Grand Mufti's Jerusalem trip re-engages Palestinian rights

It has long been a recognised principle among Muslim scholars that the beauty of the Islamic tradition lies in its flexibility and responsiveness, its ability to adapt to new circumstances and situations. This is in accordance with the paramount values of Islam.

Centuries of writing and guidance testify to the fundamental notion that the jurist who is the most truthful to the spirit of Sharia is the one who is intimately familiar with, and so remains responsive to, the reality of historical evolution and geographical diversity, as well as the particularities of people's situations, customs and expectations.

It is in light of this well-established principle that we feel it is now time that the Muslim umma take seriously the need to revisit the long-standing boycott on visiting Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation, most prominently the sacred city of Jerusalem. For decades now, the issue of Jerusalem has been one of the most important problems confronting the umma, given both its sanctity to Muslims, as well as its symbolism of an ongoing and illegal occupation, which has imposed severe difficulties on its Arab population - both Muslim and Christian.

There is no doubt that the issue of Palestine remains a pre-eminent concern of Muslims around the world, deserving of our most serious consideration. Nothing can distract the Muslims from our unmitigated support for a just, peaceful and enduring resolution of this problem, which restores to Palestinian people their land, respects their rights to their sacred spaces, and guarantees their safety and security.

These are goals that are widely agreed upon by nations around the world; indeed, they constitute the inviolable rights that are due to Palestinian people by virtue of their very humanity. The obligation for Muslims outside of Palestine is to continue to support them in this quest.

In the past, it has been thought by some Muslim scholars that this could be accomplished by refusing to visit the sacred city of Jerusalem, or other parts of Palestine, because to do so would constitute an acceptance of Israeli occupation. The truth is that the situation for Palestinians has only deteriorated over the past four-and-a-half decades under Israeli occupation.

At every step, Israel has sought to weaken, marginalise and isolate Palestinian people from their neighbours and indeed from the rest of the international community. This is the underlying logic that moves Israel to oppose statehood for Palestine in the United Nations, to demolish homes arbitrarily, and to build a grotesque wall that separates Palestinians from family members, sources of income and other basic necessities. These are but a handful of obvious examples, but the list is endless.

In view of this strategy, do we not owe it to ourselves as Muslims to reconsider how we ought to deal with our Palestinian brothers and sisters? Should we seek to further isolate them in accordance with Israeli plans and hopes? Or, should we instead seek to strengthen and deepen our relationship with them by demonstrating our solidarity, and our legitimate rights to the holy sites in Jerusalem?

Israel continues to devour more and more Palestinian land; to disenfranchise, displace and impoverish increasing numbers of Palestinians; and to assert greater control over the Muslim holy sites. This is the result of a 45-year occupation, which persists unabated, unaffected by the call of Muslim scholars to avoid visiting the Holy Land. So, is it not time that we reconsider this view without being accused of impropriety or of normalising relations with the Israeli state?

Indeed, some of the greatest scholars of Islam - 'Izz b 'Abd Al Salam, Abu Hamid Al Ghazali, Taqi Al Din ibn Taymiyya - lived in Jerusalem during the occupation of the Crusaders. During this time, they never dared to prohibit other Muslims from visiting Jerusalem and its sites. Nor were they ever accused by their contemporaries of working for the other side, or of normalising relations with it.

To the contrary, when Al Ghazali visited the Aqsa mosque under the occupation of Crusaders, he found it still full of intellectual activity, with over 360 study circles populating its courtyard.

Indeed, it is for the purpose of advancing the pursuit of knowledge, and in his capacity as a scholar - not as an Egyptian official - that Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa visited the Aqsa mosque earlier this month. He was invited by the Royal Aal Al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought to inaugurate the Ghazali Chair for Islamic studies in Jerusalem. His visit was authorised entirely under the auspices of the Jordanian government, which is currently charged with the supervision of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Thus, Dr Gomaa required no approval from Israeli authorities, and his visit cannot be considered in any way a conciliatory move towards the state of Israel, which continues its transgressions towards the Palestinian people to this day. Indeed, the Mufti's full support and strongest resolve is with Palestine and its people, and it is with a view to expressing solidarity with them and easing their suffering that he calls for a more nuanced understanding of the situation today.

Dr Ibrahim Negm is a senior adviser of Dr Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt

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