Sheik Palazzi and Koran on Jews’ rights to land
Monday, February 19 2001 07:37 26 Shevat 5761
For Allah’s sake By Abigail Radoszkowicz
(February 14) — Abigail Radoszkowicz meets Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, an iconoclastic Italian Moslem scholar who believes the Jewish right to the Land of Israel is inscribed in the Koran —
“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.”
Can’t remember coming across this particular verse of scripture in either the Old or New Testaments? That’s because it’s from the Koran (17:104, The Night Journey).
Rarely in the Arab-Israeli dispute do we hear those Koranic passages, which could be interpreted as setting out an Islamic basis for the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. Thus, the message a visiting iman (Moslem cleric) brought to Jerusalem last week – that Jews retaining sovereignty over the Temple Mount presents no theological problem as long as Moslems’ religious rights are safeguarded, and that Zionism is the fulfillment of Koranic prophecy – took many who heard it aback.
Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Secretary General of the Italian Moslem Association and Moslem co-chair of the Islam-Israel Fellowship of the Root and Branch Association – which promotes the study and practice of universal Jewish teachings – believes this strongly. So strongly, in fact, that he arrived last week, while the “Aksa intifada” was still raging, to be the keynote speaker at the association’s Conference on Jerusalem, held at the Jerusalem City Council chambers.
In his speech, Palazzi called for Israel’s continued sovereignty over Jerusalem, and noted that Jerusalem’s holiness in Islam was derived from two sources: It is the city of the pre-Islamic biblical prophets also revered by Islam (King David and King Solomon), and it is the site of the Dome of the Rock from which Mohammed ascended to Heaven (the Night Journey).
During his visit, Palazzi was also received by President Moshe Katsav and a delegation including Likud MK Ayoob Kara, a Druze; Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, an east Jerusalem resident who heads both the Nakshbandi Sufi Order and the Uzbek Moslem Community in Israel; and Zuhair Hamdan, the Sur Baher resident who claims to have collected 10,000 signatures from his fellow Arab east Jerusalemites on a petition demanding a referendum before their areas are transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
Upon Katsav’s election, Palazzi had written him a congratulatory note, suggesting that if Israel would keep her religious faith and commandments, she would triumph in her age-old struggle for survival. Asked if he thinks that by becoming more observant Israel would find more favor in the eyes of her Moslem neighbors, Palazzi responds, “If there is a sincere attachment to religious values, especially in the case of Judaism and Islam, with their unique links, then peace becomes more than a relationship between two cultures. A religious basis of understanding is more effective and stable than a politically opportune one, for it demands the duty of a human being towards another human being in front of God.”
PALAZZI, 40, was born in Italy to a Moslem mother whose grandfather immigrated from Aleppo and an Italian father who converted to Islam.
He holds a doctorate in Islamic Sciences, granted by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and currently serves as the imam of the Italian Islamic Community. Since 1991, he has directed the community’s Cultural Institute, which promotes Islamic education in Italy, fights Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism, and advocates interreligious dialogue.
For Palazzi, pluralism starts at home: He is married to a Catholic, and they are raising their two-year-old son Omar as a Moslem. Palazzi also teaches at the Institute of Anthropological Research in Rome, and was formerly a lecturer of religious history at the University of Velletri, also in Rome.
Asked how he came to his views, Palazzi reflects that in addition to his traditional Sunni university education, his position as a minority in his homeland must have also influenced him. Indeed, much in Palazzi’s character mirrors the experience of the Diaspora Jew’s mixed cultural heritage. His warm, positive demeanor is characteristic of Sufi teachers – Sufism is a mystical dimension and discipline of Islam rejected by some Moslems as too esoteric in relation to more orthodox teachings – but in his case it is also fused with an unmistakably Italian taste for good living.
Palazzi cites Koran passages showing that the Land of Israel was given to the Jews, and that Jews would be brought back to Israel before the end of days, such as, “Bear in mind the words of Moses to his People [Children of Israel] … Enter, my People, the Holy Land which God has assigned for you. Do not turn back, and thus lose all.”
Not surprisingly, Palazzi has been criticized by some of his co-religionists for his messianic interpretation of such passages. One liberal Moslem academic living in Jerusalem who prefers not to be identified objects to Palazzi’s stepping so far out of line with the current Moslem consensus.
But Palazzi says in response that his view more closely reflects traditional Islam, as opposed to today’s politicized Islamism. While he agrees that consensus is an important concept in Islam, he explains that “consensus” means that “major Islamic scholars around the world have no objection to a specific stance – it [consensus] is not a referendum of popular thinking.”
This, he says, is why he has not been the target of death threats. Nothing he says is heretical, and none can take issue – whether theologically or traditionally – with his views. Although he is, as he says, out of the current consensus, he is not totally out of the religious loop.
In fact, Palazzi’s is not the only Islamic voice speaking out for Israel. He is joined by many Sufi masters, both here and abroad. Sufi Sheikh Mehmet Selim of Turkey has even said that Israel should be admired for its staunch defense of human rights.
But while Sufism may be considered marginal, the non-Arab Moslem world – including such as Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Turkey itself – is not. And Palazzi reports that there, his views are not considered entirely outr*. Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, also a leading Moslem scholar, has come out in favor of improving his country’s ties with Israel.
Palazzi also acknowledges the observation that governments like those of Egypt and Turkey promote the Sufi tradition of non-political spirituality and mysticism in order to deter Islamism. The reverse is also true, he says; those countries with a strong Sufi tradition, such as Turkey, have been least receptive to what is known as “fundamentalist Islam” or “Islamism.”
Palazzi is encouraged, he says, by traditional Islamic (as opposed to what is today called “fundamentalist Islam” or “Islamist”) views coming out of the Moslem republics of the former Soviet Union. In fact, the credo of the new Islamic University of Tashkent, as outlined by Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, sounds anything but Islamist: “[The university’s aim is] to cultivate the study of our religion from a broad and humane perspective, taking into account developments in the natural sciences and world civilization. We intend to make a noble contribution to the development of morality and ethics, and to strengthen peace and stability in our land, and the whole world, by inspiring feelings of mutual love and respect between peoples.”
A GENERATION ago, even some sectors of the Arab Moslem world were more willing than they are today to show flexibility in their dealings with Israel. When the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat came on his peace trip to Jerusalem in November 1977, he was accompanied by Sheikh Sha’rawi, the revered former mufti of Egypt who had resigned from public office to devote himself to the study of Sufism.
By this act, Sha’rawi, a universally-recognized Islamic authority, refuted the claim that peace with Israel was impossible from the Islamic perspective. Praying together with Sadat at al-Aksa Mosque, he flew in the face of calls for Moslem leaders to refrain from going there as long as it remained under Jewish rule. Sha’rawi’s influence was so strong that it even compelled the mufti of Saudi Arabia to declare that a peace treaty with Israel was permissible as long as it served Moslem interests.
But all that changed with Sha’rawi’s death, and the assassination of Sadat. The Hamas terror organization, which recognizes the Saudi Arabian mufti as its religious authority, has taken advantage of the loophole in his ruling, and now proclaims that it no longer serves Moslem interests to develop peaceful relations with Israel.
Today’s politicized religious leaders, says Palazzi, especially the popular charismatic preachers, are usually far from being scholars. Often they are unordained, either in the traditional teacher-to-disciple sense, or in the sense that they had never attended institutions of Islamic studies. Palazzi recalls an al-Quds interview with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in which the charismatic Hamas leader revealed that he had never studied beyond elementary school, and that his “Sheikh” title was merely honorary, because of his age and status.
Palazzi also points to the denial by the Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem Ikramah Sabri that a Jewish Temple had ever existed on the Temple Mount. This, he says, is a flagrant slap at Islamic tradition.
Imam Qurtubi, the Islamic counterpart of the Jewish commentator Rashi, quotes the earlier commentator Imam Tabari who related the Prophet Mohammed’s response to a follower’s query about the ruins of the fabled Jewish Temple. Qurtubi sets out in writing Tabari’s words about the destruction of the Temple, which tally in every detail with biblical accounts of the Temple’s destruction by the Babylonians, reconstruction, and final destruction by the Romans.
Palazzi speculates that Sabri had been a PLO flunky before his appointment to his current position. Sabri had in fact complained to the director of the Mosque of Rome about Palazzi and the unusual views he had voiced as the Moslem representative a 1996 conference on Jerusalem held here. Palazzi asked the mosque’s director to give Sabri his address and fax number, so that Sabri could address him directly – but Palazzi is still waiting to hear from him.
PALAZZI says it is the Wahabi sect, that rules Saudi Arabia, that is responsible for the politicized Islam so dominant in the Middle East and throughout much of the Islamic world.
He calls the Wahabis, once a tribe of Beduin nomads, “primitive literists”- a case in point is the two Saudi princes who accompanied astronauts on a NASA mission ten years ago, in order to give official witness before a religious court that the earth was, in truth, not flat – and asserts that the Wahabis have made tremendous efforts to transform Islam from a religion into a totalitarian political ideology.
The Wahabis had themselves been branded heretics by hundreds of fatwas before the British brought them to prominence to help them take control of Mecca and Medina. Girded with physical power through their oil wealth, and spiritual power through their control of Islam’s holiest sites, Saudia Arabia and the Moslem Brotherhood that it supports wield tremendous influence over the Moslem world.
In Europe, Palazzi charges, local Moslems are confronted by “religious colonialism.” While he estimates that only about 200 out of the half-a-million strong Moslem community identifies with the Moslem Brotherhood, the Brotherhood controls more than 90 percent of Italian mosques. He also says that Saudi ambassadors pressure local European governments to look upon Moslem Brotherhood clerics as the official representatives of local Moslems. However, they have a counterbalance in the ambassadors from countries like Morocco and Egypt, who point out that the extremist Moslem Brotherhood is banned in their own country.
Palazzi also notes that in the US, Islamist influence is even stronger, thanks to the Saudis’ strong government and business (i.e. oil) links. It is ironic, he notes, that the only organization authorized to train military chaplains in the US is one religiously tied to the Hamas – although the US has outlawed Hamas, declaring it a terrorist organization.