Jerusalem: A Muslim Scholar Speaks on Islam & Jerusalem
by Shaykh Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi
For a Jew or a Muslim, religious or secular, thinking of Jerusalem means to feel reason and sentiment mingled together. So, as a Muslim scholar and a man of religion, it is today worthwhile for me to try to determine whether, from an Islamic point of view, there is some well-grounded theological reason that makes recognizing Jerusalem both as an Islamic holy place and as the capital of the State of Israel impossible.
The idea of Islam as a factor that prevents Arabs from recognizing any sovereign right of Jews over the Land of Israel or Jerusalem is quite recent and can by no means be found in Islamic classical sources. Both Qur'an and Torah indicate quite clearly that the link between the Jews and the Land of Israel does not depend on any kind of colonization project but directly on the will of God Almighty. In particular, both Jewish and Islamic Scriptures state specifically that God through His chosen servant Moses decided to free the offspring of Jacob from slavery in Egypt and to make them the inheritors of the Promised Land.
The Qur'an cites the exact words with which Moses ordered the Israelites to conquer the Land:
"And (remember) when Moses said to his people: ‘O my people, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the people. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin'". (Qur'an, Sura 5:22-23, "The Table")
The Holy Qur'an also quite openly refers to the reinstatement of the Children of Israel in the Land before the Last Judgment, where it says "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: ‘Dwell securely in the Promised Land.' And when the last warning will come to pass, We will gather you together in a mingled crowd." (Qur'an, Sura 17:104, "The Night Journey")
As concerns Jerusalem, the most common argument against Islamic acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the Holy City is that, since it is a holy place for Muslims, its being ruled by non-Muslims would be a betrayal of Islam.
The designation of Jerusalem as an Islamic holy place depends on al-Mi'raj, the Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven, which began from the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount. But while remembering this, we must admit that there is no real link between al-Mi'raj and sovereign rights over Jerusalem, since when al-Mi'raj took place the city was not under Islamic but under alternate Byzantine or Sassanid administration.
Moreover, the Qur'an expressly recognizes that Jerusalem plays the same role for Jews that Mecca has for Muslims. We read: "They would not follow thy direction of prayer (qibla), nor art thou to follow their direction of prayer; nor indeed will they follow each other's direction of prayer...." (Qur'an, Sura 2:145, "The Cow") All Qur'anic commentators explain that "thy qibla" is obviously the Kaba of Mecca, while "their qibla" refers to the Temple Mount Area in Jerusalem. Some Muslim exegetes also quote the Book of Daniel as proof of this (Daniel 6:10).
Thus, as no one wishes to deny Muslims complete sovereignty over Mecca, from an Islamic point of view there is no sound theological reason to deny the Jews the same right over Jerusalem.
As to Jewish-Muslim relationships, if we reflect on the level of inter-religious dialogue in past centuries, we must frankly admit that in this respect we have been moving backwards. From a theological point of view, dialogue between Jews and Muslims is easier than, say, dialogue between Jews and Chrisitians. Indeed, dialogue between Jews and Muslims was much more extensive in the past. Ibn Gabirol (Avicembro), Maimonides, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were not isolated intellectuals but part of an ongoing intercommunication and shared well of knowledge.
One can blame the current separation on the political situation, but that does not free intellectuals and men of religion of their responsibility. Today, looking toward the future, we must again create the same kind of intellectual atmosphere, until it is common for Islamic theologians to read Buber and Levinas, and for Jewish scholars to study the works of Sha'rawi and Ashmawi. We can understand the common features in the development of Kabbalah and Tasawwuf, or study the mutual influence of Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Sharia.
Jewish intellectuals, for their part, must be ready to understand that a new attitude is emerging among some Islamic thinkers. Many of us are now ready to admit that hostility for Israel has been a great mistake, perhaps the worst mistake Muslims have made in the last 50 years.
For those Muslim leaders who live in democratic countries, this declaration is not so dangerous. Even in the more oppressed countries, there is a certain part of the educated population that does not blindly accept the local view. It is very important for us to verify that we are not alone in this activity; we must know that there is someone else who appreciates and shares our goals.
The times are ready for Jews and Muslims to recognize each other once again as a branch of the tree of monotheism, as brothers descended from the same father - Abraham, the forerunner of faith in the Living God. The more we discover our common roots, the more we can hope for a common future of peace and prosperity.
Shaykh Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi is Secretary General of the Italian Muslim Association and Muslim Chair of the Islam-Israel Fellowship of the Root & Branch Association (www.rb.org.il). He was educated in Rome and in Cairo, where he received his "ijaza" (authorization to teach Islam) from Shaykh Ismail al-Khalwati and Sheikh Husayn al-Khalwati, and holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Sciences by decree of former Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Ibn Baz.