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Palestinian Rituals of Identity

Palestinian Rituals of Identity
The Prophet Moses Festival in Jerusalem, 1850-1948

An innovative approach to modern Palestinian history as viewed through a study of the Prophet Moses festival from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

January 2023
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336 pages | 6 x 9 | 10 b&w photos, 1 map |

Members of Palestine’s Muslim community have long honored al-Nabi Musa, or the Prophet Moses. Since the thirteenth century, they have celebrated at a shrine near Jericho believed to be the location of Moses’s tomb; in the mid-nineteenth century, they organized a civic festival in Jerusalem to honor this prophet. Considered one of the most important occasions for Muslim pilgrims in Palestine, the Prophet Moses festival yearly attracted thousands of people who assembled to pray, conduct mystical forms of worship, and hold folk celebrations.

Palestinian Rituals of Identity takes an innovative approach to the study of Palestine’s modern history by focusing on the Prophet Moses festival from the late Ottoman period through the era of British rule. Halabi explores how the festival served as an arena of competing discourses, with various social groups attempting to control its symbols. Tackling questions about modernity, colonialism, gender relations, and identity, Halabi recounts how peasants, Bedouins, rural women, and Sufis sought to influence the festival even as Ottoman authorities, British colonists, Muslim clerics, and Palestinian national leaders did the same. Drawing on extensive research in Arabic newspapers and Islamic and colonial archives, Halabi reveals how the festival has encapsulated Palestinians’ responses to modernity, colonialism, and the nation’s growing national identity.

  • Note on Translation
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Traditional Ziyara
  • Chapter 2. The Official Ceremonies in Fin-de-Siècle Jerusalem, 1850–1917
  • Chapter 3. British Colonialism Attends the Festival
  • Chapter 4. Arab Elite Discourses at the Festival
  • Chapter 5. Nationalist Youth Activity at the Festival to 1937
  • Chapter 6. Nonnational Inflections: The Participation of Non-Elite Groups
  • Chapter 7. The Festival’s Denouement, 1938–1948
  • Conclusion: The Nabi Musa Festival after 1948
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Awad Halabi is an associate professor of history and religion at Wright State University, with a PhD in Near and Middle Eastern civilizations from the University of Toronto.