(photo credit: )
Hazrat Maulana Jameel Ahmed Ilyasi, president of the All-India Association of Imams and Mosques, will arrive in Israel on Saturday as part of a "peace delegation" of Indian Muslim leaders.
"Our visit to Israel will be historical in terms of developing a dialogue between Judaism and Islam in the Indian subcontinent, where more than 40 percent of the world Muslim population lives," Ilyasi said in a statement ahead of the visit.
Ilyasi is the leader of some 500,000 imams serving an estimated 200 million Indian Muslims.
"We are coming with the message of peace and goodwill from Indian Muslims who believe in the Indian tradition of resolving issues through dialogue and peaceful means," Ilyasi's statement continued. "Interaction with both Palestinian and Jewish sisters and brothers and their religious leadership will lay a solid foundation for future engagement."
A guest of the American Jewish Committee and the Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council, Ilyasi and his delegation come despite angry protests in some Muslim Indian media outlets.
While most of the delegation will arrive on Wednesday, Ilyasi himself has delayed his arrival until Saturday in order to personally face the planned Friday mosque protests against his visit, the AJC said.
The delegation will spend six days in Israel and is slated to meet with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the two chief rabbis.
The visit follows a trip to India earlier in the year by a group of rabbis, including Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and the AJC's David Rosen, which concluded with a call for religious leaders "to condemn killings, reject extremism and the misuse of religion for acts of violence. Suicide is a forbidden act in Islam, and therefore suicidal attacks cannot find sanction."
"Members of this delegation have direct influence on a wide cross-section of some 200 million Muslims all over India," Rosen explained ahead of the current visit. "The fact that the delegation is raising so much criticism in India must encourage the moderates to express their message."
Furthermore, he said, "we have developed an interreligious dialogue with the major Hindu leadership in India, and this relationship with the Indian Muslim leadership is no less important for bilateral [Israel-India] relations."
According to Rosen, Ilyasi's influence in Indian Islam is significant. "Indian Muslims are much more chaotic [than Jewish institutions]," he explained. "Islam has no formal hierarchy and therefore no binding structure. But even so, [Ilyasi] is head of over half a million imams, and he's important to all the elements within that movement. You can't say there's anybody above him."