At a time when the Muslim world seems to have been taken over by Islamic extremism, worshipping shahidim and virulent hatred of Israel and the west, Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi is an outspoken critic of this fanaticism, suicide bombings and jihad and supports the "Jewish divine right" to the Land of Israel. With a doctorate in Islamic sciences from the Institute for Islamic Studies and Research in Naples (by authorization of the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia), and ijazzah (authorization to teach) both Koranic exegesis and Islamic law from the prestigious University of al-Azhar as-Sharif in Cairo, Palazzi backs his somewhat surprising positions with citations from the Koran and traditional Muslim sources. The 45-year-old Sunni scholar was in Israel earlier this month, his first visit since shortly before 9/11, to attend a meeting of the newly-reconstituted Sanhedrin (religious high court, led by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz), lecture on Wahhabi terrorism and visit the Jewish community in Hebron. Speaking with In Jerusalem, Palazzi states that he views the dominance of Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi heresy as the main problem facing the Islamic world today. He views Wahhabi as a "totalitarian cult that stands for terror, massacre of civilians and permanent war against Jews, Christians and non-Wahhabi Muslims." Since the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, some 300 years ago, Sunni scholars have written hundreds of books and issued thousands of fatwas declaring Wahhabism to be a heretical cult, refuting its mistakes and exposing its deviances. And, by virtue of his ijazzah, Palazzi believes it is not only his right but also his duty to publicly refute this heresy. In this, he is not alone among Muslim scholars. What distinguishes Palazzi is his views on Jews and the Land of Israel. Palazzi believes that Israel exists by "divine right" and that the Koran clearly states (Sura 5:21) that God granted the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel and ordered them to settle there. In addition, it is predicted that before the end of days, God will bring the Children of Israel to retake possession of the Land, gathering them from the different countries and nations (Sura 17:104). Oddly enough, Palazzi's reading of the Koran is backed up by, of all sources, Al Qaida. The Al Qaida website recently carried an article entitled, "The Jews Are Unworthy of the Promised Land. As translated by DEBKAfile.com, the article reads, "Allah decided to test the Jews when they were still an oppressed people [while in Egypt]. He seeks to lead them to the path of faith and victory and therefore urges them to conquer the Land of Israel. They [the Jews] are even more afraid to fight for the Promised Land than they are of God. For this reason, the Jewish People does not find it hard to break the covenant between God and Abram which awarded the Land of Israel to the Jewish People for all generations." But while Al Qaida comes to the conclusion that the Jewish People has not lived up to its end of the bargain and therefore the covenant is abrogated, giving Muslims the right to the Land, Palazzi believes that the covenant is still very much in force. "In 1919, when the Hashemite Emir Feisal first heard of Zionism, he exclaimed that he was seeing what was announced in the Koran - the Jews coming back to the land." Palazzi points out. "And this was one of the reasons he signed his historic agreement with Chaim Weizmann." He blames the British for fomenting discord between Muslims and Jews and maintaining a "divide and conquer policy." According to Palazzi, until two decades ago, Arab opposition to the State of Israel was based on nationalism, not Islam. "The propaganda in Nasser's Egypt was based on Israel as a denial of Arab nationalism and the unity of the Arab world," he explains. "There was no idea of a revolutionary party based on Islam. Islam was considered a religion not related to politics." This changed with the collapse of Nasserism, the rise of oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the Iranian revolution. "When Arab nationalism was destroyed, this left a void, which was filled by Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism," he continues. "Because Israel borders on the Arab countries and is in the center of the Middle East, it is a more direct threat to Arab regimes. They are afraid that if there were normal relations between their countries and Israel, their citizens would be able to compare between the democracy and advanced society in Israel and their own backwardness." As for Jerusalem, although not mentioned by name in the Koran, Palazzi cites Islamic sources to prove that the city is the site of Solomon's Holy Temple. "Today, official Palestinian Authority propaganda denies any connection of the Jews to Jerusalem," Palazzi says. "In doing so, they are not only revising history but also classical Islamic sources. The Koran presents the same history as the Bible. This was clear to Muslim scholars for centuries - Al Aksa and Solomon's Temple are in the same place. When the Caliph Omar first arrived in Jerusalem, he called the city Bayet Al Makdis - Beit Hamikdash or the House of the Temple. This was shortened to Al Quds." While in Israel, Palazzi also took the time to travel to Hebron to visit the Jewish community. "I am particularly sensitive to Hebron," he claims. "This is a place that clearly reflects historical discrimination against Jews. If there is one place about which no one can question the right of Jews to live - even more so than Jerusalem - it is Hebron. To suggest that Jews should not live in Hebron is defiling Jewish heritage. Yet the world seems to ignore this." He continues, "Every political power seems to be interested in making Hebron free of a Jewish presence, as well as various Israeli governments. I am afraid that after Gaza, Hebron will be next. I went to visit the Jewish community to tell them that they are living in the land where Jews have more right to be than anywhere else." Palazzi was born in Rome to a non-observant Muslim family of Syrian origin who had been living in Italy for more than a century. He had no special interest in religion when he was growing up, but he was interested in spirituality and metaphysics. This led him to study philosophy at the State University of Rome. During this period, he became interested in Islam. Upon graduation, he went to Cairo to study. "There I studied under Sheikh Muhammed al-Mutawali as-Sharawi, one of the most outstanding Islamic leaders. He felt it was necessary for the Muslim world...to return to the days of Andalusia [the Golden Age of Spain] when we had good relations with the Jews. Sharawi was the one who convinced Sadat to open relations with Israel." Returning to Rome in 1984 after four years in Cairo, Palazzi found a changing Muslim community. Whereas most Muslims were once from Somalia and Afghanistan, the community had begun to experience mass immigration from the Middle East. "The extremists starting arriving and began to try to take control of the community," he relates. "That is when I started to distinguish my position from theirs. I took a clear stand on the Middle East - that there is no problem with the existence of Israel - and on developing good relations with the Jewish community." Palazzi feels that the level of propaganda under the repressive Arab regimes is so massive that people are not free to learn the truth. "The main role of Muslims in free countries is to speak out," he proclaims. "We have to convince the world of the nature of the threat of Wahhabism before it is too late." Palazzi's lecture on Wahhabi terrorism was sponsored by the Root and Branch Association, a small non-profit group that claims to promote cooperation between "B'nai Israel (Children of Israel) and B'nai Noach (Children of Noah) in Israel and abroad" and supports a largely right-wing and religious program. Palazzi is co-chair of Root and Branch's Islam-Israel Fellowship, which "promotes cooperation between Jews and Muslims both within the State of Israel and abroad, and between the State of Israel and Muslim nations, based upon a correct Jewish understanding of the Bible and Jewish tradition, and a correct Muslim understanding of the Qur'an and Islamic tradition." Palazzi made light of the risks inherent in making his opinions public, although on other occasions he has cited the names of Muslims leaders killed for proclaiming similar ideas. "My task is to help Muslims understand that Muslim fundamentalism contradicts the principles of our religion," he has written. "Doing so is not a theological game and risks lives." "Palazzi has been speaking out for years," notes Raphael Israeli, a professor at the Hebrew University's Truman Institute and Department of Middle East and Islamic Studies. "He is a lonely voice who is shunned by orthodox Islam. There are things written in the Koran as he cites them but then there are also contradictory things written. It all depends on where you put the emphasis." Says Israeli, "Not many Muslims are paying attention to him. Islamic fundamentalism is the winning direction. Maybe there are other Muslim intellectuals who think like him, but they are not heard. Maybe they are afraid to speak. If he lived in an Islamic country, he would have been killed long ago. But he is in the West, so he can speak." Adds Prof. Moshe Sharon, also of the Hebrew University's Department of Middle East and Islamic Studies as well as the Institute of Asian and African Studies, "Palazzi is talking about the true Islam, based on his understanding of the Koranic texts. What others use for fanaticism and war, he is saying can be read to show peaceful coexistence and the rights of the Jews to Israel... If you interpret the text correctly, you will find the positive. What he is doing is a wonderful thing."

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