The Trump-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was a landmark, opening up cultural and economic relations between the two countries. Though the UAE has Islam as the official religion and Israel identifies itself as the Jewish State, both countries have mandated religious freedom. Christianity and other religions are allowed to have their places of worship, but they are not allowed to convert Muslims. There are currently two synagogues in Dubai.
But this reciprocal relationship is also affecting religious observance in Israel with the possibility of Muslim pilgrims coming to pray at the Temple Mount. This was explicit in the State Department’s announcement which stated: “As set forth in the Vision for Peace, all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshipers of all faiths.”
This will be facilitated by the initiation of direct flights between the two countries that are expected to begin soon.
This vision of Muslim pilgrimage to Jerusalem was consistent with Trump’s Middle East “Peace to Prosperity” plan which stated:
“People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”
The Palestinian Authority rejected the multi-faith vision of the Temple Mount in the Peace Plan and, regarding the agreement with the UAE, rejected the opening of the Aqsa Mosque to other Muslims. Soon after the announcement of the agreement, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, 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.
Terrestrial Jerusalem, an anti-Israel Israeli NGO, was cited by many media outlets for its claim that implicit in the agreement was the opening up of the Temple Mount to non-Muslim prayer while limiting Muslim prayer to the single silver-domed structure at the southern end of the Temple Mount compound.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab told Midele East Eye that this did seem to be the case.
“When the Emirati ambassador attended the announcement of the Trump plan, and when the Emirates agreed to the statement that included the American vision, this automatically confirmed Emirati support for the right of Jews to pray in the holy mosque compound in Jerusalem,” Kuttab told MEE.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, noted the absurdity of that assumption and of the Fatwa issued against pilgrims from the UAE.
“As the law stands today, we don’t need the agreement for the Israeli government to permit Muslims from otehr countries to go to the Temple Mount,” Dr. Kedar said. “Any visitor to Israel can go straight from the airport to the Temple Mount, or the beach, or anywhere in the country. Israel does not have to agree to this or give special permission to visitors from the UAE.”
“It is obvious that someone wanted to emphasize by this statement that the agreement will be advantageous to the UAE; that they can come to pray at the Aqsa Mosque. I am sure that they did not expect the Mufti to issue a fatwa in response.”
Dr. Kedar emphasized that no agreement has been officially signed.
“It is inaccurate to base assumptions on what was implied in the preliminary statements,” Dr. Kedar said. “The UAE did not write that Jews could pray on the Temple Mount so they don’t mean to say that” Dr. Kedar explained. “In Arabic, there are three levels of speech. There is the meaning of the words you say. Even deeper is what you mean, which is not necessarily the same. But the deepest level is what is hidden by what was said. Westerners don’t understand this because in American English, you say what you mean and you say what you mean. Speaking Arabic is the art of hiding by speaking.”
Dr. Kedar noted that the Temple Mount is becoming a power play between the Palestinians and the other Arab nations.
“But ‘The Arab states that normalize relations with Israel have put aside the overriding Islamic principle that Jews should be subservient to Muslims and do not have a right to own any land anywhere in the world. They are willing to do this in order to use Israel as a shield against Iran. They can do so because they do not have the shame of losing a war to the Jews. That is why they Palestinians are so angry at the UAE; the UAE is rubbing their nose in it that the Palestinians lost to Israel. The Fatwa and the Temple Mount was an attempt by the Palestinians to flex their authority.”