Friday Sermons in Palestine – Signposts of Peace?
BY: G. W.
The conflict in the Near East continues, and an end is not in sight. The apportionment of blame, criticism, condemnation, but also well-meaning proposals for a solution, as well as peace initiatives, often appear on the agendas of noted government leaders. Especially in the West, it is assumed that peace is the highest maxim of all the parties involved in the conflict. That is all very well, but a problem that in the heat of the moment frequently is forgotten is that opinions are divided in regard to the very definition of this nondescript concept. The still relatively imposing barrier resulting from the – for many Westerners – unaccessible knowledge of the Arabic language bears, not least of all, the responsibility for this failure. A lack of knowledge about the cultural background of this language also presents a problem and the fact that the Arabic of the present lies embedded in the historical-religious context of Islam is frequently overlooked. Westerners tend to ignore the fact that their world view, influenced by humanism, does not possess universal validity, and that the Arab culture presents a value system different from the European one.
Arab leaders are quite conscious of this misinterpretation on the part of the West, and draw great profit from it by employing rhetorical acrobatics. Yassir Arafat, for example, is a master of political speech and is repeatedly successful in convincing the West of his good will by condemning, in international television, “the terror against innocent civilians”. These statements sound good to our ears, but how does a member of his Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades interpret such comments?
Such a warrior knows that they cannot refer to Israeli victims, for, since compulsory military service is required of everyone in Israel, children or old women do not exist for “liberation movements” like “Fatah”, but rather only future or former soldiers who terrorize “innocent Palestinians”. Consequently, such statements refer to Israeli attacks on Palestinian camps and cities – which is quite the opposite of the proposed.
Further, Arafat’s comment made in a meeting with high-ranking “Fatah” members some time ago is still valid: “Do not pay attention to what I say to the media, the television, or public appearances. Pay attention only to the written instructions that you receive from me.”
A further important point is the conscious choice of words used in official reporting. Bomb attacks by the biggest resistance movement “Hamas” or “Fatah”, for example, are presented in the official Palestinian media as “martyr operations”, a catchword whose origins are found in the Islamic religious sphere. According to the Koran, a martyr is a Muslim who dies in “Jihad” for Allah and, thus, is certain of his place in Paradise (Sura 2:154).
If one follows the official media controlled by the autonomous Palestinian governing authority, then it quickly becomes clear that these are thoroughly suffused with Islamic ideology. The programs for children and young people appropriately employ cartoon series, films, and music videos to teach that “the Jews” are the greatest enemy of humanity and that Islam will defeat them. Everyone, however, must take part in this struggle by sacrificing his life for Allah and taking as many Jews as possible with him when he dies. Paradise, with 72 virgins, beckons as a reward.
Along with the official media, the mosques, as the traditional places of assembly for orthodox Muslims, offer an ideal breeding ground for religiously grounded and politically motivated ideas. In October, 1994, Yassir Arafat named Sheich Ikrima Sabri as the new “Grand Mufti” of Jerusalem and, thus, successor to the notorious Hajj Amin Al-Husayni, who was of great assistance to the Third Reich.
Sabri stands under the personal supervision of Yassir Arafat and is paid by him. He is responsible for the content of the Friday sermon, which is delivered in Arabic by him personally or by one of his scholars. The participation in official Friday prayers is a duty for every Muslim and a prayer spoken in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to different traditions, counts 50,000 times as much as a prayer spoken at home. Believers who do not appear at prayers are officially reprimanded and made responsible for the political crisis. So that those who are prevented from taking part in official prayers in person may, at least, be able to follow the Sheich’s instructions while at home or on the road, the Friday prayers from the Shaykh Idjlin Mosque in Gaza or the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem are broadcast every week on radio and television.
Friday Sermons as a Political Tool
What message do the Friday sermons under Arafat’s supervision contain, and what is their goal? It is important to remember that such a sermon in no way can be compared with a Christian sermon on Sunday morning, since it consists to a great extent of political statements. Islam since its origin has been conceived as a religion encompassing all areas of public and private life. For this reason, it recognizes no separation between “religion and state”. More than this, Islam is a system which combines theological and political ideology and promotes both as a unity. According to Muslim sources, Mohammed was both a political and a spiritual leader, and his sermons often were characterized by appeals for political activities. This tradition was continued over the centuries by Islamic rulers. Political Friday sermons in Palestine are, therefore, nothing new, but rather follow a tradition much more than 1,000 years old.
Since Yassir Arafat indirectly bears responsibility for the content of the sermons, it is interesting to observe in what way such content is helpful in establishing the peace much extolled in the Near East, and what such a peace must look like in Arafat’s eyes.
Palestine – “stolen” by the Jews?
An important aspect of a Friday sermon is the emphasis on the “Palestine homeland”, which was “stolen” by the Jews. Historical facts play no role here. Much more important is the promotion of the Arabs’ exclusive claim to the land. On March 7, 2003, Sheich Mohammed Jamal Abu-al-Hanud exclaimed before the gathered crowd: “I tell you, the Palestinians and the Arabs, we have been here for more than 5,000 years, and Jerusalem is the only capital for the Palestinians. It will always be an Arab, Palestinian city.”
When the learned clerics preach about “Palestine”, then they do not refer to the borders fixed by the United Nations or by the Oslo Treaty, but rather to the Islamic principle of “waqf”, according to which a country once conquered by Islam may not and cannot ever again fall into the hands of unbelievers. This applies to the entire state of Israel: “We are convinced of the [future] victory of Allah; we believe that one of these days, we will enter Jerusalem as conquerors, enter Jaffa as conquerors, enter Haifa as conquerors, enter Ramle and Lod as conquerors, the [villages of] Hirbiya and Dir Jerjis and all of Palestine as conquerors, as Allah has decreed: ‘they will enter Al-Aqsa Mosque as they have entered it the first time’”
Since Islamic tradition in later centuries transferred the Koranic concept of “masjid al-aqsa” (“the most distant mosque”, Sura 17:1) to Jerusalem – Jerusalem is mentioned nowhere in the Koran – and since, according to these sources, Mohammed ascended to heaven (“mi’raj”) from Temple Square, Jerusalem today is considered as the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Consequently, the struggle for Jerusalem is not only a political confrontation, but rather a matter of the defence of a holy site against the “unbelieving Jews”.
Speakers in the mosques admonish Muslims around the entire globe that the dispute over Jerusalem is not a national affair of the Palestinians, but rather much more a problem that must be solved by the whole of Islam: “Sovereignty over Al-Aqsa and Islamic sanctuaries is linked to faith and religion. Whoever claims sovereignty over Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic sanctuaries clearly violates the Qur’an and the Sunna. This claim is not subject to opinion or interpretation, as matters pertaining to faith and religion are not subject to interpretation, compromise, negotiation, or tactics.”
The mufti of Jerusalem repeatedly stresses that “Palestine is owned by all Muslims”, and that Jerusalem is “one of the pillars of faith”. Hence, every Muslim has to take part in deliberating the city from the “yoke of the Israeli occupation”.11 The mufti preaches that the Jewish residents of Jerusalem “are only temporary” and promises to the believers that “we will get rid of them and conquer all of holy Palestine”.
Arabs who sell land to Jews are considered traitors and have to face the death penalty.12 The entire city of Jerusalem is Muslim property (“waqf”), since “Allah has made it an Islamic land from al-isra’ and al-mi’raj [Mohammed’s ascension to heaven] until the Day of Judgement.”
The Concept of Peace and the Islamic State
The modern concept of the national state is alien to Islam. The rights and duties of human beings are based on “Sharia”, the law according to the Koran and the tradition of the Prophet (“sunna”). The goal of the Muslim community (“umma”) is to erect a state on the model of the society governed by the Prophet and his successors (caliphs) and ruled through the sovereignty of Allah. Thereby, the nationality which a person possesses is of no significance; the fact that he is a Muslim is all that counts.
Following this concept grounded in Islam, Arafat’s mosque speakers do not promote the erection of a national state of Palestine, but rather the restoration of the Islamic empire with a caliph at its head and Jerusalem as its capital: “Jerusalem will return to Muslims, but not through treason. It will return to Islam and Muslims. It will not be the capital of the Palestinian State, but it will be, insha’Allah, the capital of the Islamic Khilafah State. The Islamic Khilafah State that will tread on the heads of Europe, Russia, and the U.S. This is what Islam tells us, and this is how history took place. Study history, and you will see wars after wars between Islam and the unbelievers, wars that will continue until the Day of Doom.”
According to some of the clergy, an Islamic state is indispensable in helping Islam to achieve final victory and to disseminate the “true religion” over the entire planet: “Dear brothers, we all should be up to the challenge that is facing us. We should stand up to carry Islam as a complete way of life and live or die for the sake of Allah and his religion that he has chosen for mankind (i.e. Islam). We should fight the disbelievers and their agents ... The True Victory will come when the Islamic Khilafah State is established, when Islam is being proclaimed again over all other religions and over all other ways of life. […] The world is in need of Islam to rule. The world is in need of the Islamic Khilafah State.”
It is not surprising that the Islamic idea of “peace” is not oriented on the standards of the United Nations, but rather on its own, religiously grounded notions. “True peace” can reign only when all power is given to Islam and its leaders, when Jews and Christians accept the superiority of the Muslim faith, and when they willingly subordinate themselves and pay poll tax (“jizya”) to Muslim rulers (Sura 9:29). Christians and Jews have a right to live and can count on the protection of the state only as secondclass inhabitants of the Islamic state (“dhimmis”).
Thus, the Jews who lived in West Palestine before the “Zionist invasion” also are permitted to continue living there under Islamic rule: “We welcome the Jews to live as dhimmis, but the rule in this land and in all the Muslim countries must be the rule of Allah [...] On the other hand, those Jews who are local and who have lived with the Palestinian people and with the locals from amongst the Christians - there is nothing bad with their living [amongst us] in harmony and peace. This is the kind of peace we understand. The Arabs and Muslims must speak, because our choice is jihâd for the sake of Allah ...”
Religiously Grounded Anti-Semitism
Anti-Jewish incitement is an essential part of Palestinian sermons. Similar to Sayyid Qutb [an influential preacher of political Islam in the middle of the 20th century] and other respected Islamic scholars, the speakers frequently depict “the Jews” as “the scum of the earth”, “the filth of this land” and, corresponding to the Qur’anic statement, as “brothers of apes and pigs” and as the “worst enemies of Allah”.
Muslims, in addition, are exhorted to combat the devilish unity of “the Jews”, since Allah has promised his victory to the true believers: “The Prophet [Muhammad] said: ‘The Jews will fight you, and [Allah] will establish you as rulers over them ...’ We blow them up in Hadeira, we blow them up in Tel Aviv and in Netanya, and in this way, Allah establishes us as rulers over these gangs of vagabonds. The Jews fight you, but Allah will establish you as rulers over them. [As Muhammad said in the hadîth:] ‘Until the Jew would hide behind a stone or a tree, and the stone or the tree would say: Oh Muslim, Oh servant of Allah, a Jew is hiding behind me, come and kill him ...’”
Along with denial of the Holocaust and the charge of global conspiracy against Muslims, the clergy, following their Prophet in Medina, also directly promote the murder of “the Jews”: “Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them.”
Martyrdom Through Jihad as the Highest Goal
The Islamic way to the liberation of Jerusalem and to the annihilation of the Jews is “Jihad”, a principle which in its original meaning refers not only to the internal, but also to the external struggle against evil. Today, “Jihad” is directed especially against “the Jews”, but also against the “unislamic” West and traitorous leaders of Arab states. The clergy make it quite plain that the conflict in the Near East can be resolved solely through a bloody struggle to the honor of Allah: “This mosque [Al-Aqsa] will not be entered through negotiations or peace agreements. This mosque will be liberated through armies. The armies that will pound the earth to powder, that will cut off the heads of the disbelievers and their agents. Jerusalem will return to Muslims, but not through treason. It will return to Islam and Muslims.”
“Jihad” is a holy duty for every believing Muslim and is rewarded by Allah with rich blessings: “[…] Blessings to whoever waged jihad for the sake of Allah; blessings to whoever raided for the sake of Allah. Blessings on whoever put a belt of explosives on his body or his son’s and plunged into the midst of the Jews, crying ‘Allahu akbar, praise to Allah, there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.’”
This “self-sacrifice for Allah” (“Shahada” = “witness for Islam”) is represented as the ultimate goal of life, the more so since it is promised to a “Shahid” (martyr) that he will be spared the agonies of Hell and will be awarded direct entry into Allah’s Paradise, where “seventy-two blackeyed virgins” wait for him. The family of the martyr also is given great honor, not only in this life but also in the hereafter. For, apart from the large financial reward from the Palestinian authority and the general social esteem bestowed on the martyr’s family, the “Shahid” has the opportunity to save 70 additional members of his family from the fires of Hell: “The martyr, if he meets Allah, is forgiven with the first drop of blood; he is saved from the torments of the grave; he sees his place in Paradise; he is saved from the Great Horror [of the day of judgment]; he is given 72 black-eyed women; he vouches for 70 of his family to be accepted to Paradise; he is crowned with the Crown of Glory, whose precious stone is better than all of this world and what is in it…”
Where Does This Lead?
The sermons controlled by Yassir Arafat and the ideas presented through them, with which the Muslim Arab population of Israel and Palestine are indoctrinated week by week – combined with the deliberate agitation on the part of the official media against “the Jews” and the West in general – leave little hope even among optimistic liberals for a universally satisfying solution of the Near East conflict. Complete generations have been fed a diet of hate propaganda from infancy on and this ideology of annihilation is deeply seated in people’s minds and hearts. How else can one explain the fact that young, socially well-off women and men throw their lives away and strap a bomb to their bodies so that they can blow themselves up in a supermarket, a bus, or in front of a kindergarten and thereby destroy the lives of countless human beings? How else can a rational young person seriously believe that this is the way to “peace”? And yet, what is at least as surprising is why the West listens as before to the nice words from the Palestinian leadership and thereby deliberately ignores the clear voices that call for blood – also for European blood.
Peace in the Near East – as complex as this subject may be, and as many parties and groups may be involved in the conflict and bear their portion of blame, so can it be said with certainty that the path that Islamic academics have taken and, under Arafat’s leadership, have instilled in their people is a path that will lead both to ruin. The question that poses itself for the West is to what extent it is ready no longer to ignore this inhuman propaganda out of self-interest, but rather to make it public, to draw serious consequences from it, and to proceed to genuine peacemaking measures.