By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Members of the Islamic Research Center (IRC) decided Thursday not to take any punitive measures against the Grand Mufti after listening to his explanation regarding a recent visit to Jerusalem. However, the IRC said they remain committed to their rejection of any visit to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque under the Israeli occupation.
Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa visited Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Wednesday along with Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed in a step that was denounced by religious and political groups in the Egypt. He returned to Cairo Thursday.
He said his two-hour visit on Wednesday was a symbolic show of solidarity with the Palestinians’ claim to Israeli-held east Jerusalem.
But it violated a standing policy by Egypt’s Muslim and other factions that there should be no contacts with Israel except after a just and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, but most Egyptians view the Jewish state as their top enemy.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Front denounced Gomaa’s visit to Jerusalem and called upon Al-Azhar to question him.
Osama Yassin, a senior official of the Brotherhood’s political arm, said Gomaa must be held to account for his visit to Jerusalem, where he prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.
“What he did cannot be justified and cannot be endorsed,” Yassin said in comments posted on the website of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political group. He did not elaborate.
In a press conference Thursday, Gomaa briefly responded, saying it is their personal opinions.
Gomaa, who is also a member of the IRC, joined Thursday a closed emergency meeting with the center’s members in Al-Azhar headquarters to decide on the institution’s stance from his Jerusalem visit.
He said the visit was not of an official capacity and does not represent Al-Azhar or Dar El-Iftaa, which he heads.
“I couldn’t say no to an invitation by the king of Jordan who asked me to inaugurate an Islamic research center and to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque, because this mosque is in our hearts and the prophet (PBUH) called us to pray there,” Gomaa said.
During the visit, he added, he did not pass by a single Israeli soldier and used a Jordanian visa. “Israelis didn’t stamp my passport,” he said adding that all the security in the mosque that day was from Jordan.
According to Sheikh Ali Abdel Baky, general secretary of the IRC, after listening to Gomaa’s explanations, Al-Azhar scholars reconfirmed their refusal to any visit to Jerusalem until being freed from the Israeli occupation, a stance long preserved by the oldest university of Islamic learning.
“We have to differentiate between the personal actions of a public figure and his official actions so as not to get confused by this move and the stance of Al-Azhar,” Abdallah Al-Naggar, IRC member, said after the meeting.
Al-Naggar added that in regard to the Palestinian case, he believes that people will stick to their rejection of normalizing relations with Israel as the status quo continues. “Therefore, I believe the idea of normalization is useless and it cannot be said that Gomaa’s visit is a step towards it.”
Gomaa called upon all Muslims to morally and financially support the Palestinian cause, saying that it is the message of the Jerusalemites to the Muslim world. Palestinian leaders have called for Arab visits to Jerusalem in a bid to stress its Arab identity.