muḥammad, as well as that of the Prophet Joshua, who was a prophet in Islam and was particularly important to Shīʿīs.

About the Author

Lecturer and Arabic Instructor in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Haifa. Specializing in Shiism and the ‘Alawis in Syria. Middle East commentator in Israeli newspapers. PhD in Middle East Studies, Sorbonne, Paris IV (2006) MA History of Islam, Hebrew University of Jerusalem BA in Arabic Language and Literature, Hebrew University of Jerusalemless

Table of Contents


Medieval and Modern Palestine

Chapter 1 From Immigration to the Golden Age

1 The First Shīʿīs in Palestine

1.1 The Murder of al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī’s Descendant in Tiberias

2 Palestine under Shīʿī Rule

2.1 The Rebellion of the ʿAlid Sharīf of Mecca in Ramla

2.2 Anti-Shīʿī “Merits of Jerusalem”

2.3 Fāṭimid Investments in Jerusalem

2.4 Nāṣir Khusraw’s Travel to Palestine

2.5 Shaykh al-Karājukī in Ramla

2.6 Medieval Shīʿī Scholars in Palestine

2.7 The Ṭālibiyyūn

2.8 Shīʿī Sects in Palestine

2.9 Persecution of Sunnī Offenders

2.10 Possible Jewish Influence

3 Giving Palestine a Shīʿī Identity: Tombs of the ahl al-bayt

3.1 Bringing Karbalāʾ to Palestine: the Head of Ḥusayn

3.2 The Shīʿī Cult of Saints

3.3 Tombs in Palestine Commemorating Karbalāʾ

4 Ibn al-ʿArabī and the Shīʿīs of Tiberias and Acre

4.1 Shīʿī Influence in Jerusalem

5 The End of the “Shīʿī Century”

5.1 The Lost Shīʿī Library of Haifa

Chapter 2 The Disappearance of the Shīʿī Community in Palestine

1 The Ayyūbid Restoration

2 Mamlūk Oppression

2.1 Ibn Taymiyya and His Opposition to Shīʿī Claims in Ashkelon

2.2 Blaming the Shīʿa for Losing Palestine to the Franks

3 Persecutions

3.1 A Disturbing Silence

Chapter 3 The Shīʿīs in Galilee

1 The Region of Safed

1.1 The Druze Decline: Shīʿī Crisis and Opportunity

2 The Matāwila in Northern Palestine

2.1 Galilee between Ẓāhir al-ʿUmar and Nāṣīf al-Naṣṣār

2.2 al-Nabī Yūshaʿ: a New Shīʿī Sanctuary in Palestine

2.3 The Ottoman Renovation of the Mashhad of Ḥusayn

2.4 Remnants of the Matāwila of Palestine in the Twentieth Century

2.5 The Case of al-Baṣṣa Village

2.6 The Seven Villages
3 Palestinian and Zionist Views on the Shīʿī Villages

3.1 Shīʿī Identity in Palestinian Writings

3.2 Palestinian Descriptions of Shīʿī Confrontations with Israeli Forces

3.3 The Absence of Shīʿīs in Palestinian Encyclopedias

3.4 A Missed Opportunity?

4 The Palestinian Fear of the Return of the Shīʿīs

4.1 A New Shīʿī Community in the State of Israel

4.2 The Increase in Shīʿīs in 2006

4.3 The Influence of the War in Syria

4.4 A Salafī “Encyclopedia of the Sects” and the Shīʿīs of Palestine

4.5 Shīʿī Propaganda in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza

4.6 al-Ṣābirīn Movement

5 Remaining Shīʿī Sects

5.1 Ghajar-an ʿAlawī Village Annexed to Israel

5.2 The Dāwūdī Bohrās in Ashkelon

Chapter 4 Shīʿī Folklore and Religious Traditions about Palestine

1 Shīʿism in Palestinian Folklore

1.1 ʿĀshūrāʾ Water and dhū l-fiqār Talismans

1.2 The Mawsim Traditions

1.3 Modern ʿAlid Tombs

2 Shīʿī Traditions concerning Holy Towns in Palestine

2.1 The Holiness of Earthly and Heavenly Jerusalem

2.2 Ramla in the Qurʾān and Apocalyptic Traditions

2.3 Tiberias-the Final Battle of the Apocalypse

2.4 Ashkelon and Its Lack of Religious Importance

2.5 Gaza-the Town of Hāshim


Appendix 1

The Ṭālibiyyūn in Palestine

Appendix 2

Photos and Inscriptions of Shīʿī Shrines in Palestine

Appendix 3

The Fatwā of Taqī l-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taymiyya concerning the Head of Ḥusayn in Ashkelon –

Appendix 4

Israeli Documents: Hūnīn 1948-the Missed Opportunity –

Appendix 5

Interviews with Two Palestinian Shaykhs Who Converted to Shīʿism

Appendix 6

A Shīʿī Supplication in the “Shīʿīs of Palestine” Facebook Page –

Appendix 7

Interview with a Member of the Dāwūdī Bohrās

Timeline of Shīʿī History in Palestine

Bibliographic Information

Title: The Shīʿīs in Palestine: From the Medieval Golden Age until the Present

Author (s): Yaron Friedman

Publisher: BRILL

Length: 236 Pages

ISBN:‎ 978-90-04-42031-1

Pub. Date: 19 Dec 2019

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About Ali Teymoori

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