The Palestinian Narrative Regarding Jerusalem
From the Oslo Agreement in 1993, Arafat realized that “Jerusalem” has to be the focal of the Palestinian Authority’s claims together with the “the occupation” slogan. Since, the Palestinian Authority has initiated an unprecedented campaign of historical revision and anti-Israel libels concerning Jerusalem. The aim of this strategy is being the erasure and denial of 3,000 years of Jewish history in Jerusalem to replace it as it was theirs.
On October 6, 2002, Arafat signed the “Jerusalem Law,” which states that Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state and emphasized complete Palestinian sovereignty over the city, including sovereignty over all of its holy places. Moreover, any agreement or law that contradicts this law and is concluded by any party whatsoever, would be considered null and void. The Jerusalem Law could only be amended by a majority vote of two-thirds of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The Palestinian propagation indicates that Jerusalem carries a unique and total sanctity for Islam and the Palestinians in particular. It is the religious, political and spiritual capital of Palestine solely, and the Jews have absolutely no connection and no rights to it. Jerusalem is presented as an exclusively Muslim city and any Jewish life in Jerusalem is labeled as “Judaization.”
Indeed, they reach the highest fabrication and falsification ever by disregarding science, history and archeology. Even the past existence of the existence and all what is written in the Old and New Testaments is being denied. In their narrative, the entire al-Aqşā mosque, in fact the entire territory has always been through all history a purely Islamic property from the beginning of history, while Israel acts to destroy al-Aqṣā Mosque and to reestablish its fake Temple (al-Haykal al-Maz’ūm).
The Palestinian leadership’s declarations are pronounced thousands of times every year on the political, religious, educational and the communication outlets. It is as if they believe that he who reiterate his propagation more and more – is victorious.
These are uttered by the political leadership from Arafat and Abu Māzen (Mahmoud Abbās), through the religious leadership from Taysīr al-Tamīmī and Mahmoud al-Ḥabbāsh, and by the Palestinian ministers and political elite.
Herewith are quotations presented among the huge amount that exhibit and expose the Palestinian state of affairs concerning Jerusalem. It is worthwhile to state that as the Palestinian “Independence Day” was initiated from 1998, the chief onslaught to introduce the Jerusalem campaign has its peak from 2008 on.
Yasser Arafat’s uncompromising position on Jerusalem was presented to President Clinton, at Camp David talks:
The Palestinian demand for sovereignty over Jerusalem is not limited to the mosques on the Temple Mount and the Armenian quarter. It applies to the entire city. All of it. All of it. All of it. Palestinian peace is the peace of al-Aqṣā … Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine… We will redeem Jerusalem with our spirits and our blood. If we give up on Jerusalem, the entire Palestinian regime and political establishment will collapse. I will not betray my people. I will not sell Jerusalem. We demand full sovereignty over Jerusalem… This is not just the task of the Palestinian people. It must be advanced by the Arabs, the Muslims and the Christians.
In the resumption of the Intifada campaign, Arafat declared:
The Palestinian caravan is on its way to the first Qiblah and the third Haram, the place where our Prophet Muhammad descended to the sky. Noble Jerusalem, the Capital of the Palestinian State. We are at the center of world and Islamic campaign against Zionism and the imperialist aggressors.
Mahmoud Abbās (Abu Māzen), the Palestinian Authority Chairman is more extremist concerning his attitude of Jerusalem. For him, the Palestinian People was appointed by the entire Islamic Nation to be the guardian of Islam’s sacred property in Jerusalem. Abbas expresses the absolutist and uncompromising demand of the Palestinians to the effect that Jerusalem is entirely their property.
For example, in 2011 and 2012 he used the phrase “al-Haykal al-Maz’ūm” the fake Temple, more than 100 times. For him, the Palestinians are a nation entrusted by the entire Muslim world over the Islamic holy sites and there will be no concessions in Jerusalem. Therefore, bringing Jerusalem back to the hands of the Palestinians is Fard Ayn, a compulsory Jihad war on all the Muslims. Accordingly, his following declaration stormed and ignited “the Intifādah of Stones and Knives,” from October 2015.
We are in Jerusalem, and we will remain in it. We will continue to cling to every inch of its land…. We honor and salute the Murābitīn [those carrying out and fighting in the front, to protect the Islamic land]… We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah. Every Shahīd will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah… Jews are filth, they desecrate and defile Jerusalem… We won’t allow Jews’ filthy feet on our sacred sites… al-Aqṣā is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem…. The Palestinians must prevent the Jews from entering the Sanctuary. This is our Sanctuary.
Here are few selections of his attitude of Jerusalem. These declaration represent, in fact constitute the basis of the Palestinians lies and fabrications.
Israel ultimately aim to destroy al-Aqṣā Mosque and build their alleged fake Temple… take over the Muslim holy sites, and destroy its institutions in order to empty it, uproot its residents, and continue its occupation and Judaization… There will be no peace and security unless the occupation will be evacuated from our holy city, the eternal capital of our state.
The Jews’ so-called Temple is nothing but legends and myths, and greatest crime and forgery in history. Jerusalem’s Jewish history is delusional myths. They are continuing their attempt to change Jerusalem… They imagine that by brute force they can invent a Jewish history. The story of the Temple is nothing but a collection of legends and myths… In the spirit of the delusions and legends, they try to get rid of al-Aqṣā and establish their so-called Temple – the greatest crime and forgery in history. Israel’s claim to al-Aqṣā is “empty and false… This is a falsification of the history.
We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims that the Jews have a historical right dating back to 3000 years B.C.E., we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history. This is the truth, which must be understood, in order to say: you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.
Mahmoud Abbās’ speech in the “Jerusalem Conference” in Qatar:
Israel… uproots Palestinian history and culture in Jerusalem for thousands of years… Israel is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, to rid the city of religious and cultural structures, symbols and values… robbing Palestinians’ historical and religious character.
Mahmoud Abbās’ words at the International Conference for the Support of Jerusalem, organized by the UN, in Ankara, on May 12, 2014:
Palestinian presence in Jerusalem is dated 5000 years old. The Palestinians are the only permanent element in Jerusalem, while the others came and went. Israel threatens the city’s Islamic-Palestinian identity. Its grave dangers threaten Jerusalem…
Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories and preacher at al-Aqṣā Mosque [the Jewish Temple Mount]
The Jews say that this place was once the site of their temple. The truth is that there was never any Jewish temple during that entire period, and there was no prayer area there for Jews. Israel is threatening to destroy al-Aqṣā mosque in order to build its imaginary temple on its ruins. The esplanades of al-Aqṣā mosque, its walls and its structures are an Islamic endowment until the judgment day. Only Muslims hold the exclusive right to this place.
Sheikh Yusuf Idā’is, PA Minister of Religious Affairs,
Jerusalem and the al-Aqṣā Mosque belongs only to the Muslims, no matter how many forgeries and fabrications the occupation state makes. Muhammad’s night journey and ascent to heaven emphasize the Arab nature of Jerusalem and its Palestinian nature. The Arab and Islamic nations must defend al-Aqṣā Mosque, stand determinedly against settlers’ invasions to Judaize al-Aqṣā and defile it with Talmudic-Jewish ceremonies.
The following are selection of declarations and claims that appeared on Fatah television during three months alone as follows:
There was never a Jewish Temple in our Jerusalem. This is a legend and a myth invented by the Zionists to legitimize the Israeli imperialist occupation. Jerusalem was built by the Jebusite Arabs. Malchitzedek, the Arab king, built it six thousand years ago, and originally called it Yabus. There never was a glorious city so close to Allah’s kingdom as Jerusalem, and its inhabitants were originally Arabs. Its sanctity was shaped by Islam, beginning with ‘Umar Bin al-Khattāb, who captured the city from the Christian infidels… Israel will disappear from the map, like a chapter of history’s falsified pages. The Jews do not even have one stone in Jerusalem. Since time immemorial, there was only al-Aqṣā and there are no remnants of the so-called temple.
What the Jews are doing by digging in Jerusalem is a crime unprecedented in human history. It is an attempt to forge history. The Zionists produce stones with signs of their supposed “temple”. They move authentic Muslim stones and bring others instead, passing them off as Jewish stones. They even bring dead bodies from outside, as their ancestors. All of this is done to Judaize occupied Jerusalem, in order to substantiate the myth and legend that al-Aqṣā is where their temple stood.
Israel forges well-known historical facts taken from Palestinian heritage and ties them to a falsified Jewish history that is utterly absent from our land. Their so-called Temple is an attempt to rob Palestinian heritage, and Israel doesn’t have any history of its own.
Saeb Erekat, “I am the son of Jericho… the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.
According to Palestinians even the Jewish oath that reads “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its purpose” (Psalms 137:5) was authored by a Crusader king and stolen by “Zionists” for political purposes. However, though the Palestinian Authority denied the Jewish oath regarding Jerusalem, it decided to create a similar oath as a popular indoctrination: “Let my right hand forget me, let my left hand forget me. Let the light of the eye and the sighs of the songs forget me… if I forget Jerusalem”. Every so often groups of children appear on Palestinian TV chanting “I swear by the tears of the child…in the name of the youth, Jerusalem will return to us… We will free every centimeter [of the city] from the hands of the infidel.”
The al-Aqsa Foundation statements are summarized as follows:
Those who founded Jerusalem were the Jebusite and Canaanite Palestinians, and they inhabited it in the fifth millennium BC. The holy city did not carry any Hebrew name in history, and the Hebrew language did not exist there or anywhere else, it was Aramaic. There was no Temple in Jerusalem… the tribe of Israel is a Yemenite Arab tribe that has passed from the world.
Our Jerusalem was never the capital of a thing called ‘Israel,’ not of the previous and not of the present entity. Jews have no connection to this land, not 3,000 years ago, and not 100 years ago. Israel has no genetic, anthropologic, national, or historical connection to the biblical Arab Yemenite tribe that is now extinct.
Salwa Ḥabīb, Deputy Minister of Jerusalem Affairs
The Palestinian people has been present in Jerusalem for thousands of years, whether it was in Babylon, Assyria or Canaan, the Palestinians gathered in the area before anything else, centuries before the Jewish religion… They are stealing history and geography.
Bahjat Ḥabāshneh, a Palestinian lecturer
There is no text, not in the Talmud and not in Jewish Bible that gives holiness to Jerusalem. The source of the sanctity and purity of Jerusalem, and the existence of a mosque in it are only in the Islamic texts.
Appraisal of Palestinian’s Narrative Concerning the Jews and Jerusalem
Comparing the Palestinians’ declarations to Islamic Scriptures and classical exegetes reveals the huge ocean-deep difference that brings to attention how the Palestinians not only distort and twist history but also invent a totally new fabricated history. Moreover, with their detached from reality propaganda they falsify and twist attested facts of history and science.
As typical of Arab-Islamic culture, the totality of the Palestinian’s demands is that no other religion has any significance in Jerusalem because everything there belongs to Islam. That view is accompanied by all-encompassing practical implications, namely the claim to total control of the entire area and utter rejection of all others claims to, or connection with, Jerusalem. Everything found in that area is the possession of Islam and theirs, for which they require no scientific and archaeological confirmation or evidence. Therefore, no other political-religious entity needs acquiesce to that claim. It belongs to them because they said so, without the need of scientific proofs, and if one disagrees, their reaction is murderous violence. That typically “totalistic” view is singularly applicable in the case of Jerusalem.
Dennis Ross, chief American negotiator, accounts the Camp David Summit of July 2000, and attributes much of its failure to Yasser Arafat, who not only repeated “old mythologies” but invented “a new one … [that] the Temple did not exist in Jerusalem but in Nablus.”
Palestinians’ outrageous statements and fabrication invented to promote false political agenda are part of ongoing efforts to negate Israel’s deep ties to Jerusalem, to challenge an essential element of the Jewish faith, to twist historical truths and facts, and to replace Jewish historical rights by their own.
For example, they should have known that “Jerusalem” is mentioned in the Jewish Bible 669 times and “Zion” appears 154 times, a total of 823 references. The Temple Mount (Hebrew: Har Habayit), is identified as the area of Mount Moriyah where Abraham offered up his son in sacrifice, and where the First and Second Jewish Temples were established. They are even mentioned in the Qur’an (17:2-8).
Arafat should have known that the pagan town of Nablus (the Arabic pronunciation of the Greek “Neapolis”) was founded by the Roman Emperor Vespasian several years after his victory over the Jews and destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Therefore, the Jewish Temple sanctuaries could not be in Nablus. This is another fabrication from the Palestinian’s imaginative creation.
Another indication is that “Jerusalem” as an important political-religious aim was also not mentioned by Yasser Arafat’s Fath, (Ḥarakat Tahrīr Filastīn) established in October 1959, nor by Ahmad Shuqeiry’s Palestinian National Organization (Munazzamat at-Tahrīr al-Filastīnīyah) established in May 1964. In its original Covenant from 1964, there is no mentioning of Jerusalem whatsoever. Only in its amended Covenant from 1968 there was a slight change. However, only in the middle of the 1990’s Arafat “recalled” on Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.
Unfortunately the Palestinians efforts have succeeded, as the world is mired with politics and not with historical and scientific truth. The United Nations, the organization that is supposed to keep peace in the world, is now deadly controlled by the Islamic states under the title of Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which passes disgraceful and despicable imagined resolutions against Israel.
On October 20, 2015, the Palestinians, backed by six Arab states, succeeded in erasing the historical connection between Jews and the Jewish Temple Mount by UNESCO to list the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron; Rachel Tomb in Bethlehem are merely Muslim sites. The executive board of UNESCO adopted a resolution on April 15, 2016, that ignores the historic Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The final resolution of October 13, 2016, refers to the entire Jewish Temple Mount area as the al-Aqṣā Mosque, the Islamic Ḥaram ash-Sharīf, the Noble Sanctuary. This is scandalous, appalling and deplorable; but this is the face of the UN=Islamic Nations.
The Palestinian onslaught to deny the connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, is part of a large strategy of Islamic appropriation of the Biblical Jewish past. Professor Jacob Lassner, Claims the “… the Muslim response to the Jews and Judaism stemmed from an intense competition to occupy the center of a stage held sacred by both faiths. The story of the Jews was a history that Muslims appropriated in the Qur’an, its commentaries and other Islamic texts.” The Palestinian version of the history of Jerusalem belongs to this category as well.
The best way to approach this refutations is precisely by analyzing ancient and medieval Christian sources, modern scholarship and archeological excavations. The references to Jerusalem in classical texts increase our knowledge of Jews and Judaism in the ancient world and demonstrate their historical attachment. Professor Lee Levine research brings excellent historical and archeological sources which clearly demonstrate the Jewish character of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period. Professor Eilat Mazar shows the amount of rich archaeological sources of the Temple Mount excavations and Jewish life in ancient times.
The ancient Greeks probably were the first to record information about the culture and political life of the Jews. Levine summarizes with huge evidence the varied reactions of Jews to the impact of Hellenism and the significance of Hellenization in Jewish history of the Second Temple and Talmudic periods. Professor Martin Goodman brings documents and huge evidence to the Greek and Roman attitudes to Jews and Judaism. One can analyze the issue from the negative side, the deep animosity of the Greek and Roman empires to the Jews.
The distinguished Professor Bernard Lewis notes that the Roman rulers renamed Judea “Syria-Palaestina” and Jerusalem as “Aelia Capitolina” in 137 CE, in order to “stamp out the embers not only of the Bar Kokhba revolt but of Jewish nationhood and statehood…” with the aim “of obliterating its historic Jewish identity.” Professor Peter Schaefer summarizes the issue: the animosity towards the Jews in the Land of Israel strongly proves the powerful presence of the Jews and their existence in the Land of Israel.
Indeed, from this short list of scientific historical and archaeological evidence from which one can clearly understand how the claims of the Palestinians, without any scientific corroboration, are ridiculous, detached from reality and based on mere lies and fabrications. More important, they also expose two big lies of the Palestinians: 1) the Islamic attitude towards the Jews; and 2) the Islamic relationships concerning Jerusalem.
To be followed.
India-UAE tourism and education linkages
In spite of the continued uncertainty with regard to the trajectory of the covid19 pandemic, globally, countries are trying to return to normalcy. Significantly, the performance of United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 was not just back to pre-covid levels, but actually managed to do better.
H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises and Chairman of the UAE Tourism Council highlighted these point while providing tourism figures for Q1 2022.Hotels received an estimated six million visitors in the first quarter of the year – a rise of 10% from 2019. Revenues for the first quarter of 2022, were AED (United Arab Emirates Dinar) 11 billion or USD 3 billion (2.9 billion) which was a jump of 20% from the first quarter of 2019.
The stellar performance of UAE’s tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 is being attributed to a number of factors including two major events — the Dubai Expo 2020 and the World’s Coolest winter campaign.
In order to attract more visitors to the Dubai Expo 2020, UAE had also relaxed conditions for international travellers. The Emirate has also introduced new visitor visa categories with an eye on giving a boost to tourism. What is remarkable is that during the first quarter of 2022, average occupancy increased 25% from 3 nights to 4 nights and witnessed an 80% growth (no other country had such high occupancy rates)
The total number of tourists received was 4 million, and not surprisingly, Indian nationals along with tourists from UK, US and Russia accounted for a significant percentage of tourists to UAE. While other countries like Singapore have also opened their borders to international tourists, including Indians, and removed restrictions, the biggest advantage the UAE has is its geographical location – especially for tourists from the South Asian region. Given that the travelling time is less, even short breaks are possible.
Apart from this, getting a UAE visa is relatively easier than one for the west and even ASEAN countries. UAE also has enough to offer for families in terms of shopping, recreation etc. There is also a wide variety of options, as far as hotels are concerned. Since a significant number of Indians have business links or even offices in Dubai, in many cases holidays are coupled up with business trips. The fact that UAE hosts important cricketing events – in 2021 it hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 and T20 world cup – will help it in attracting more Indian tourists in the future.
UAE is not only likely to continue to remain as a favoured tourist destination, but in the near future, it is also likely to attract more international students, especially from India. Apart from its geographical location, and the fact that it is home to a substantial population of South Asian expats, it is also home to a number of campuses of UK and US universities.
Most importantly with an eye on attracting qualified professionals and researchers, UAE has introduced a long term residency visa, dubbed as Golden Visa for researchers, medical professionals and those within the scientific and knowledge fields, and remarkable students. Here it would be pertinent to point out that UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which came into effect earlier this month permits easier access for Indian engineers, IT professionals, accountancy professionals and nurses. The introduction of short term work visas will also help in attracting professionals from India.
In the past, one of the reasons why UAE lost out to other countries, in attracting professionals and students from South Asia (though the number of Indian professionals in UAE has been increasing in recent years), who preferred the West, Australia or Singapore, was the fact that UAE did not provide long term residency.
With the introduction of long-term visas, it is not only professionals, but even students who otherwise may have sought to pursue education in the west who will now look towards the UAE. One of the options, which students from India could go for is the dual degree program, which has been introduced by many UK universities, where they spend some time in UAE and the rest in UK. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that UAE universities are also offering scholarships with an eye on attracting international students. One of the provisions of the India-UAE Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) which both countries signed earlier this year is that India will set up an IIT in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has been seeking to re-invent for some years. A good example of this is the UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The Gulf nation has been able not only to handle covid19 successfully, but with its innovative and visionary thinking it has been able to do remarkably well in attracting tourists. Its ability to think out of the box will enable it to emerge as an important economic hub. UAE is likely to not just remain a favoured tourist destination, but also could emerge as a top preference for Indian nationals to study and work.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s heady days
These are heady days for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
With King Salman home after a week in hospital during which he had a colonoscopy, rumours are rife that succession in the kingdom may not be far off.
Speculation is not limited to a possible succession. Media reports suggest that US President Joe Biden may visit Saudi Arabia next month for a first meeting with the crown prince.
Mr. Biden called Saudi Arabia a pariah state during his presidential election campaign. He has since effectively boycotted Mr. Bin Salman because of the crown prince’s alleged involvement in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Mr. Bin Salman has denied any involvement but said he accepted responsibility for the killing as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Mr. Bin Salman waited for his 86-year-old father to return from the hospital before travelling to Abu Dhabi to offer his condolences for the death of United Arab Emirates President Khaled bin Zayed and congratulations to his successor, Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown prince’s one-time mentor.
Mr. Bin Salman used the composition of his delegation to underline his grip on Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. In doing so, he was messaging the international community at large, and particularly Mr. Biden, that he is in control of the kingdom no matter what happens.
The delegation was made up of representatives of different branches of the ruling Al Saud family, including Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed, the eldest son of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the detained brother of King Salman.
Even though he holds no official post, Mr. Abdulaziz’s name topped the Saudi state media’s list of delegates accompanying Mr. Bin Salman.
His father, Mr. Ahmed, was one of three members of the Allegiance Council not to support Mr. Bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince in 2017. The 34-member Council, populated by parts of the Al-Saud family, was established by King Abdullah in 2009 to determine succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Bin Salman has detained Mr. Ahmed as well as Prince Mohamed Bin Nayef, the two men he considers his foremost rivals, partly because they are popular among US officials.
Mr. Ahmed was detained in 2020 but never charged, while Mr. Bin Nayef stands accused of corruption. Mr. Ahmed returned to the kingdomn in 2018 from London, where he told protesters against the war in Yemen to address those responsible, the king and the crown prince.
Mr. Abdulaziz’s inclusion in the Abu Dhabi delegation fits a pattern of Mr. Bin Salman appointing to office younger relatives of people detained since his rise in 2015. Many were arrested in a mass anti-corruption campaign that often seemed to camouflage a power grab that replaced consultative government among members of the ruling family with one-man rule.
Mr. Bin Salman likely takes pleasure in driving the point home as Mr. Biden mulls a pilgrimage to Riyadh to persuade the crown prince to drop his opposition to increasing the kingdom’s oil production and convince him that the United States remains committed to regional security.
The crown prince not only rejected US requests to help lower oil prices and assist Europe in reducing its dependency on Russian oil as part of the campaign to force Moscow to end its invasion of Ukraine but also refused to take a phone call from Mr. Biden.
Asked a month later whether Mr. Biden may have misunderstood him, Mr. Bin Salman told an interviewer: “Simply, I do not care.”
Striking a less belligerent tone, Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Hudson Institute visiting fellow and former editor-in-chief of Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English, noted this month that “Saudi Arabia laments what it sees as America’s wilful dismantling of an international order that it established and led for the better part of a century.”
Mr. Alyahya quoted a senior Saudi official as saying: “A strong, dependable America is the greatest friend Saudi Arabia can have. It stands to reason, then, that US weakness and confusion is a grave threat not just to America, but to us as well.”
The United States has signalled that it is shifting its focus away from the Middle East to Asia even though it has not rolled back its significant military presence.
Nonetheless, Middle Eastern states read a reduced US commitment to their security into a US failure to respond robustly to attacks by Iran and Iranian-backed Arab militias against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the Biden administration’s efforts to revive a moribund 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Several senior US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA director Bill Burns, met with the crown prince during trips to the kingdom last year. Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the crown prince.
In one instance, Mr. Bin Salman reportedly shouted at Mr. Sullivan after he raised Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The crown prince was said to have told the US official that he never wanted to discuss the matter again and that the US could forget about its request to boost Saudi oil production.
Even so, leverage in the US-Saudi relationship goes both ways.
Mr. Biden may need Saudi Arabia’s oil to break Russia’s economic back. By the same token, Saudi Arabia, despite massive weapon acquisitions from the United States and Europe as well as arms from China that the United States is reluctant to sell, needs the US as its security guarantor.
Mr. Bin Salman knows that he has nowhere else to go. Russia has written itself out of the equation, and China is neither capable nor willing to step into the United States’ shoes any time soon.
Critics of Mr. Biden’s apparent willingness to bury the hatchet with Mr. Bin Salman argue that in the battle with Russia and China over a new 21st-century world order, the United States needs to talk the principled talk and walk the principled walk.
In an editorial, The Washington Post, for whom Mr. Khashoggi was a columnist, noted that “the contrast between professed US principles and US policy would be stark and undeniable” if Mr. Biden reengages with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi religious moderation: the world’s foremost publisher of Qur’ans has yet to get the message
When the religious affairs minister of Guinea-Conakry visited Jeddah last week, his Saudi counterpart gifted him 50,000 Qur’ans.
Saudi Islamic affairs minister Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh offered the holy books as part of his ministry’s efforts to print and distribute them and spread their teachings.
The Qur’ans were produced by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, which annually distributes millions of copies. Scholar Nora Derbal asserts that the Qur’ans “perpetuate a distinct Wahhabi reading of the scripture.”
Similarly, Saudi Arabia distributed in Afghanistan in the last years of the US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani thousands of Qur’ans produced by the printing complex, according to Mr. Ghani’s former education minister, Mirwais Balkhi. Mr. Balkhi indicated that the Qur’ans were identical to those distributed by the kingdom for decades.
Mr. Ghani and Mr. Balkhi fled Afghanistan last year as US troops withdrew from the country and the Taliban took over.
Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported last year that Saudi Arabia, pressured for some two decades post-9/11 by the United States and others to remove supremacist references to Jews, Christian, and Shiites in its schoolbooks, had recently made significant progress in doing so.
However, the two groups noted that Saudi Arabia had kept in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.
The same appears true for the world’s largest printer and distributor of Qur’ans, the King Fahd Complex.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since his rise in 2015, been primarily focussed on social and economic rather than religious reform.
Mr. Bin Salman significantly enhanced professional and personal opportunities for women, including lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening gender segregation and enabled the emergence of a Western-style entertainment sector in the once austere kingdom.
Nevertheless, Saudi Islam scholar Besnik Sinani suggests that “state pressure on Salafism in Saudi Arabia will primarily focus on social aspects of Salafi teaching, while doctrinal aspects will probably receive less attention.”
The continued production and distribution of Qur’ans that included unaltered ultra-conservative interpretations sits uneasily with Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to emphasize nationalism rather than religion as the core of Saudi identity and project a more moderate and tolerant image of the kingdom’s Islam.
The Saudi spin is not in the Arabic text of the Qur’an that is identical irrespective of who prints it, but in parenthetical additions, primarily in translated versions, that modify the meaning of specific Qur’anic passages.
Commenting in 2005 on the King Fahd Complex’s English translation, the most widely disseminated Qur’an in the English-speaking world, the late Islam scholar Khaleel Mohammed asserted that it “reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture.”
Religion scholar Peter Mandaville noted in a recently published book on decades of Saudi export of ultra-conservative Islam that “it is the kingdom’s outsized role in the printing and distribution of the Qur’an as rendered in other languages that becomes relevant in the present context.”
Ms. Derbal, Mr. Sinani and this author contributed chapters to Mr. Mandaville’s edited volume.
The King Fahd Complex said that it had produced 18 million copies of its various publications in 2017/18 in multiple languages in its most recent production figures. Earlier it reported that it had printed and distributed 127 million copies of the Qur’an in the 22 years between 1985 and 2007. The Complex did not respond to emailed queries on whether parenthetical texts have been recently changed.
The apparent absence of revisions of parenthetical texts reinforces suggestions that Mr. Bin Salman is more concerned about socio-political considerations, regime survival, and the projection of the kingdom as countering extremism and jihadism than he is about reforming Saudi Islam.
It also spotlights the tension between the role Saudi Arabia envisions as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and the needs of a modern state that wants to attract foreign investment to help ween its economy off dependency on oil exports.
Finally, the continued distribution of Qur’ans with seemingly unaltered commentary speaks to the balance Mr. Bin Salman may still need to strike with the country’s once-powerful religious establishment despite subjugating the clergy to his will.
The continued global distribution of unaltered Qur’an commentary calls into question the sincerity of the Saudi moderation campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with rival efforts by other major Muslim countries to project themselves as beacons of a moderate form of Islam.
Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League convened some 100 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders to “establish a set of values common to all major world religions and a vision for enhancing understanding, cooperation, and solidarity amongst world religions.”
Once a major Saudi vehicle for the global propagation of Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, the League has been turned into Mr. Bin Salman’s megaphone. It issues lofty statements and organises high-profile conferences that project Saudi Arabia as a leader of moderation and an example of tolerance.
The League, under the leadership of former justice minister Mohammed al-Issa, has emphasised its outreach to Jewish leaders and communities. Mr. Al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 on a ground-breaking visit to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland.
However, there is little evidence, beyond Mr. Al-Issa’s gestures, statements, and engagement with Jewish leaders, that the League has joined in a practical way the fight against anti-Semitism that, like Islamophobia, is on the rise.
Similarly, Saudi moderation has not meant that the kingdom has lifted its ban on building non-Muslim houses of worship on its territory.
The Riyadh conference followed Nahdlatul Ulama’s footsteps, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement with 90 million followers in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and most populous democracy. Nahdlatul Ulama leader Yahya Cholil Staquf spoke at the conference.
In recent years, the Indonesian group has forged alliances with Evangelical entities like the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Jewish organisations and religious leaders, and various Muslim groups across the globe. Nahdlatul Ulama sees the alliances as a way to establish common ground based on shared humanitarian values that would enable them to counter discrimination and religion-driven prejudice, bigotry, and violence.
Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam advocates reform of what it deems “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike the Saudis, without reservations.
The unrestricted embrace of the UN declaration by Indonesia and its largest Muslim movement has meant that conversion, considered to be apostasy under Islamic law, is legal in the Southeast Asian nation. As a result, Indonesia, unlike Middle Eastern states where Christian communities have dwindled due to conflict, wars, and targeted attacks, has witnessed significant growth of its Christian communities.
Christians account for ten percent of Indonesia’s population. Researchers Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone reported in 2015 that 6.5 million Indonesian had converted to Christianity since 1960.
That is not to say that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities have not endured attacks on churches, suicide bombings, and various forms of discrimination. The attacks have prompted Nahdlatul Ulama’s five million-strong militia to protect churches in vulnerable areas during holidays such as Christmas. The militia has also trained Christians to enable them to watch over their houses of worship.
Putting its money where its mouth is, a gathering of 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued in 2019 a fatwa or religious opinion eliminating the Muslim legal concept of the kafir or infidel.
Twelve years earlier, the group’s then spiritual leader and former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, organised a conference in the archipelago state to acknowledge the Holocaust and denounce denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The meeting came on the heels of a gathering in Tehran convened by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that denied the existence of the Holocaust.
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