February 8, 1998 Special Reports No. 3

The Meeting between the Sheik of Al-Azhar and the Chief Rabbi of Israel

February 8, 1998
Special Reports No. 3

The Sheik of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, considered to be one of the leading religious authorities in Sunni Islam, met with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Lau, in Cairo on December 15, 1997. This documents contains some of the ensuing discussion in the Arab media about this meeting and Tantawi's response to the criticism directed against him.

Statements by Sheik of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi

Following are excerpts from Sheik Tantawi’s interview with the 'Al-Jazira’ TV Channel from Qatar:

Question:"Why didn’t such a meeting take place in the past? Why did the former Sheik of Al-Azhar refuse to hold such a meeting, but you agreed?"

Tantawi: "By doing what I did I followed the way of the Prophet [Muhammad] who met with the Jews and held a dialogue with them. So when I am telling you about the Prophet, don’t talk to me about 'so-and-so’. The Prophet’s stance, which is my own stance as well, was that anyone who avoids meeting with the enemies in order to counter their dubious claims and stick fingers into their eyes, is a coward. My stance stems from Allah’s book [the Koran], more than one-third of which deals with the Jews. You should know that you are interviewing a person who wrote a dissertation dealing with them [the Jews], all their false claims and their punishment by Allah. I still believe in everything written in that dissertation."

"I am perplexed by the word 'normalization’ and still don’t know its meaning. I did not endorse his [Rabbi Lau’s] Talmud. He is just a person who came to meet with me and I said to him 'welcome’. Was I supposed to refuse meeting with him, so he could go back to his country and say: 'The Sheik of Al-Azhar refused to meet me!?’ I do not refuse to meet anyone, not him nor a thousand like him. I wish those who talk about normalization had come with him because then they could have heard that when he invited me to visit Jerusalem—the Israeli ambassador sitting next to him—I told him that I refuse to be granted a visa by this ambassador. I will go [to Jerusalem] only with a visa from the legitimate national Palestinian Authority."

Question: "What is your reply to the Israeli journalist, Shahar Ilan, who wrote in the Ha-Aretz newspaper about this meeting? He claims that the rabbi won the important battle over the heart of Islam, when he met with the Sheik of Al-Azhar?"

Tantawi: "Reality refutes it. I did not ask to meet with the rabbi; he was the one who asked to meet me and when he left the meeting, his face looked like his behind… This journalist did not attend the meeting and, therefore, he is a liar."

Question: "Is there any benefit from these kinds of meetings?"

Tantawi: "Of course. On the personal level, I attacked him, and proved to him that Islam is the religion of truth."

Question: "But those who oppose [the meeting] claim that the Sheik of Al-Azhar is not just a person; he is also an emblem of Islam and therefore, this meeting serves the normalization?"

Tantawi: "This one [the interviewer] also talks to me about normalization. My son, normalization is an empty word. Whoever I meet with does not influence me; I influence him."

Question: "What is your answer to Dr. Salim Al-'Awa, who said that the meeting is more dangerous for the Arabs than all forms of normalization [with Israel]?"

Tantawi: "This is the logic of cowards, lowlifes, and negative people. Tell your friend who says so, that these words come out of his mouth because he is a coward. I met with him [Rabbi Lau] and silenced his tongue. Can Dr. Al-’Awa deny from a religious point of view, that the Prophet met with them [the Jews] and that Abu Bakr went to their homes? After all this they talk about 'normalization’. What kind of normalization is this?"

Question: "But now the situation is different because [they] demolish houses and violate the [religiously] forbidden?"

Tantawi: "What does it mean that the situation is different? Does it mean that there was ever an era flowing with sugar and honey? There was also a period when the Prophet fought them and the animosity was [even] greater. Apart from that, be realistic, there are forty thousand Palestinians who go every day and work for the Jews; why don’t you claim this to be normalization?"

Question: "What is your position regarding the religious ruling from 1966 by the Islamic Research Center that forbids meeting with the rabbis of the Jews?"

Tantawi: "I have the right to oppose this. I think that whoever refuses to meet the enemy in order to slap him on the face is a coward, as long as the meeting in question serves Islam. I met with him in order to answer his dubious claims and tell him that Jerusalem is Arab."

Question: "Are the Jews convinced by these arguments?"

Tantawi: "I spoke the truth which is better than keeping silent. I refused to sign the declaration that the rabbi offered and told him: 'summon the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the leaders of all religions in a neutral country and then you can publish your declaration that denounces terror…"
Rose Al-Yousef, January 5, 1998

"I told the Rabbi of the Jews: 'You are talking to a man who knows you since the time of our Master Jacob and until today’."

"When he [Rabbi Lau] said to me: 'In our holy book Jerusalem is mentioned five hundred times,’ I answered: 'And our book [The Koran] also—more than one-third of it deals with the Israelites, exposes their false claims, their atrocities, and the punishments Allah imposed on them for their oppression and wrong doing.’ All this I told him."
Al-Mussawar, December 26, 1997

"I held the meeting in accordance with the instructions of Islam, which order us to act firmly and with an open heart, to meet with the enemies of Allah and [never] apologize for it."

"I had delivered through Lau a letter to Netanyahu asking him to stop being arrogant and conveyed to him that our religion taught us how to deal with the enemies.

Therefore, it is impossible for us to belittle the Palestinians’ rights; and to whoever wants to go and fight the enemies of Allah we say: 'Welcome, and if you die you will become a Shahid [martyr] for Allah."
Saut Al-Haq wa Al-Hurriyya, January 2, 1998

"The meeting was held between two clergymen who discussed religious issues. I have the courage that can silence the tongues of a thousand Israeli rabbis."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, January 5, 1998

"My animosity towards the normalization of relations [with Israel] is greater than that of others. I’ve been fighting normalization for over thirty years. This is proved by the dissertation that I wrote in 1966 entitled 'The Israelites in the Koran and Suna [Following the way of the Prophet]’. In this dissertation I discussed their dark history, their ways of deceiving Islam and Muslims, their atrocities as depicted by the Koran, their false claims and the ways in which they were answered by the Koran, the punishments Allah imposed on them, and the stages of the Zionist invasion into Palestine."

"There is not a single Egyptian that maintains the normalization and whoever does so is a traitor to his religion and his nation."

"Tantawi called on anyone who has evidence of [his] normalization of relations with the Jews, as meant by Dr. Salim Al-'Awa—to present this evidence. Al-'Awa said: '[Normalization] is a situation in which the simple Arab citizen does not feel that the Zionist walking in the streets of his village is a spy or a murderer that masters the killing of our children in Palestine or a filthy terrorist who destroyed the houses along with the peaceful citizens living in them…"
Al-'Ahd wa Al-Mithaq, December 12, 1998

"The meeting with Lau cannot be seen as normalization because normalization means our surrender to the enemy. However, when the Sheik of Al-Azhar meets with them [the Jews] he influences and is not influenced, he orders and is not being ordered. When I meet the Rabbi or someone else my purpose is to stress the fact, that Jerusalem is Islamic and Arab, no matter what they do. Jerusalem will remain Islamic, with Allah’s help.
Al-Ayyam, December 24, 1998

"’The meeting is not a devilish detestation anathema’, said Tantawi who added that when he had announced his willingness to meet with the rabbis… he was acting in accordance with the positions of the Prophet who did not avoid meeting with his enemies from the Associates [heathens] and the Jews. He emphasized that he protects the interests of the Arabs and Muslims and the rights of the Palestinian people who are engaged in a Jihad—a defense that should make every Muslim who cherishes Al-Azhar and Islam happy."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1998

Reactions to the meeting within the Al-Azhar Institution

A communique published by the 'Al-Azhar Religious leaders Front’:

"Al-Azhar has always been, and—Allah willing—always will be, the institution that leads the Muslims to all good-deeds and alert to any wrongdoing… Al-Azhar was the first to enlist and be enlisted in the fight against the Jews for the land of Palestine and to reveal, for the entire world to see, the Jews’ despicable intentions and the punishment that will be imposed on whoever keeps silent on this issue…

On January 1, 1956, the Islamic Religious Ruling Committee at AL-Azhar published its historic 'Fatwa’ [religious ruling] regarding the signing of peace with Israel and cooperation with colonialist states who supported it and who [still] support its criminal aggression. The 'Fatwa’ stipulates: 'peace with Israel, so-called by those who have an interest in it, is forbidden by the Islamic religious ruling, because it allows the plunder to keep his loot and recognizes this plunderer’s right to it…’

The Muslims are forbidden to reconcile with the Jews who had robbed the land of Palestine and assaulted its people and their possessions, in any way that allows the Jews to remain as a state on this holy Islamic land. All Muslims, moreover, must cooperate in order to take this land back from the hands of the plunderers and they should place weapons in the hands of the Mujahideen’ so that they can launch a 'Jihad’ for that purpose…"
Al-'Arabi, December 29, 1997

Dr. Yahya Isma’il, the General Secretary of the 'Al-Azhar Religious leaders Front’:

"…Sheik Tantawi’s meeting with the Rabbi has awarded an image of 'greatness’ to their rabbis [of the Jews] to the extent that they can deceive the international public opinion and allow the [assumption] to strike root that the Jewish religious leadership is equal to the Muslim religious leadership of Al-Azhar."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

Dr. Ibrahim Qassem, a lecturer at the Arab Language Faculty of the Al-Azhar University:

"The meeting was a painful event for every Muslim. It gives a Shar’i [of Islamic Religious Law] flavor to the actions of Zionism and presents us as its supporters, and as being on equal terms with it"
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

"A group of Al-Azhar religious leaders rejected Sheik of Al-Azhar’s meeting with the Israeli rabbi. According to the religious leaders the meeting constitutes a breech of the national Ijma’a [consensus] and a violation of the religious rulings of the Islamic Research Academy… who since 1936 and until 1988 have forbidden negotiating with the oppressive Jews by other means than the weapon of 'Jihad’ until they disappear from the face of the earth.

The liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa mosque has become a [religious] duty for each and every Muslim as an individual ['Fardh 'Ayn’]… The greatest danger implicit in the meeting is the [possibility] of it becoming a [precedent] for the propagandists supporting normalization… the religious leaders see this as an indiscriminate mixing of religion with politics by the Sheik of Al-Azhar."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

Dr. Ibrahim Dsuqi Shata, a lecturer of Persian culture at the Al-Azhar University:

"The most dangerous thing concerning the meeting of Sheik of Al-Azhar with the Israeli rabbi, is that it allows the propagandists of normalization an opportunity to say to people: 'We acted according to the instructions of the Supreme Imam."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

Dr. Abd Al-'Azim Al-Mat’ani, a lecturer at the Al-Azhar University:

"Such behavior [the meeting with Rabbi Lau] was not expected from his Honor the Supreme Imam. It was only proper—that even if Egypt in its entirety had extended its hand to Israel—that Al-Azhar would have never done so, for Al-Azhar is considered the defender of Islam and the protection of Islam is entrusted to him. [Tantawi’s] step hurts the good reputation of Al-Azhar that set out against the rivals of Islam for more than one thousand years. It is improper for Tantawi to open his door for such a gang whose hostility for Islam has been going on ever since the day its [Islamic] Holy Book descended."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

Dr. Tal’at Al-'Afifi, a lecturer for Islamic Culture and Preaching at the Al-Azhar University:

"Allah forbade us in His book to feel any loyalty or friendship in our hearts towards those who attacked us using weapons and expelled us from our lands. They should be treated as those who fight us: no cooperation with them and no meeting with their delegations, leaders or rabbis."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

"Dr. Jamal Abd Al-Hadi, a lecturer at Al-Azhar University called on the Sheik of Al-Azhar to publish an announcement stressing once again his disrecognition of Zionism in order to guard the nation’s unity… The Muslims cannot reconcile with these Zionists who robbed Palestine and assaulted its people. The Islamic nation must—according to Islamic Religious Law—help the warriors of Jihad in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria with money and weapons, for the sake of liberating Al-Aqsa [Mosque]."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

Op-Ed Articles

The author, Dr. Muhammad Salim Al-’Awa, in an article entitled "Oh Sir, I Wish You Had Not Met Him... I Wish You Had Not Told Him" in the opposition paper Al-Sha’ab:

"The meeting with the Israeli Rabbi amounts to the greatest popular support of Israel, support which it had been denied since its establishment.

What is the reason for the change in the position of the Sheik of Al-Azhar, which until recently concurred with that of the Head of the Coptic Church, Patriarch Shinoda: decisive rejection of the normalization of relations [with Israel] and a refusal to meet with any Zionist personality or to speak to them in time of peace or war? This position [Shinoda’s] corresponds to the popular position [in Egypt], because [the relations] between Egypt and Israel are merely official relations in which popular leadership has no share. [Therefore], this meeting was a disappointment to Arabs’ and Egyptians’ hopes."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 27, 1997

Najwa Tantawi, Yassin Husam Al-Din, Muhammad Abdallah, and Mustafa Suleyman write:

"In principle, the meeting of Sheik Tantawi with the Chief Israeli Rabbi who defiled the Al-Azhar ground is no less dangerous than Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. However, Sadat, after all, was a politician whose [actions] can be disputed, while the Sheik of Al-Azhar is the highest Imam of the most ancient Islamic institution, not only in Egypt and in the Arab world but [also] in the whole world."
Al-Usbu’, December 22, 1997

Dr. Ibrahim Hilal in an article titled "Once Again: the Meeting with the Rabbi is a Bad Mistake that is Completely Unrelated to Islamic Law!"

"The statement by the Center for Islamic Studies claimed that the Sheik of Al-Azhar’s meeting with the Rabbi of the Jews is permissible from the stand point of Islamic tradition. It even went further in claiming that the reception paid by the Sheik of Al-Azhar to the Rabbi of the Jews in his office is similar to the Prophet’s actions in the Prophet’s dialogue with Banu Qaynuqa’ and Banu Al-Nadhir [both of the Jewish tribes of Al-Madina]...

For those who are behind this statement I say that the sons of Qaynuqa’ were the owners of the land [on which they resided] and not occupiers like the Jews of our days. The Prophet respected their ownership of their land and made a military alliance with them against the Quraysh tribe and against anyone who raided Al-Madina. On the basis of this alliance the Prophet treated them in a friendly manner and used to go to their houses of worship and their places of residence and call on them to join Islam... Did the Honorable Great Imam [Tantawi] call on the Rabbi or his people [to join] Islam?

When a group of Jews broke the agreement [with the Prophet Muhammad] in several attacks against the Muslims or deviated from the letter of the agreement [with him] the Prophet put a siege on them and permitted them to chose between death and exile. They chose exile, other than the Banu Qureiza [another Jewish tribe] who chose to stand trial. The verdict stated that the men had to be killed and the women and children taken hostage and the Prophet executed the verdict in all its details on them. You are familiar with the details, members of the Center for Islamic Studies, aren’t you?

The Prophet did not accept the humiliation and did not agree to be on friendly terms with those who were hostile toward him, who had breached the agreement with him and declared war on him. To your claim regarding the religious legality [of the meeting], you gave references from the Koran and the Sunna; But the Koran retorted: "...Allah forbids you to befriend those who fought against you because of your religion, driven you out of your homes and aided others in driving you out. And those who take them as friends are the villains." [Surat Al-Mumtahana, verses 8-9].

This was the situation regarding the Prophet and his friends: friendship for friendship and a war of victory against a war of dishonor. This is the Koran’s ruling and not your statements about those murderers and blood spillers who conquer Muslim land, the holiest piece of land of Allah’s dominion after the Mosque [in Mecca]...We can still forgive the Imam [Tantawi] for his mistake, but it is impossible for us to say that this was a Shari’i action [namely, an action which is legitimate in terms of Islamic law and tradition]."
Al-Arabi, January 5, 1998

In an anonymous article the Al-Arabi weekly criticizes the position advocated by the Center for Islamic Studies, which is subordinate to the Al-Azhar institution, in defence of the meeting between the Sheik of Al-Azhar and the Chief Israeli Rabbi. The weekly emphasized the difference between the situation today and the situation in the past when the Prophet met with the Jews and conducted a dialogue with them:

"Conditions were different, circumstances were different, and the time was different. Zionism—which conquers the land, trampled the Muslims’ Koran, expels them from their countries and disregards the Al-Aqsa Mosque—had not existed... If they had conquered the Qa’ba, for example, would the Prophet have meet [nonetheless] with them and hold a dialogue with them...?

Sheik of Al-Azhar defended himself by saying that it was a regular meeting...One religious man meeting [another] religious man in order to discuss religious matters. We regret having to say that this is not the truth...The men of religion today do not discuss religious matters but political affairs...

What kind of a religious man did you meet? His hands are stained with the blood of Muslims [who were slain while] praying, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is occupied and is being dug under in order to bring about its collapse. The whole Palestinian land is being lost, the Jewish settlements are established on it and Arab houses are blown up.

This is the religious man that you have met.

Since when, Oh Honorable Imam, do you meet the people of the Jewish religion, who, by the way, have a Rabbi in Egypt? I am willing to bet that Sheik Tantawi haven’t seen this Rabbi in his life and does not even know his name or his location despite the fact that he lives in the Al-Hamzawi neighborhood in close proximity to the building in which the Imam resides. If he wanted a religious meeting, then there are those who deserve it more from among the Copts and the Jews of Egypt...

The problem is not religious but political of the first degree. Even the ignorant in matters of politics and its twists recognizes by necessity that the step taken by the Zionists in infiltrating the Rabbi into the Al-Azhar is valuable...

If Sheik Tantawi is a religious man who does not understand the political realm, does not read the press and does not feel the societal pulse, then he should hold his tongue, apologize, repent and not describe those who oppose him as cowards and sons of a bitch."
Al Arabi, January 5, 1998

Majdi Ahmad Hussein writes under the title "The Story of the Prophet’s Life [Al Sira Al Nabawiya] and the Jews":

"...It is possible to learn a lesson from the confrontation [incident] between the Prophet and the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa’. This is a lesson to anyone who whishes to treat his enemies lightly. The attack of one Muslim woman [by a Jew of the Banu Qaynuqa’] led the Prophet to open a fierce war against them which ended with their expulsion from Al-Madina. But we already saw the Sons of Israel attacking millions of women, children, elderly and men and [here] there is someone who notifies us of the need for dialogue with these types of assailants...

Sheik Tantawi wrote in his Ph.D. dissertation: "[thus] the Muslims purified Al-Madina of the fifth column who recognized the sources of power and weaknesses among them and surrendered them to the enemy’s hands..."

More could be said about the Rabbis of the Israeli entity in 1997. They are not only a fifth column, but also the first [highest] aggressive entity, namely—the basis for Muslim disaster. In the Prophets’ Sirah[the story of his life] we find that during the periods of aggressions and conquests, he did not conduct theological discussions with them nor did he discuss with them anything, other than the terms of surrender following their defeat.

The Prophet did not kill their wives, except one woman who killed a Muslim and that is an Islamic legislation that permits the killing of women if they participate in battle. This legislation remains in effect also regarding the women of the current Israeli entity who are drafted into the Zionist army. For this reason, several of our religious men must stop their crying over the women of the people of Israel, which are being killed by operations of martyrdom in occupied Palestine...

He who wants to use the Prophet’s Sirah regarding relations with Israel should quote from the last stage [in the relationship between the Prophet and the Jews in Al Madina], which was the stage of war. The first stage, which relates to the birth of the first Islamic state that included Jewish citizens, has no connection to our relation with Israel; such conditions only apply to Muslim states in which there are Jewish minorities such as Iran, Morocco and Yemen. At the same time, one must examine whether these minorities do not have pernicious relations with the Israeli entity.

Even if several government officials in our days are forced to hold negotiations with the Zionist entity, it is still prohibited for the popular leadership and the Islamic source of authority...Their duty is to exert every effort in the holy Jihad for the liberation of Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian lands. They must avoid completely any political negotiations, false religious dialogue or fabrication of mutualconcerns, such as the struggle against terrorism."
Al Sha’b, January 6, 1998

Dr. 'Alaa Taha Razek Hussein, a professor of medieval history in the Al-Mansura University in Egypt, in a letter to the editor:

I present to the Sheik what had been included in his book The Sons of Israel in the Koran and Sunna on which I was brought up—since childhood—like me many of the youth of Egypt who died a death of martyrdom; were wounded and took part in the wars of liberation in '48, '56, '67, and '73 against the plundering Israeli enemy.

The Author [Tantawi] says in the introduction to his book: "We the Muslims have been frequently hurt by the Jews. They are those who fought against [the Prophet’s] preaching for Islam with all possible weapons. They are those who robbed—with the help of the infidel states—a piece of our Holy Land, Palestine..."

It is my duty to ask the author: "Do you still hold on to your opinion regarding the Jews and their conduct as it was expressed in this book, in which you relied on the holy Koran, the pure Sunna of the Prophet and the true history? I ask for an answer in the name of pure scientific discussion."
Al Sha’b, January 6, 1998

"The Egyptian lawyer, Nabih Al-Wahsh, gave the Imam Al-Azhar 15 days to turn in his resignation before demanding his dismissal for meeting with the Chief Israeli Rabbi.

In the announcement which he directed at Tantawi through the legal system Al-Wahsh said: you know better than all of us that we are not opposed to having relations with the Jews as a religion, but we do not accept, under any circumstances, relations with Zionism, as an entity that plunders land, desecrates religion, abhors religion, hates the Islamic faith and kills innocent children."

In response to Tantawi’s statement that his meeting with Lau "is not normalization" with Israel and that the Prophet had relations with the Jews, and would sit in their company and shake their hand and that the meeting was political in nature. Al-Wahsh said: "The Jews in the days of the Prophet were a part of the national fabric and not plunderers of lands."
Al Ayyam, January 4, 1998

Support of Sheik of Al-Azhar

"The [Grand] Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Naser Farid Wasel, condemned some newspapers’ criticism of the great Imam, Sheik of Al-Azhar, for meeting with the Israeli [Chief] Rabbi [Lau], saying 'folks who live in glass houses [themselves] should not throw stones [at others].’

"This criticism constitutes a divergence from Islamic tradition, and before they write of Sheik of Al-Azhar they would do well to ask themselves what gains were achieved through [joint] activities and the contacts between their own representatives and this Jewish entity.

"Sheik of Al-Azhar is one of the symbols of the Islamic world, and Islam, as a religion, instructs us to honor our symbols. Denigration [of symbols of our religion] is the [element which] leads to disunity among Muslims and weakens them, thus the Muslim weakness results from [these newspapers] themselves. If [Sheik Tantawi’s critics] return to the religion, they will find that [even] the Prophet [Muhammad] harbored the Christians of Najran in the mosque when the war was at its height. If they do not return to the religion -they must observe the Jews, who are few yet so powerful, [solely] because they unite and guard their religious symbols.

"The pages of the newspapers are not the place to deal with these issues, nor is insolence appropriate, particularly since he has repeatedly stated that Jihad is imperative and stands consistently by the side of the Palestinians [in supports] of the liberation of Jerusalem. [Tantawi said] that he met with them [the Jews] in order to convince them of their mistake, and since the specific man he met [Israel Chief Rabbi Lau] is a senior Jewish religious [figure] who can win over the hearts of the Jews to the Arab cause. This meeting was of no special value [to the Jews] and gained them nothing, primarily because there already exist official relations between the Arabs and the Jews, in the form of Embassies, Consulates, commerce and [exchange of] agricultural experts."
Al-Liwaa Al-Arabi, December 31, 1997

"Sheik of Al-Azhar is a great sage in matters of religious conduct, greater than his counterparts in knowledge of the religion, and one must differentiate between the religious aspect and the political aspect in commenting on his meeting with the Israeli rabbi."

[Egyptian Grand Mufti] Wasel expressed steadfast opposition to meeting any Israeli rabbi and demanded that Israeli [Chief] Rabbi [Lau] not come to Egypt before expressing condemnation and rejection of the Israeli occupation of Arab land. He urgently called for a meeting of the religious sages and political leaderships to agree on a uniform statement policy in the struggle against the enemies of the nation.
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 29, 1997

Egyptian Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzuq, in an interview:

Question: Some charge that Israel is attempting to create divisions within the religious institutions in Egypt, your Ministry among them.

Zaqzuq: The religious institutions will continue to be staunch defenders of the holy sites. This dignified title [Tantawi’s] has not been shaken. There are no [Israel-inspired] divisions within the religious institutions; Sheik of Al-Azhar’s meeting with a Jewish Rabbi, or the Minister’s meeting with the Israeli Ambassador cannot constitute a divide in the [religious] institution, nor do they reflect any betrayal Islam. The indication for that is the content of the meetings. Had these meetings produced signed agreements, negotiations or mutual visits, one could say that they cause a divide, but this was not the case: not one agreement was signed. On the subject of joint research of the faculty of languages and translation in Al-Azhar [University] and the Israel Cultural Center, I have no knowledge. It is true that 15 years ago there were division attempts, but they failed. I do not believe that the Al-Azhar University would lend its hand to such an attempt. And if such an attempt does take place than it will be private meeting of the Department of Hebrew [language].

Question: It has been reported that in his meeting with your honor the Israeli Ambassador has requested that the preachers in the mosques mitigate their [verbal] assaults of Israel.

Zaqzuq: The subject came up in my meeting with the Israeli Ambassador. The people associated between my call to respect the preachers’ pulpit and refrain from assaulting specific individuals or groups. The Prophet [Muhammad] never [verbally] attacked any person or group. These words are not applicable to Israel as an obstinate state. [As regards Israel] there are no guidelines, no agreements, and no guarantees. The Ambassador requested the creation of a dialogue between the Islam and the Jews, and I responded that we could discuss this matter only once the Palestinian issue was resolved or once Israel was committed to its resolution. We concluded that matter with the agreement that there will be a dialogue in the future.

During the previous [Israeli] government’s term, the Minister for Religious Affairs approached me with the same request, but nothing was concluded.

Question: But there are those who are convinced that once there is a religious dialogue, the political relations will improve...

Zaqzuq: That logic is theirs [Israel]. The matter [should be] postponed until the problems between the Palestinians and Israel are resolved.

Question: Why is a delegation not established including the Sheik of Al-Azhar, the Minister of Religious Affairs and the [Grand] Mufti of Egypt, to go to Jerusalem to pray without meeting any Israeli official?

Zaqzuq: Under these circumstances, the authorization must come from Israel. We are ready [to go], on the condition that Yasser Arafat gives his authorization.
'Aqidati, January 6, 1998

Dr. Abd Al-'Azim Ramadan, in an article entitled: 'Sheik of Al-Azhar... and the Political Fraud’:

"When of Sheik of Al-Azhar met with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the periodical 'Al-Arabi’ lashed out at him using street language and condemnation, describing the meeting as a 'disgrace to Islam, a disgrace to Al-Azhar and a disgrace to the Sheik himself.’ This Nasserist newspaper forgot that the true disgrace is that which was caused by the Nasserist government in its double military defeat by the Zionists, thus creating an opportunity [for the Zionists]—due to its military misconduct—to conquer Sinai in 1956 and 1967’ as well as the Golan [Heights], the West Bank, Gaza and Southern Lebanon.

That is the true disgrace which the Nasserist regime inflicted upon Egypt and the Arabs, and this is the disgrace for which Egypt has paid a dear price in its people’s esteem and in its human and material wealth. [Egypt] could not extricate itself from this disgrace but through paying the weighty price which is the Egyptian-Israeli accord and the termination of the conflict with Israel...

Whomever demands of his countrymen to be accountable for their patriotism, must himself be more patriotic than them; [this having been said,] it is impossible to claim that the Nasserites -who violated human rights and brought about the most reprehensible defeats in the history of Egypt and of the Arab People- are more patriotic! They wildly exaggerate [in their discussion of] patriotism, in order to overshadow the disgrace of their defeats and irresponsibility in [addressing] Egypt’s rights and the rights of the Arabs!

Is the meeting of Sheik of Al-Azhar with the Chief Rabbi of a state which, by virtue of a peace treaty, is linked to Egypt, shameful in the eyes of the Nasserists who boast avow to patriotism, while Israel’s conquest of Egyptian and Arab land twice not as shameful?

They denounce Sheik of Al-Azhar with the false accusation that he has brought about this disgrace in view of the Zionist occupation of Muslim land and of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and in view of the slaying of Muslims and their banishment from their countries; but they do not denounce themselves for the fact that [it was] in the time of their reign that this [conquest and] occupation occurred and for [the fact] that they themselves are the ones who presented to Israel the opportunity to commit these crimes... therefore, the Nasserites are the last ones who can use such vilification against Sheik Al-Azhar...

This Nasserist newspaper has no right [to denounce Sheik of Al-Azhar] while it operates under the auspices of the current political regime. The current government publicly states its adherence to the treaty with Israel, one of the obligations of which, on both Egypt and Israel, being normalization of relations...

Therefore when Dr. Mahmoud 'Asfur, law professor and political correspondent, was asked about normalization of relations he responded; 'The normalization is founded upon the Camp David Accords, and these accords are strongly founded both in religious and civil law: the People’s Assembly verified them and all parties agree on it; the Political Parties Act mandates them [the K.D. accords]. Therefore, the normalization of [Egyptian-Israeli] relations is part of the political, legal and religious rule...’

One must bear in mind that our political regime has stated that any decision of the Arab League instructing against normalization of relations with Israel does not bind Egypt, because Egypt’s commitment to the treaty with Israel, which dictates normalization of relations, preempts its other commitments.
October, January 4, 1998

Former Egyptian Prime Minister, Dr. Mustafa Khalil:

"...In my opinion, Sheik of Al-Azhar is worthy of admiration... Sheik of Al-Azhar is an enlightened man and it is unthinkable that he commits an act that contravenes Religion. I am therefore convinced that the assault against him is a malicious one, one that should not have taken place to begin with. Is it conceivable that Sheik of Al-Azhar will isolate himself and not meet with leaders of other religions?! This would imply weakness, for he who meets with his counterpart and proves to him the justice of his position -he is the strong one... I applauded Sheik of Al-Azhar for his meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Israel. Islam is a religion of moderation and not of extremetism; [it is] a religion ready to live in peace with all the other religions..."
October, January 11, 1998

Reaction of the 'Muslim Brotherhood’
Mustafa Mashoor, Leader of the Movement:
The Rabbi’s [Lau] visit to Egypt—and [President] Weizman’s visit prior to it—took place after Netanyahu had became unacceptable. [The visits] were an attempt to mediate in order to resolve the crisis of distrust that prevailed. Rabbi Lau made false claims that there was friendship between the Egyptian people and other Arab peoples on the one hand, and the Israeli people on the other hand. Then, he called upon [Egypt] to concentrate on the subject of peace in the Egyptian Education system, and asked the Sheik of Al-Azhar to join in a public statement denouncing terrorism.

[But] did the Chief Rabbi advise the same thing to his own government, who teaches their children and youth to hate everything that isn’t Jewish, and to harm Islam, its Koran and its messenger.
Saut Al-Haqq wa Al-Huriyya, January 9, 1998

Sheik Yousef Al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement:

The boycott in all its forms and the rejection of normalization are an important weapon in the long war between us and Israel, and it is worthwhile keeping it [in effect] as a sharp and perspicacious weapon, rather than rush to harm and break it up [all together]. In this respect, the meeting between the Rabbi and the grand Imam broke the wall [defending us], blunted our weapon and weakened the stern struggle against Israel as well as the total boycott imposed on it.

Sheik of Al-Azhar asked: "What prevents a Muslim man from meeting a counterpart from other religions – be it a Jew or a Christian – to hold a dialogue on religious affairs?

We answer him: "What religious dialogue is there between us and the Jewish [people]?

Is the conflict between them and us about matters of belief [that requires] a dialogue on issues such as Godly affairs, prophecy etc. Or is it on a different problem – not on belief – but rather on the problem of plundering the land and on the exiling of its inhabitants in an attempt to swallow whatever is left of it. It is on the problem of the Judification of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque. This is the problem and there is no need for a dialogue between a Sheik and a Rabbi, Rather, between politicians and the bearers of weapon…

The sheik based the legitimacy of the meeting on the fact that Muhammad had met the Jews of the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Al-Nadhir [tribes].

[To imagine the meeting] The Sheik relied on the meeting between the prophet [Muhammad] and the Jews of the Banu Qaynuqa’ [Tribe] and the Banu Nadhir [Tribe].

However, [while] it is true [that the Prophet met with them] the argument is irrelevant, for when the prophet went to them there was a recognized agreement between them and he went to demand of them to fulfill their obligations [in that agreement]; but they proved their treason and therefore he declared war on them which ended with the deportation of Banu Qaynuqa’ and Banu Al-Nadhir. He did not go to them in order to discuss religious matters but for a political issue which occupied him, because he was the Imam of the nation and head of state and he dealt with his political authorities. What does this have to do with the meeting of the Sheik and the Rabbi?

From among the proofs that the Sheik presented the connections with the "people of the book" were also mentioned. Even the Koran permitted to eat in their company and permitted to marry their wives. The Sheik [probably] forgot that the "people of the book" according to the view of Islamic law [are divided into] three types: Ahl Al-D'imma, namely, non-Muslims under the protection of Islam, Ahl Al-’Ahd, namely, non-Muslims in temporary contract with Islam, and Ahl Al-Harb, namely, non-Muslims in state of war with Islam. Each type has rules that are unique to it. The Ahl Al-D'imma are of the people of Dar Al-Salam, namely, citizens [of the Islamic state] which are non-Muslims, who in general have the same rights and responsibilities which we have. Ahl Al-’Ahd are those with whom we have contacts and agreements and are not our allies and the contracts with them must be kept.

Ahl Al-Harb are those with whom we had war, as is the situation with the Israelis, and therefore they are Ahl Al-Harb according to the principle of the Islamic law of "general consensus" of the nation. The words of Allah are fit for those: "...Allah only forbids you that you make friends with those who have fought against you because of your religion, and have driven you out of your homes and have aided others in driving you out. Who makes friends with them, those are the transgressors" [Surat Al-Mumtahna, verses 8-9].

There is no dialogue between them and us other than in one language--the language of the sword and force. Allah stated: "Fight the war of Allah against those who fight you; but do not be [the first ones to] rise against them, because Allah does not love those who break [the law]. And you should kill them in every place in which you capture them, and you should expel them from all the places from which you were expelled..." [Surat Al Baqara verse 191].

Hizbullah’s Reaction

Sheik Muhammad Husein Fadhlallah, leader of the Hizbullah, expressed his opposition to Sheik of Al-Azhar’s meeting with Israel’s Chief Rabbi, and viewed it as recognition of the Israeli Entity. Fadhlallah said: 'Had this meeting taken place with a Jewish sage with no official, political standing, there wouldn’t have been any problem with it, because the Koran calls upon us to invite The People of the Book to come to an agreement. However, the dialogue with the Jews will be achieved [only] once the Jews will not have a political standing which transforms meeting with them into recognition of this political standing.’
Al-Mushahid Al-Siyasi - BBC, January 4-10, 1998

Reaction of the Head of the Coptic Church in Egypt

The Patriarch Shinoda, head of the Coptic Church in Egypt, in an interview with Sanaa Sa’id:

Question: Several of Israel’s Rabbis have recently called for establishing a dialogue between representatives of the three [Monotheistic] Religions. What is your position on this?

Shinoda: In general, the idea of dialogue is acceptable [to me]. The important question is whether what this rabbi or another is proposing is a religious dialogue or, in turn, a political one or another kind of dialogue.

As far as political dialogue is concerned, the meaning of the matter is that the rabbis are involved in the political affairs of their country. If we are speaking of religious dialogue, then [this raises the question] are their hearts open to discussion of their faith with other religions, religions which they do not recognize...?

Question: Along with their proposal for dialogue, the Israeli rabbis demanded religious edicts from leaders of [other] religions denouncing terrorism, [a concept] which they limit to Fedayeen actions of the Palestinians against them...

Shinoda: Presenting dialogue in this manner means that the Israelis are seeking religious edicts that support their own policies, for if not, why do they not include [in their definition of terrorism] the damaging of mosques and the slaughter at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque [Tomb of the Patriarchs]? Why do they not include [in their definition of terrorism] the pictures that desecrate that which is holy to Muslims and Christians? Why do they not include [in their definition of terrorism] the expulsion of the Palestinians from their country and their land, the demolition of their homes, etc...?
Al-Mussawar, December 26, 1998

The Polemic over the 'Aqidati Weekly

"The Israeli newspaper Ha-aretz published in its December 12, 1997 issue a detailed report of the Israeli [Chief] Rabbi Lau visit to Cairo and his meeting with his Honor the Great Imam, the Sheik of Al-Azhar…

In the report it was said that the Jewish Rabbi had complained to the Great Imam of the 'Aqidati Newspaper for publishing an article entitled: 'Judaism—the Enemy of Humanity’; [Rabbi Lau] claimed that the publication of such an article entrenches the hostility towards Jews and does not serve the peace process.

Before we begin answering Rabbi Lau’s allegations, let us evoke the words of Allah: 'Say to them: Perish in your rage. Surely, Allah knows well your designs’ [Surat Aal 'Imran, 119]

First of all, we emphasize that we respect all Monotheistic Religions and hold them in high esteem. We recognize Judaism and Christianity and believe in all the prophets; moreover, we emphasize that we believe in the Torah that Allah has bestowed on our Master Musa, may he rest in peace, and concider Judaism to be a divine religion.

However, is Judaism of today the same religion brought by Allah’s Prophet, Musa? Of course not. The Jews have replaced the words of Allah and have rewritten the Torah by their own hands, after they have hidden the real Torah. Present day Judaism is far removed from that which Allah bestowed on the Prophet of the Sons of Israel. It is present day Judaism that we see as the enemy of Humanity."
Aqidati, January, 6, 1998

Majdi Salem in an article entitled 'The Jews… and the Hostility for Mankind’:

"Never have I been made so happy as by Rabbi Lau’s complaint over an article that was published in our paper entitled: 'Judaism and the Hostility for Mankind’. We have opened [their] old wounds, exposed them and presented the distortion of Judaism, the same distortion that completely distanced them from the original religion bestowed by Allah on His Prophet Musa, may he rest in peace…

What is peculiar is that the title of the article was not ’Judaism and the Hostility for Mankind’, but rather 'Jews—the Enemies of Mankind.’ There is, of course, a great difference between Judaism as a religion and the Jews as followers of a religion whose Holy Book has been distorted.

What can their Rabbi deny or hide, in the face of this accusation that practically proves their hostility to Mankind? Do not the Jews claim to be Allah’s chosen people? Do they not claim to be Allah’s sons and observers? They claim that all humans that do not belong to them are 'Goyim [Gentiles]—two legged animals, entitled to no rights, created by Allah for the sole purpose of serving the Jews.

Does not the Torah punish a Jewish woman who fornicated with a Jew but does not punish her if she did so with a 'Goy’, since he is [considered] a beast rather than a human-being, in their view?… They allow themselves to murder and take control of the property of another, if he is not a Jew… These are the Jews that we view as enemies of Mankind."
Aqidati, January 6, 1998

The 'Aqidati’ Weekly re-publishes the article in dispute: 'The Jews are the Enemies of Mankind and their Aim is to Cause a Civil Strife [among Muslims]’; The article is by the Author Muhammad Abd Al-Mun’im Al-Barry of the Al-Azhar University:

"…Allah said: 'Ask Them: People of the Book, why do you hinder those who believe, from the path of Allah, seeking to make it appear crooked while you are witnesses thereof? Allah is not unmindful of that which you do." [Surat Aal 'Imran, 99]

This Koranic verse warns us of the deception of the Jews who were described by Allah as the greatest enemies of the believers [Muslims]. Evoking civil-strife [Fitna] and dividing the ranks [of believers] are imprinted in their blood since their creation and until the Day of Judgment. They fish in troubled waters.

What they have been doing lately [regarding the Doha Summit] is an attempt to break the Arab and Muslim ranks into crumbs, using dubious economic conferences, the establishment of economic relations with some of our countries and the plotting with the enemies against us. This is their natural way and we must warn others about it and act in accordance with the Divine Command: 'Take fast hold, all together, of the rope of Allah’ [Surat Aal 'Imran, 103]; and also: 'Assist one another in piety and rectitude and assist not one another in sin and transgression.’ [Surat Al-Maida, 3]"
Aqidati, January 6, 1998

Glossary and Bibliography
Islamic terms:
Ahl Al-Kitab'The People of the Book’; the Jews and the Christians, given divine scriptures.
Ahl Al-D’imaPeople under patronage; non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians who are protected according to special religious rulings regarding their status under Islamic rule.
Al-AzharThe supreme Islamic religious institution in Egypt. Founded in 900 a.c.
Banu Al-Nadhir,
Banu Qaynuqa’a,
Banu Quraiza
Jewish tribes who lived in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century.
Dar Al-Islam A term from the Islam’s expansion era; defining the area under Islamic sovereignty, as opposed to the area that is not under the rule of Islam which is defined Dar Al-Harb ['War-Region’] whose inhabitants are Ahl Al-Harb
Fardh 'AinA religious commandment obligating each Muslim as an individual.
FatwaIslamic religious ruling.
'Ijma’aA consensus opinion; an Islamic principle of religious law.
'The Muslim Brotherhood’Ideological-Political Islamic movement. Founded in Egypt in the Twenties and expanded to most Muslim states in the form of local movements.
ShaeedA martyr who dies in the course of Jihad or in other circumstances that are also for the cause of Allah.
Shari’aIslamic religious law.
SiraThe Annals of the Prophet Muhammad’s life.
SunaThe Prophet Muhammad’s way; the majority faction in Islam.
Egyptian Press:
Al-ArabiA Cairo weekly published by the Nasserist opposition party.
Al-Usbu’A Cairo opposition weekly.
Al-DusturAn Egyptian opposition weekly published in London and Cyprus.
Al-Liwaa Al-ArabiA Cairo Islamic-Nationalistic weekly.
Al-MussawarA Cairo pro-government weekly.
Al-Sha’abA Cairo weekly published by the Islamic Labor Party.
'AqidatiA Cairo pro-government Islamic weekly.
OctoberA Cairo pro-government weekly.
Rose Al-YussufA Cairo semi-independent weekly.
Other Press:
Al-AyyamA Palestinian daily published in Ramallah; affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.
Al-Hayat AL-JadidaA Palestinian daily published in Gaza; affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.
The BBC political weekly in the Arabic language; published in London.
wa Al-Mithaq
An Israeli Islamic weekly.
Saut Al-Haqq
wa Al-Hurriya
An Israeli Islamic weekly.

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