In spite of a fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Emiratis remain defiant and will not be bullied.
Emirati worshipers remain defiant in the face of a fatwa banning them from praying in al-Aqsa Mosque, claiming it is their religious right to do so.
The fatwa was issued by the grand mufti of Jerusalem after the August announcement of normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel under the Abraham Accords.
The decree has been met with criticism from religious leaders in the region, including Dr. Abbas Shuman, a member of Al-Azhar’s Committee of Senior Scholars in Egypt, who rejected the fatwa as un-Islamic.
“To the best of my knowledge, our Islamic history has not witnessed any fatwa by the righteous forefathers and their descendants banning any Muslim from praying in any mosque around the world,” he told the Emirates News Agency, also known as WAM.
Palestinians burned Israeli and Emirati flags after the announcement on August 13, including images of the UAE’s de facto ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on the Temple Mount.
Recently, an Emirati delegation was verbally abused and threatened while visiting al-Aqsa. But Emirati Lubna Khawaja, one of the founders of the UAE-Israel Youth Forum, remained defiant.
“I’m not afraid,” she said. “It’s our right as Muslims to experience this.”
Palestinians and sympathizers across the Arab world consider the accords to be a betrayal by the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, which most recently signed a normalization deal with Israel. The chances of establishing a Palestinian state that includes east Jerusalem are weakening further, they say.
But this was never the case, said Majid Al Sarrah, an Emirati expert on public policy. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zayed made clear from the outset that the desire for a two-state solution was at the heart of any negotiations, he said.
“Banning Emiratis from al-Aqsa Mosque is completely irresponsible,” Sarrah said regarding the holy site, which is held under the custodianship of the Jordanian king.
“Nobody should make such a fatwa,” he said. “We consider mosques houses of God, so nobody is banned from such a place. It’s not appropriate to do such a thing, and many people have denied this, so it goes completely against peace.”
Anti-Gulf sentiment would be a major economic blow to Jerusalem, which is suffering due to the global pandemic.
According to Emirati businessman Thani Al Shirawi, east Jerusalem Arabs would benefit greatly from religious tourism that follows normalization with the UAE, Bahrain and other nations.
“To be honest, I don’t mind being abused if I get to pray at al-Aqsa,” he said. “The Palestinians will have to get used to this fact, and just like the Turkish Muslims pray there, we will be able to as well.”
The fatwa is more political than religious, making it groundless to the many Muslims eager to go, Shirawi said. “There really are no grounds for this,” he said. “We are allowed to pray there.”
The UAE has a large Palestinian population, many of whom are teachers in government schools, Shirawi said. “We grew up alongside the Palestinians, and they are like brothers to us,” he said. “We share a great respect.”
Many Emiratis intend to boycott Islam’s third holiest site until assurances are made for their safety, Sarrah said.
“I’d love to see al-Aqsa, but I’m not going to go if there aren’t enough security measures,” he said. “I’m hesitant because I don’t know how it is. We need to see what guarantees are in place to avoid being in a vulnerable position like the Emirati delegation were in recently.”
Nevertheless, Sarrah said he looking forward to visiting Israel, where he already has many friends eagerly awaiting his arrival.
“If I’m going to go to Jerusalem, I’m more interested in the historical city itself and to travel around, to see Tel Aviv, Haifa,” he said.