By Arab News
By Abdulateef AK-Mulhim
Since 1948 till today, the Arab states have been in a state of war with Israel. There were four major wars (1948-56-67-73) and many more military conflicts. And till 1979, there were no formal relations between any Arab country and Israel.
The first breakthrough came in 1979 after the signing of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. With this agreement, Egypt achieved what they couldn’t achieve by war. They got back the Sinai Peninsula. And in later years, we saw diplomatic relations between Israel and another four Arab countries (Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia). The relations were strained during the Palestinians’ Intifada (uprising). Later on, two Gulf states had the first contact between any of the Gulf states and Israel since 1948 with the opening of trade representation offices in Qatar and Oman. Jerusalem is important to all Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), so, why Jerusalem is dividing people of different faiths rather than bringing them together?
Why a city, which represent the three main religions had been destroyed, besieged, attacked and captured and recaptured many times by people who claim their respect to the holy shrines in it. And why is it, that when an Arab or Islamic figure decides to visit Jerusalem, it is the Muslims and Arabs who oppose the visit and you would hear religious Fatwa (ruling) and negative political speeches from Arabs and Muslims about the visit, even if the visit is for sightseeing or studying history? There are many Muslims who can’t differentiate between the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
So, is it against the religion for a Muslim to visit Jerusalem? If the answer is no, it is not against the religion, then why Arabs and Muslims don’t visit Jerusalem on a religious or sightseeing trips? And if the answer is yes, it is against the religion to visit Jerusalem, then, on what did the religious clerics base their Fatwa and forbid visiting Jerusalem? And is visiting Jerusalem by any Arab or Muslim a recognition of the state of Israel?
Jerusalem came under Muslim rule around 620 A.D. It is the third holiest shrine in Islam. And at that time Muslims used to pray facing Jerusalem. But, later on the direction of prayer was changed toward Makkah (Almukarammah).
And in the year 638 the Islamic domain was extended to Jerusalem. When Caliph Omar bin Al-Khatab was in Jerusalem, he understood the sensitivity of the city for different religions and had an agreement that other religious sites will not be transformed into Islamic shrines and all non-Muslims will be protected under Muslim rule. Caliph Omar went as far as praying outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and not inside it. This way, he told the Muslims not to interfere with other faiths.
There had been times when Jerusalem enjoyed years of peace. People from all different religions lived side by side. The irony of this city is that all major wars took place because of an area less than a square mile in this city. This small area has the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount, Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And no matter who writes about Jerusalem, he or she will have opposing and disagreeing opinions (including my article). It is very difficult to talk about Jerusalem. It is like going through a mine field.
These days, the Fatwa in regard to the visit to Jerusalem is still coming from many clerics in the Muslim world. And they consider any Arab or Muslim visiting Jerusalem an enemy of the Palestinian cause and a traitor. The most recent test of the sensitivity of the issue was on Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Ali Juma’ah, the grand mufti of Egypt visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. And even though the grand mufti of Egypt is representing one of the largest Arab and Muslim countries, he came under intense criticism from all corners of the Arab and Muslim world. So, if the grand mufti of Egypt is not an authority on religious Fatwa regarding visiting Jerusalem, then who is? The visit was opposed by another high profile Egyptian cleric, Qatari-based Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi who said Muslim shouldn’t visit Jerusalem. So, are the two different Fatwas regarding visiting Jerusalem coming from two prominent Muslim clerics a religious or political Fatwa? And why many Jordanian and Palestinian Islamists opposed such a visit?
Now, the Egyptian Parliament is asking for the resignation of Egypt’s grand mufti and an apology from him. This means that, the visit by Egypt’s grand mufti turned to a political debate and religious Fatwa contradiction. And now, we hear many talks about very sensitive issues, such as the Egyptian gas export to Israel, Camp David agreement and possible diplomatic conflict. Something Egypt doesn’t need at this time.
The Arab Spring in Egypt is still in full swing and no end seems to be in sight. Egypt has been without a leader for a long time. The Egyptians now are divided on the visit to Jerusalem, the same way they were divided after President Anwar Al-Sadat’s visit to Israel. I think the visit by Egypt’s grand mufti should be a good gesture toward solving many misunderstandings between people in the area. A visit to Jerusalem by a prominent figure such as the grand mufti of Egypt is an important step toward finding solutions to the Middle East conflict. This conflict has cost the Arabs dearly. The Arab train of development stopped in 1948. And when Israel was building state of the art education system and research centers, the Arab masses were listening to hollow speeches by some dictators. And the Arab masses are not in the mood for cheap talks.
They heard it in the past from Egypt’s Jamal Abdul Nasser, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Iran’s Ahmadinejad. The Arabs should have recognized the state of Israel in 1948 and kept themselves busy with modernizing their countries instead of wasting the Arab assets in wars.