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There have been many different reactions to the announcement of negotiations on a peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel but perhaps the most strident came from the Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, who issued a fatwa (religious proclamation) declaring that Muslim citizens of the UAE will not be permitted to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian response to the announcement on Thursday was almost immediate. At the regular Muslim prayers on Friday morning, posters of Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of the UAE, were burned in protest. Palestinians also held protests against the deal in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Shechem (Nablus), in northern Samaria, protesters burned posters of bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump, and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Sheikh Hussein pushed this hatred into action, issuing a fatwa forbidding the citizens of the UAE from praying in the silver-domed al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. 

It should be noted that Sheil Hussein was appointed by Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority, in 2006. Three months after his appointment as Grand Mufti, Hussein stated in an interview that suicide bombing by Palestinians against Israelis was “legitimate, of course, as long as it plays a role in the resistance”. He has openly denied that a Jewish Temple ever stood at the site.

The fatwa seems to answer a tweet posted by UAE journalist Hassan Sajwani who, in response to the announcement of a possible peace agreement, expressed joy at the prospect of visiting the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

 

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, noted that the fatwa graphically illustrates an essential aspect of Islam.

“Here we can clearly see the combination of politics and religion that is Islam,” Dr. Kedar said. “The place where a Muslim prays is an expression of his political approach.”

“Why do you think they built a mosque at Ground Zero?” Dr. Kedar asked rhetorically. 

This was a reference to an initiative to build a mosque within a few hundred feet of the site where the World Trade Center stood until Muslim terrorists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers, destroying them and killing almost 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. In 2009, an initiative to expand a Muslim house of worship located in a condominium building called 45 Park Place. The plan generated strong opposition with some claiming arguing that the building itself would serve as a “victory memorial” to Islam, a concept that has a strong precedent in Islam. 

“Prayer in Islam is a declaration,” Dr. Kedar said. “The Mufti is not commenting on prayer as we think of it. He is declaring that the UAE stabbed the Palestinians in the back. According to the Palestinians, it is awful to talk about peace with Israel but the real problem is that the UAE was offering normalization, which is much worse. Normalization includes peace, meaning non-aggression, but it also includes commerce, tourism, cultural exchange, whatever normal countries do. This is something we don’t have with any Arab country yet.”

The impending Trump-brokered peace agreement comes in the wake of the president’s peace plan between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The plan also referred to as the ‘Deal of the Century’,  puts the Temple Mount, including Al-Aqsa mosque, under Israeli sovereignty while keeping it under Jordanian custodianship. The plan explicitly calls for permitting non-Muslims, Jews, and Christians, to pray there, calling for preparations in East Jerusalem to accommodate Muslim tourists and pilgrims.


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