Muslim leaders should not serve Israeli propaganda

A South Asian imam with a large black beard, wearing a brown turban with a white shawl around his upper chest, lays a wreath of red and white flowers in front of a monument to "the memory of the six million men, women and children who perished" (in the Holocaust). A line of nine or ten people, mostly men, including other imams stand behind him against a wall of large stones. A fire stands behind him with a jagged 'finger' pointing up out of it.
An imam lays flowers at Yad Vashem

For a long while, Israeli sympathisers have been trying to nurture a generation of Muslim leaders and influencers who might try to sway Muslim opinion towards, as they see it, a more ‘balanced’ view of Israel than what Muslims in the west have, which mainly consists of stories about Israeli oppression of Palestinians on the West Bank, their bombings of civilian targets in Gaza and increasing intolerance of Arab citizens of Israel itself. In the USA, this has taken the form of the “Muslim Leadership Initiative”; more recently, an outfit called Journey2Jerusalem took a ‘delegation’ of Muslim imams from the UK on an all-expenses-paid tour of Israel and the West Bank, meeting local Muslims both within Israel and in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Christian and Jewish leaders. They also visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, the Western Wall in Jerusalem and “villages on the Gaza border”. The group included Dr Musharraf Hussain al-Azhari, the chief executive of the Karimia Institute in Nottinghamshire, armed forces chaplain Asim Hafiz, “Shaykh Ghulam Rabbani, considered one of the world’s most eminent scholars” and Shaykh Mohammad Asrar who “heads the largest mosque in Leeds”.

The tour, as reported in Jewish News (whose website is part of the Times of Israel website), began in Akko (Acre in English; neither that nor the Arabic name, Akka, are given in the report) where the local chief rabbi told them that “there is no need for a legal limitation on noise from muezzin (the Muslim call to prayer) in Israel – unlike the UK – because noise levels are determined by local religious leaders is discussion and dialogue”, as if they deserved a medal for not stopping the Muslims that managed to hang on in Israel after 1948 from issuing the call to prayer in their own city. Muslims do not give the call to prayer in public in much of the UK because we are a minority; in places where the numbers are strong, the call is issued on some occasions such as for Friday prayer.

The article claims that they visited Al-Aqsa and “prayed with large Muslim congregations after being shown around by an imam whose role is to look after mosques in the south of the country”. Most of us know that in fact access to Al-Aqsa is restricted and that Muslims are prevented from coming to pray there on Friday from surrounding Arab towns, and also that Arabs are being driven out of East Jerusalem by Israeli residency and building permit laws. So, this is something of a showpiece for Israel’s “tolerance” while mosques, Muslim graveyards and other sites are destroyed elsewhere in Israel (most recently the mosque in Safed turned into a wine bar, of all things). It goes on:

Speaking to i24 News, Hafiz said: “To come here and actually see that people are going about their daily lives, and people from the Jewish community do interact with the Muslim community here, the Arab community, is absolutely fascinating.”

Of course, rabbis, imams and priests interact with each other in Jerusalem as they do anywhere else there are mixed communities. The same happens in a lot of Muslim countries as well as in the UK. That does not change the power dynamic in Israeli and Palestinian society: that Arab residency in East Jerusalem is restricted and Jewish settlements there and in the West Bank are expanding; that Palestinians are harassed by settlers and soldiers and their business obstructed by checkpoints; that Israel has built a wall which cuts into the West Bank to link settlements and cut off Palestinians’ access to their own land and to other Palestinian towns and villages; that Israel restricts the Palestinians’ water supply; that Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens have no say in the government which rules their lives. Religious leaders having friendly chats do not change the fact that there is oppression.

All of the imams mentioned come from one particular school of thought whose leaders have a recent history of promoting the idea that they are the peaceful, spiritual side of Islam while other Muslims promote violence and segregation (in fact, they are also known to be the most staunch supporters of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and many of them will defend not only that law, and some of the well-documented unjust imprisonments that have resulted, but also the murder of people who oppose it). This sect is also notorious for the extremely harsh condemnations they issue towards Muslims who disagree with them, which have included proclamations that certain scholars are outside Islam, which also impugns the standing of those who follow them and those whose chains of transmission come through them. To illustrate this, I remember once entering a south London curry house to find the TV on, showing a shaikh shouting in Urdu, and I asked for them to turn it down, or off, as it was disturbing me while I was trying to read and eat my dinner. A man told me who the shaikh was, a name I recognised (not one of the men who went on this trip), and said he was “very tolerant of other faiths” — yet they are often extremely harsh towards other Muslims such as so-called Wahhabis (which in their usage does not mean what it means when most Muslims use it).

So, let nobody be in any doubt, even if you can find a group of imams to tour Israel and admire all the co-existence and ‘tolerance’, know that the rest of us are not deceived, that we do not accept the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the destruction of Muslim sites in the Holy Land and the oppression of our brothers and sisters there and we will continue to expose their propaganda for what it is. We do not respect a Muslim ‘leader’ who is not loyal to the Muslim community and who throws it under the bus for the sake of sectarian point-scoring or political advantage.

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