Last updated: 19 April, 2012

Egypt grand mufti visits Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque

Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa’s visit to Jerusalem caused a stir on Thursday in his own country, where normalisation of ties with Israel remains a highly sensitive issue.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood called the trip a “catastrophe” that undermined Palestinian aspirations, and Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest authority, was to meet to discuss the issue.

Gomaa, Egypt’s highest religious authority, visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Wednesday for the first time, along with Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, King Abdullah II’s cousin and adviser on religious affairs.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, but its people are largely opposed to any normalisation of relations between the two nations pending the resolution of the Palestinian issue.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said it “categorically rejects the visit to Jerusalem of Mufti Ali Gomaa whatever the reasons.”

His visit is a “catastrophe and a blow to the national struggle that succeeded in defeating all attempts at normalisation (with Israel) in the past,” a statement said.

It was “unacceptable that this visit takes place after the revolution” that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak last year, whose regime “enjoyed strong relations with the leaders of Israel (but) failed to impose normalisation on the Egyptian people.”

The revolution “has led to an agreement between the popular and official positions rejecting all ties with the Israeli entity as long as it continues the occupation, colonisation and siege of Gaza,” the statement added.

The FJP said the mufti, who is in charge of the official religious institutions, should ensure that such visits, which “harm the Palestinian cause,” are not repeated.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Thursday that “such visits represent recognition that Palestine is Israel. They mean that there is no Islamic sovereignty over Palestine,”

“This is betrayal to God and the Prophet Mohammed.”

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb was quoted by Al-Ahram daily as saying he had not been consulted about the visit and learned about it through the media.

“Al-Azhar has never approved visits to Jerusalem under Israeli occupation,” he said.

A spokesman for Al-Azhar told AFP that it was to meet in later in the day to discuss the visit.

But Gomaa defended himself, saying he did not go to Jerusalem on an official trip.

“The visit was held under the full supervision of the Jordanian authorities, without obtaining Israeli visa,” he told Al-Ahram.

Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994, is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

“Visiting Jerusalem increases one’s feelings of rejection of (Israeli) occupation and injustice and helps strengthen the (Palestinian) cause,” Gomaa said.

For its part, the Coptic Church of Egypt has recently reiterated that its followers are forbidden from going to Jerusalem.

Apart from the Al-Aqsa mosque, considered the third most sacred site in Islam, Gomaa and the Jordanian prince also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Jerusalem.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the eastern Arab sector which it captured during the 1967 Six Day War, as its “eternal, undivided” capital, but the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.