A lone voice in the wilderness

A lone voice in the wild

Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi (photo credit: David Wilder-Hebron.com)
Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi
(photo credit: David Wilder-Hebron.com)
After a decade of having watched our conflict morph, he says, from a thorny Arab-Israeli problem to a seemingly unsolvable Muslim-Jewish one, Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, the director of the Italian Muslim Assembly and an outspoken critic of Islamic fanaticism and terrorism, has once again come here with a message of hope: Peace is possible between Islam and Judaism, between Israel and the Muslim world based on the Koran and the traditional Muslim sources. The 49-year-old Sunni scholar was in Israel for three weeks, his first visit in four years, during which time he toured Jerusalem, was a guest of the Jewish community in Hebron, and lectured at Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Center in Jerusalem (sponsored by the Root and Branch, where he is co-chair of the Islam-Israel Fellowship). The crux of what Palazzi has to say is that Israel exists by "divine right" not only according to the Bible but also according to the Koran. He notes that it is clearly stated in the Koran (Sura 5:21) that God gave 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). As a Muslim who accepts this premise of the Koran, Palazzi has no problem with Jewish sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel - including Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. During his visit here, he repeatedly urged Israel to assert its sovereignty by building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and wresting political control of the Wakf (the Supreme Muslim Authority) and the Temple Mount from the Palestinian Authority. While Palazzi's views are not what one generally hears, his scholarly credentials are impressive. He has 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 authorization to teach (ijazzah) both Koranic exegesis and Islamic law from the University of al-Azhar as-Sharif in Cairo. Palazzi sees the main problem facing the Islamic world, and also the West, as the dominance of Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi heresy. With respect to Israel, Palazzi believes that "for the first time in recent years, there is a situation in which time can work for Israel if the Israeli government has the courage to take some steps… including measures once thought inconceivable." For starters, Palazzi says that as a precondition for resuming negotiations Israel must insist that the Palestinian Authority accept Israel as a Jewish state. "What is the use of negotiating with someone who does not recognize who you are and what your role is?" he says. And in the meantime, Israel should keep on building and expanding in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. "It must be clear to the Palestinian Authority that time is not waiting for them. If they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, then Israel will just keep on building and growing… No country in the world can let foreign countries limit it." According to Palazzi, there is nothing in Islamic law that prohibits non-Muslims from the Temple Mount; Israel must assert its rights there. "Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, yet Israeli Jews are not allowed to walk freely on the Mount in their own city. Israeli sovereignty of the most important part of Jerusalem is in name only." Moshe Dayan made the initial mistake in 1967 by leaving control of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Jordanian-appointed Wakf, but Oslo made the situation even worse when the Palestinian Authority seized control of the Wakf and appointed its own grand mufti of Jerusalem, says Palazzi. Since then, the PA has been systematically denying that there ever was a Jewish temple on the Mount. In the long term, Palazzi feels that the only possible solution to the Temple Mount is for Israel to promote and develop its own Israeli Muslim scholars, trained abroad in a friendly Muslim country, to become local imams and eventually the mufti. "The Israeli government should appoint the grand mufti of Jerusalem and not the PA. This is what is done everywhere else in the world, even in non-Muslim countries. In France, the Muslim Supreme Council is appointed by the French president." PALAZZI THINKS the time is ripe for Israel to take these steps because of a number of new developments in the world. The rise of Shi'ite Iran and its alliance with Hamas and Hizbullah have changed the dynamics for Saudi Arabia, a major funding source for Islamic terrorism. "Wahhabis are more against Shi'ites than against Jews and Christians," Palazzi explains. "The fact that Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons and become the regional power is a problem not only for Israel but also for the Saudis. Some 90 percent of the oil in Saudi Arabia is concentrated in the area of the country inhabited by Shi'ites, a Saudi minority without rights. The Saudis see the problem with Shi'ites in Yemen and in Oman and feel surrounded. This is why they are not investing as much in anti-Israel terrorism as they did before. The anti-Israel verbal level is the same, but they have no real intention of supporting the start of a new intifada." And while there is always the danger that Iran will try to do something, Palazzi believes that Israel is in a strong position not to come under physical attack right now. However, the attitude of the Obama administration toward Israel has weakened the country politically. "It is telling that in Cairo, Obama made a very soft declaration about Iran but reserved his most violent comments for Israel, calling the position of the Israeli government concerning settlements really negative. Nevertheless, I don't think a US president can go much beyond this." With Obama tied down in Afghanistan and with Iran, Palazzi believes that he will not really be able to press Israel much further. In Europe, there is a rising demand that the PA account for the billions in funding it has received from the EU. Palazzi claims that in the face of the current economic situation, public opinion is turning against endless funding of the PA. "This is the reason why the decision to fund the PA is made by the EU and not the individual countries. That way, European politicians can say to their constituents, 'It was not our government that decided but the EU, and we can't oppose the majority of the union.'" PALAZZI WAS born in Rome to a non-observant Muslim family of Syrian origin that had been living in Italy for more than a century. During his studies in philosophy at the State University of Rome, he became interested in Islam. Upon graduation, he went to Cairo to study, where he was a pupil of Sheikh Muhammed al-Mutawali as-Sharawi, one of the most outstanding Islamic scholars of his time. Sharawi felt it was necessary for the Muslim world to develop positive relations with Israel. He was the man who convinced Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to initiate relations with Israel. When Palazzi returned to Rome four years later, he found a changing Muslim community, with extremists beginning to take control. "This is when I started to distinguish my position from theirs. I took a clear stand that there is no problem with the existence of Israel and in developing good relations with the Jewish community," he recalls. Often accused of being a lone voice in the wilderness, Palazzi points out that apart from Iran, no Muslims are criticizing him. He has received invitations to attend conferences in Saudi Arabia and has discussed his views in Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey. He has also been invited to conferences throughout Europe and had speaking engagements in North America. He maintains an Internet site and receives many inquiries from Muslims around the world. "The path of peace and tolerance is hard. There is a Hadith [narration of Muhammad] that says that the time will come when learning will be as one wandering in the desert. If someone is teaching the original Sunni Islam, he has to be doing it by himself. The Wahhabis are affluent and have unlimited funds for propaganda and organization. On the practical level, the situation is very difficult. But there is hope for change," he says. This change will not come quickly. If oil is replaced as the main source of energy, leading to the Saudis' losing a great part of their wealth or the regime collapses, the restoration of real Islam will only be a matter of time, according to Palazzi. The situation in Iran - if the regime collapses and a pro-Western government replaces it - would also be a game changer. Then a new generation of Muslims in the West, no longer under foreign influence, would be free to lead the way to a return to real Islam. Even so Palazzi, working on a shoestring budget with volunteers, is encouraged. "I see some real changes in Italy," he relates. "When Iran called for the destruction of Israel, we were able to hold a large demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy. We even had other Muslim organizations - Moroccans and Iranian exiles - in Rome demonstrating with us in support of Israel's right to exist, along with Jewish groups. Not so long ago, I would never have believed this possible - to have such a demonstration and have Muslim organizations other than mine taking part. I also am beginning to see changes in the Italian media with respect to Israel. Little by little, I am seeing the fruits of what I am doing," he says. "All these changes together are why I think this is the moment for Israel to move to make its position stronger. This would benefit both Israeli and Arab residents who want to live in peace. And when the day comes when no one will say that the rebuilding of a Jewish Temple is a threat, then there is nothing in Islam against it. The rebuilding of the Temple will be a time of redemption and a blessing for Israel and all the nations," Palazzi concludes.