The second largest religion by population in Israel, with approximately1.42 million residents, is the Muslim population. Israel’s Muslim population consists of Bedouin, Circassians and an Arab majority, about 75%, who are Sunni Muslims. Today most Muslims in Israel live in Galilee, in the Negev and in the Triangle region, a name given to a region between the Sharon Plain and the Samaria mountains. Jerusalem is the city with the largest number of Muslims, approximately295 thousand.This is followed immediately by Rahat in the south, with about 59 thousand Muslims, constituting about 99.8% of the town’s residents. Other settlements with a large concentration of Muslims are Nazareth – 52 thousand residents, and Um al Fahm, with 51 thousand.
Besides historical settlements of Muslims in the country, Muslims are connected to Israel because of its holy importance to their religion. Israel has one of the most holy sites of Islam, the al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to Sunni belief, the site the third most important site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, it is the place where Muhammad rose to heaven. When the British mandate in Israel ended, the symbolic Islamic rule passed to the Hashemite royal family of Jordan, who were the official guardians of the holy places. When the country was prevailed, the physical control of the holy sites passed to Israel, but because of the place’s religious sensitivity, Israel transferred the actual control to the Muslim Wakf.The Muslim Wakf is entrusted with the al-Aqsa Mosque management and maintenance and have banned Jews from praying at the site out of concern for security disruptions.
Freedom of worship in Israel is guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence, and despite certain restrictions the various religions in Israel are free to manage their lives and those of their followers according to their faiths. The same applies to Islam. The children of Muslims in Israel study at schools in Arabic, their mother tongue, and Islam studies are offered alongside mainstream subjects. Besides the education system with Islamic values, there are also courts based on Islamic law, which are known as Sharai Courts, which can hear cases on personal status affairs and endowments of Muslim citizens, including subjects such as marriage and divorce. These courts date back from the Ottoman rule, which were adopted at a later stage into the Israeli legal system.
Muslims in Israel have civil rights and are part of the public democratic system and part of life in Israel. They are allowed to vote and be elected for Israel’s Knesset (in the last elections in 2015, they voted for the third largest party. They serve as physicians, judges, lecturers, cultural figures and more. Despite being exempt from conscript military service in the Israel Defense Forces, some Muslims choose to volunteer for military service. Muslims in Israel live throughout the country in mixed cities such as Jerusalem, Haifa, Akko, Ramla and Lod and in the triangle region, in villages in Galilee and on the coastal plain. As part of the effort to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence, in December, the Festival of All Festivals is held in Haifa, in which the three religious: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, celebrate the festivals holy to them together.