Although the imam of Mecca faced heat on social media for invoking Islam to indirectly justify normalisation with Israel, experts think that Riyadh may not be fully prepared to take such a brazen step.
Saudi Arabia’s monarch King Salman had a phone call with the US president Donald Trump on Sunday, in which the former told the latter that Riyad was keen on having a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue in accordance with the proposed Arab Peace Initiative.
The conversation between the two leaders came a month after the UAE and Israel announced to have normalised ties with the help of American assistance, making Abu Dhabi the third Arab state to have official ties with Tel Aviv.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is certain that more Arab nations will step up and announce that they have also followed the UAE’s footprints and come close to Israel.
The imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Abdulrahman al-Sudais, faced a lot of heat on social media for “justifying” normalising relations with Israel. In a Friday sermon, he has reportedly urged Saudi residents and other worshippers to avoid “any misconceptions about correct beliefs in the heart coexisting with having healthy dealings in interpersonal exchanges and international relations”.
According to Tallha Abdulrazaq, an expert on the Middle East and award-winning academic, Saudi Arabia has reiterated very recently that it will not normalise until the Arab Peace Initiative started by the late King Abdullah is accepted by the Israelis.
“This means normalisation in exchange for an actual Palestinian state along the 1967 boundaries,” he said.
“What Sudais said about having good relationships with non-Muslims, especially Jews, is not reprehensible at all, nor should what he says be necessarily taken to be indicative of Saudi policy. I think people are reading far too much into this,” Abdulrazaq told TRT World.
He added that Riyadh already has extensive covert relations with Israel, as do most Gulf monarchies including Qatar. This isn’t unusual at all.
“In fact, the UAE will now likely be used as a proxy to handle the affairs of other GCC states with Israel, while they still claim to champion the Arab Peace Initiative. It allows them to normalise without normalising, playing both sides of the fence.”
To legitimise his argument, the Imam invoked various stories from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, which highlighted how the prophet maintained good relations with non-Muslims. The stories included his signing of peace accords with the Jewish inhabitants of the Khaybar region and being kind and helpful to his Jewish neighbour, who eventually converted to Islam.
“When the course of healthy human dialogue is neglected, parts of people’s civilisations will collide, and the language that will become prevalent is one of violence, exclusion and hatred,” Sudais said.
The Imam also pointed out the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem, describing it as a place of worship that has been “taken as a prisoner”.
“This is an issue that is of the utmost priority to the people of Islam and it must not be forgotten amid new struggles that appear,” he told worshippers.
“It must be kept in mind, but without exaggerations in the media or battles on the internet”.
With the UAE-Israel diplomatic ties in place, many Muslim leaders have raised concerns over the future status of Al-Aqsa. Also, a report compiled by an Israeli NGO says Terrestrial Jerusalem has warned that the deal could have severe ramifications on the status of historic sites in Jerusalem.
At the end of his sermon, Sudais prayed to God saying that “the rescue of Al-Aqsa mosque from the clutches of the aggressors” would allow it to be “a revered location until the day of reckoning”.
But Sudais faced criticism on social media, with many Twitter users accusing him of betraying the cause of having a free Palestine.