March 29, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 82

…[Pope] Wojtyla Free Us From the Jews - An Interview With the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem About the Pope’s Visit

March 29, 2000
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 82

Appointed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Eqirma Said Sabri, Imam of the Al-Asqa mosque is the highest religious authority in Palestinian Islam. On the eve of the Pope’s historic visit to the Al-Asqa mosque, the Grand Mufti gave the following interview to the Italian newspaper La Republica, March 24, 2000. The title of the article was "Too many lies about the Holocaust, [Pope] Wojtyla free us from the Jews."

"’Six million Jews dead? No way, they were much fewer. Let’s stop with this fairytale exploited by Israel to capture international solidarity. It is not my fault if Hitler hated Jews, indeed they were hated a little everywhere. Instead, it is necessary to denounce the unjust occupation endured by my people. Tomorrow I will ask John Paul II… to support our cause,’" the Grand Mufti states.

"…Question: Sheik Sabri, why did you refuse to participate in the meeting with the representatives of Christianity and Judaism?

Answer: It was not a personal decision. In '67, the Supreme Islamic Council prohibited contact with the religious authority of the Jewish State occupying Jerusalem. Thirty-three years later that ban remains valid. Also, because the situation in the Holy City has deteriorated. The Rabbis oppose the peace process, they want to continue the occupation of our land, and support Jewish settlements.

Q: But in your life have you ever met a Rabbi?

A: Never. Actually, not even my father, himself an Imam, has ever wanted to meet one.

Q: Do you have the same problems meeting Christian bishops?

S: Not at all, we meet regularly. The Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, was at my house just two weeks ago.

Q: How does it feel to be the first Muslim to open the doors of a mosque to a Pope?

A: I will welcome him with respect. His visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque is a contribution to the improvement of relations between our religions.

Q: What will you say to [Pope] Wojtyla?

A: Two things: First, I will remind him that according to Allah’s will, the holy Muslim places belong to us only. Then, I will ask for his help to end Israeli occupation and Palestinian suffering.

Q: Will the Pope pray inside the mosque?

A: It would not be a good idea. Aside from the intentions, such a gesture could be wrongfully interpreted by Christians in the future. It is good to follow the teachings of the Caliph Omar, who after conquering Jerusalem refused to pray inside the [church of the] Holy Sepulchre: wisely, he feared that the followers of Islam would feel authorized to imitate him, transforming a sacred place for Christianity into a holy place for Islam.

Q: A Rabbi said that if the Pope went to the Wailing Wall tomorrow with a cross at his neck it would be offensive to Judaism. Would it be a problem for you if the Pope came to the mosque with a cross?

A: Not at all. Also the Prophet Muhammad welcomed many Christian authorities that wore the cross into mosques. Let it be clear: the Wailing Wall is not a holy place of the Jews, it is an integral part of the mosque [grounds]. We call it al-Buraq, the name of the horse with which Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jerusalem.

Q: Yet Muslims and Jews lived peacefully on this land until the beginning of the twentieth century, while between Islam and Christians there are centuries of bloody conflicts.

A: The Crusades were a conflict between the European Christian powers and the Muslims. But there has never been a war between the Christians of Palestine and Islam, we are one Arab people; the relations have been good for fifteen centuries, in fact during the Crusades many Christian Palestinians fought on the side of the [Muslim leader] Saladin. It is true that we have lived in harmony with the Jews also, until 1917, when the Balfour Declaration recognized their right to a 'home’ in Palestine, and the Jews ended up taking it all. Today we do not fight against the Jews over religious issues. The conflict is only political….

Q: From a theological point of view would you consider yourselves brothers of the Jews?

A: In this case theology does not count. Let us consider the Pope’s visit. It was announced as a spiritual pilgrimage. But it is a political journey. In fact, the Jews are trying to manipulate it to obtain a green light for the occupation of our land. At the same time, Arafat is doing his best to receive the Pope’s support for a Palestinian state.

Q: What do you think of John Paul II?

A: He is without a doubt the most enterprising Pope in history, everybody esteems him as a messenger of peace in the world. Therefore, I hope he will forward to Israel our demand for justice and freedom.

Q: Did you approve of the Pope’s visit to the monument of the Holocaust?

A: Whether I approved of it or not, he would have gone anyway. The Jews have found a formidable way to gather solidarity from the world. The Holocaust completely dominates international media, in Germany people only talk about the compensation of millions of dollars to the Jews. Well: the Crusades lasted two hundred years, not five years like World War II, and many more Muslims than Jews were killed under Nazism. But nobody talks about the Crusades or compensation for us.

Q: Do you agree with the Pope that the extermination of six million Jews in concentration camps is a crime against humanity and against God?

A: Six million? They were much fewer. And then how many times has genocide not been denounced? Let us think about the one just committed by Russia in Chechnya against Muslims. Why do people only insist on talking about the Holocaust? Of course we are against any crime, any genocide.

Q: Among your people there is controversy even about Jesus: was he Jewish or Palestinian?

A: According to The Koran Abram, Isaac, Moses, and Jesus, were all sent to the world by Allah. Jesus was born and raised in Palestine, for us he is an important prophet and his mother Mary is a saint. Jews instead do not recognize either one. I wonder why the Christian world is so loyal to those who do not respect Jesus and his mother.

Q: Sheik Sabri, is Islam on the road to more tolerance and democracy?

A: After the defeat of Communism, the Western world is searching for another enemy to destroy, and it is Islam’s turn [to be destroyed]. But we do not need any western power to come and teach us its political system. The Koran regulates every aspect of our lives. Why should we search for a system created by men when we have one created by God?"

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