CAIRO // A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric has criticised Muslims and their leaders for not protecting Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and is calling for public protest on Friday. Sheikh Youssef al Qaradawi, the head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, called for people to "demonstrate peacefully - to protest against the Israeli aggression and siege of Al Aqsa mosque, and the arrest of worshippers".
"I'm calling on the Islamic community, both ruled and rulers, to undertake their responsibility to champion this Al Aqsa mosque," Mr al Qaradawi told reporters at a press conference at the Press Syndicate building Monday night. Israel has deployed police in and around the Al Aqsa compound after clashes broke out when more than 150 Palestinians protested against the closing of the compound. Seven Palestinian protesters were injured and three arrested in the clashes on September 27.
The Israelis made the move after what it said were calls by the Palestinian media to "come protect" the area. Israel captured the compound in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it with the rest of East Jerusalem, in a move not recognised internationally. The compound also houses the Dome of the Rock and overlooks the Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site. About 50 activists from secular opposition groups gathered yesterday at the Press Syndicate to protest. Small numbers of anti-riot police surrounded the syndicate, but did not ban the protest. Waving Palestinian flags, and some wearing the Palestinian kaffiyeh, the protesters chanted against the silence of Arab regimes and demanded the closing of the Israeli Embassy and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
"We are here to tell Arab regimes that their stances are condemned and abhorred," Ayman Nour, an opposition leader, said. "All that's happening in front of us shows how the despotic Arab regimes are keen for this struggle to remain forever, so they continue to abuse it and remain in their seats forever." The protest lasted for less than an hour and ended with support for Mr al Qaradawi's call for a protest at Al Azhar on Friday. Facebook groups called for protests at other big mosques in Egypt.
Mohammed Habib, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said it will decide today about joining the protests. It is the only political group capable of amassing thousands of protesters across Egypt. On Monday, Mr al Qaradawi called on preachers to dedicate Friday sermons to the mosque issue, saying it was in danger of "Israeli occupation". He decried excavation work Israel is conducting under the walls of the compound, and was critical of Israeli police who are restricting access to the mosques.
He emphasised the importance of holding conferences at mosques across the world on Friday, which he called an "Anger Day", and for "peaceful marches without throwing stones or any violence". "I'm very surprised that some Arab and Islamic governments are barring their people from peacefully expressing their rejection and anger at the Jews' daily violations of our holy places," Mr al Qaradawi said. "There is something wrong about this exaggerated fear; some governments are becoming scared of their own shadows, as if a demonstration in solidarity with Al Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem will overthrow the regime.
"Egypt, as the heart of Arabism and Islam, has a big responsibility, which it shouldn't give up, for the sake of this Umma." He continued: "Arab and Islamic leaders' responsibility is bigger than the ruled, as the latter have no weapons or armies. What's the use of the billions these governments are spending to buy weapons that they leave to rust in storage or use against their own people?" Although generally considered a moderate-to-conservative scholar, Mr al Qaradawi has occasionally been at odds with the Egyptian government, one of the reasons he now lives in Qatar.
Lately, however, he seems to be welcomed. The minister of Awqaf religious affairs, Hamdy Zaqzouq, announced last week that he decided to teach Al Azhar preachers Mr al Qaradawi's latest two-volume work, The Jurisprudence of Jihad. More than 1,400 pages, the volumes restate his belief in the right of Muslims to resist "aggression" and "foreign occupation". "While the Jerusalem issue hasn't been solved and gets more complicated with time, the Zionists grow more oppressive, and we become more desperate, abandoning the issue and surrendering," he said. However, "this Umma is still fine, and won't die. Even if leaders die, nations don't," he said. "I can't lose hope in our people, but could give up on some, but not all, of the ruling regimes."
email@example.com * With additional reporting by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters