Muslim scholars cross swords over visits to Jerusalem
Politics and religion clash following a fatwa on visiting the holy city
Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel
The Palestinian Authority wants Muslims to visit Jerusalem in a bid to keep Israel from “Judaizing” the city, but it may be thwarted by one of Sunni Islam’s most important clerics.
On Monday, Sheikh Yussef Qaradawi reiterated a religious edict banning Muslims from visiting Jerusalem, which he says is a form of normalizing relations with Israel.
He spoke at the “International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem,” convened in Doha this week by Qatari leader Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
The Qatar-based Sheikh’s words came one day after PA President Mahmoud Abbas called on Arabs and Muslims across the world to visit Jerusalem.
“Visiting the holy city does not mean normalization [with Israel],” Abbas told the conference participants. “Visiting the prisoner is not normalization with the jailer.”
Qaradawi had previously issued a fatwa, or Islamic legal opinion, banning visits of non-Palestinians to Jerusalem as long as the Israeli occupation is in place.
“Visits are banned in order to deprive the occupier of legitimacy,” Qaradawi declared from Doha. “Those who visit legitimize an entity which plunders Palestinian lands, and are forced to cooperate with the enemy’s embassy to receive a visa.”
“We must feel as though we are banned from Jerusalem and fight for it until it is ours,” Qaradawi added.
The 85-year-old Qaradawi, who heads the World Union of Muslim Scholars and hosts a popular TV show on Al-Jazeera, is widely considered the highest authority on matters of Islamic law.
But the Palestinian Authority would not allow Qaradawi to have the last word, unleashing its own religious artillery in the form of Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Habbash. The Palestinian minister called on Qaradawi to retract his edict, saying it plainly contradicted Quranic verses and reliable Islamic traditions.
Habbash told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds on Tuesday that visiting Jerusalem was both a “religious commandment and a political necessity,” adding that Qaradawi’s ban “gave a free service to the Israeli occupation which wants to isolate the holy city from its Arab and Islamic surroundings.”
The prophet Muhammad himself visited Jerusalem when it was under Byzantine rule, Habbash pointed out, and never did a subsequent Muslim scholar ban visitation to the holy city due to foreign occupation.
This was not the first time debate has erupted surrounding Arab tourism to Jerusalem. In August 2010, Egyptian Endowments Minister Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq called on Arabs to flock to Jerusalem in order to assert its Islamic identity, criticizing the long-standing Arab tourism boycott of Israel.