E-Interview with Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Director of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community.
IsraPundit: Professor Palazzi, from reading the web, IsraPundit readers are familiar with your biography, your writings and some of your views. We are, therefore, aware that you oppose terrorism, that you consider the Islamists' terrorism to be an aberration of Islam, and that you support Israel and her claim to Judea, Samaria and Gaza and Jerusalem.
Similarly, Your pronouncements against the Oslo Accords are well-known, and I assume that you also oppose the "Roadmap", which is even worse. However, I have been unable to find any statement to that effect. What is your position about the "Roadmap" and what would be your advice to the current government of Israel?
Prof Palazzi: My position is opposing every solution which involves the withdraw of Israel from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the creation of a so-called "Palestinian state".
In my opinion, the area of Palestine is already divided into a Jewish Palestinian State (Israel) and an Arab Palestinian State (Jordan). Creating a third Palestinian state for the PLO in neither in the interest of Israel, nor in the interest of Jordan, and even less in the interests of those Arabs who would be compelled to live under that kind of barbaric regime. Moreover, accepting the creation of such a state would mean that terror works, and must be rewarded; it would represent a defeat of legality and an undue encouragement to terrorist groups.
I think that a valid alternative to both Oslo and the Road Map is the one proposed by the Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon: annexation of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, while those Arabs who continue to live in those areas will be citizens of Jordan, administered by a local government.
IsraPundit: Some of us have a major problem with passages from the Koran and Hadith that are clearly anti-Jewish (and anti-Christian). Here are two examples of the many that are quoted.
The Koran, 5:52 states, " O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends of each other. And whoso among you takes them for friends is indeed one of them. Verily Allah guides not the unjust people.".
The second example is a quotation from Hadith, as given in Hamas' Charter: "The time [of resurrection] will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!".
My question is: How do you reconcile these passages with your views about Jews and Israel?
Prof Palazzi: As for the text of the Quranic verse, it's translation is simply wrong. Awliya' (tutors and protectors) in Arabic is different from asdiqa' (friends), and a correct translation is "O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for tutors. They are respectively tutors to each other. And whoso among you takes them for tutors is indeed one of them. Verily Allah guides not the unjust people".
The verse refer to a time when Islam was developing, and is an appeal to avoid considering it as a sort of sub-sect depending on Judaism or Christianity. "Do not take as tutors" means "Do not depend on them for your understanding of religion, for guidance in theology and ethics, etc." Apart from this, Islam surely does not forbid friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims, to the point that a Muslim man can take a Jewish or a Christian woman as his wife and mother of his children.
The Qur'an describes marriage as a relation of "intimate love and mercy" (mawaddah wa rahmah) and explains that this same relation can actually exist between a Muslim man and a Jewish or Christian woman. Were ordinary friendship with Jews and Christians forbidden, the Qur'an itself could never permit a relation of "intimate love and mercy" with those with whom friendship is not permissible.
As for the Hadith, it refers to the time when there existed an alliance between Jews and Muslims in Medina, and everything was giving the impression that that alliance was stable, and based on the need of a common defense against pagan Arabs. As the Hadith announces, that alliance was going to end, and actually, a few years after some Jewish tribes broke the alliance and sided with the pagan Arabs, they where defeated by the Muslims. By inserting that Hadith in its Charter, Hamas tried to de-contextualize the Hadith and to interpret it as containing a prescription of for fighting the Jews, while the Hadith itself contains no such prescription, but only a prophecy of what was going to happen.
IsraPundit Reading your works and interviews you have given to such outlets as WorldNetDaily, it seems at times that your voice is a lone Moslem voice in the wilderness. This contrasts sharply with the situation among Christians, where you can find a large body of Christian Zionists. How much of a following do your views about Israel have among Moslems the world over, and among the half-million Moslems in Italy?
Prof Palazzi: The situation is not ideal at all, and one must admit that in the Muslim world mosques, universities, Islamic schools, media, etc., are frequently under the total control of the Wahhabis, while Sunnis - who are until today the majority of the Muslims - have very limited resources.
The role played in the religious programs of al-Jazirah TV by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the ideologue of suicide terrorism, made this situation even more dramatic. Originally the Sunni position, represented by the then Sharif of Mecca al-Hussein and later by his son, the late King Feisal of Hijaz and then of Iraq, was openly pro-Zionist, while the Wahhabi one was extremely anti-Zionist
Now the situation is such, that many of those who are Sunni from the point of view of belief, and consequently condemn terrorism and suicide bombing, are nevertheless reasoning like the Wahhabis for what concerns Israel and its relations with the Muslim world. This is especially true for the Arab world, while outside of it many Sunnis have preserved their original pro-Zionist stance.
I am fully aware that I am voicing a minority orientation, but do not feel so isolated as it could appear. The former President of Indonesia and leader of Nadwat al-Ulema (i.e. the leader of the main Islamic organization of the most populous Muslim country of the world), Shaykh Abdurrahman Wahid, is known for his pro-Israel stance, and was also invited to lecture in New York by the American Jewish Committee. The Mufti of Sierra Leone, Shaykh Ahmad Sillah, is also pro-Israel, and so are the Grand Mufti of the Russian Federation, Shaykh Tajuddin, and the Mufti of European Russia, Shaykh Salman Farid, who wrote a fatwa against the intifadah. Same can be said about the Muftis of Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
IsraPundit: An article published in 2001, described you as a "Muslim Zionist". Is this description appropriate, and if so, in what sense?
Prof Palazzi: If by "Muslim Zionist" one means a Muslim who supports the right of the Jewish people to have their own independent and sovereign State, who is solidly behind the State of Israel when it is attacked by terror and when its existence in menaced, who thinks that developing friendly relations between the Muslim nations and the State of Israel is in the interest of the Muslims and of human civilization in general, then I think that the label of Muslim Zionist is appropriate.
IsraPundit: In one interview, you mentioned death threats made against you. Has this form of intimidation ceased?
Prof Palazzi: I have received harsh criticism, insults and even attempts of character assassination, but no threat which can be taken seriously. Most of those attacks do not come from Muslims, but from Italian left-wing or right-wing extremists. In almost one case, I have proof that one the persons who seems interested in circulating about myself the most absurd lies is actually supported by the Italian branch of the "Muslim Brotherhood" sect.
IsraPundit: You are listed in the directory of Root and Branch (R&B) as the Italian member of the International Council of R&B. Over the last while, however, I have not seen any R&B activity at all. Is this organization still active? And can you tell us what R&B has achieved in general, and what the Italian chapter has achieved in particular?
Prof Palazzi: The Root & Branch Association is based in Jerusalem, and has no Italian chapter. One can subscribe to the Root & Branch Information Service by sending a request to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Root & Branch is very active, and its main activity is represented by the series of Conferences and public talks which are held in Jerusalem at the Israel Center (22 Keren HaYesod Street). The recent lecture by Mr. John Loftus, Esq., on "America's Secret Plans for Israel: What the United States intends for Israel and the Middle East over the next two Years" (October 18), saw an extraordinary public participation. The Fourth Conference on the Rabin Assassination was also successful.
IsraPundit: European governments (as well as in my own Canadian government) treat Israel with nothing but hostility. What, in your view, can average citizens like IsraPundit's readers do to reverse this sad situation?
Prof Palazzi: The same situation characterized Italy for a long period, too. Intellectuals, media operators, academics were almost unanimously supporting the PLO and blaming Israel from every possible point of view. The election of Berlusconi as Prime Minister and the defeat of the left, to a certain extent reversed the situation, and convinced people that one should not be afraid to voice opinions which are not "politically correct". On April 15, 2003, our Institute, the Italian Muslim Association, another Jewish Association, and the Italy-Israel Fellowship organized in Rome an "Israel Day", a demonstration in support of Israel and of her struggle against terror. See:http://members.xoom.it/amislam/gferrara.htm.
That initiative changed a general perception: demonstrating in support of Israel was possible, and the reaction of the public opinion was good. If intellectuals are so fond of the PLO, this is not the attitude of the majority of the Italian population, a population which remembers very well the carnage at Fiumicino Airport, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro ship and the terror attack against the Rome synagogue. It was the first time that a pro-Israel demonstration took place in Italy with the participation of many local administrators and members of the Parliament.
After that, the political change was also effective in the field of media, and State TV ceased being an exclusive fiefdom of the left, as they have been during the last years. It was now possible to deal in TV with Stalin's and Mao's crimes (and not only with Hitler's crimes), and it was also possible to deal with the PLO from an objective point of view. Images of how children in PLO schools are trained to play with plastic arms and dressed as suicide bombers shocked the public, and people started asking why the European Union is funding PLO and its schools.
Presently I am working as a consultant in a TV program, and we are going to deal with antisemitism in the contemporary Arab world, and to show some excerpts from the Egyptian antisemitic soap opera "Knight Without a Horse".
I believe other European countries and Canada can take the example of Italy in promoting a general change of attitude.
IsraPundit: The author of an article entitled "The Koran On Jews' Right To Land" (Feb 19, 2001), based his work on an interview with you. In this interview you described the influence of Wahhabism and the Saudi money that propels it throughout the world. Since the publication of the article, the world has experience 9-11 as well as endless terrorist acts perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists. Do you see any progress at all in curbing the Wahhabi influence since 9-11? What in your view needs to be done?
Prof Palazzi: I see some progress, which is nevertheless diminished by some other developments. Some leaders of the pro-terror lobby in the U.S. are in jail, some of their organizations are outlawed, and some of their funds are confiscated. Exponents of those same organizations are no longer invited to the White House as honor guests, etc. That is positive, but surely not enough.
One cannot forget that after 9/11 President Bush invited Saudi crown prince `Abdullah to his ranch in Texas, and told him, "You are our ally in the struggle against terror." Now, that man is - from the very beginning - the real mastermind behind al-Qa'idah, and the one who used al-Qa'idah to hospitalize King Fahd and to become the de facto ruler of the country. That is like inviting the Emperor of Japan after Pearl Harbor, and telling him, "You are our ally in the struggle against Nazi-Fascism."
The relatives of the victims of 9/11 sued three members of the House of Sa`ud for damages, and the State Department tried to create obstacles. While many Taliban are held in Guantanamo, 50 members of the Bin Laden families who were in the United States on 9/11 were on the contrary immediately sent back to Saudi Arabia, in order to prevent investigations. Taking into account that many of those people were in the U.S. as businessman for investments, a U.S. court could surely benefit from questioning them about the level of involvement of the Bin Laden family within the U.S. economy. Those people surely knew about their relative more than most of the Taliban detained in Guantanamo, many of whom are only illiterate militiamen of a local tribal war between Tajiks and Pashtus.
A member of the Al Sa`ud family declared that he is not afraid of the recent developments since, "We control the West, but the West cannot control us". If one reflects on how the evident links between the Al Sa`ud family and al-Qa'idah were and still go on being passed over without scrutiny or public outcry, one must admit that unfortunately that claim is well founded.
I heartily support the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, heartily support the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but am convinced that unless an urgent change of regime is realized in Saudi Arabia, winning the war against terror is totally impossible. One cannot win a war without attacking the headquarters of the enemy.
IsraPundit: As a Canadian, I am particularly interested in the following questions. In May of 2002, you travelled through Canada. Generally, did you find any differences between Canadian Moslems and US Moslems? Were you able to make any inroads among Canadian Muslims? Were you able to convince any of them to refrain from their consistent and strident anti-Israeli actions?
Prof Palazzi: My speaking tour of 2002 involved three cities (Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg) and lasted ten days only. Due to lectures, participation in TV and radio programs, and interviews with the media, the time left for meeting Muslims (and for meeting people in general) was very limited. In Toronto, I was able nevertheless to visit a mosque, participate in an Islamic meeting by the Municipal House, and have dinner with the imams of the local mosques. That was not enough to realize the difference between Muslims in Canada and in the United States.
I must say that most of the Muslims I met agree in considering terrorism and suicide bombing as forbidden by Islam, but nevertheless have a negative opinion about Israel. That last circumstance is not surprising, if one considers that the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) is the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and that mosques and Islamic centers which exist in Canada need the contributions of the CIC for their survival, and that both CAIR and the CIC consider anti-Israeli propaganda as one of their most important activities. CAIR and the CIC are local branches of the "Muslim Brotherhood", and the CIC openly denounce my speaking tour, and claimed that those Jewish organizations which had invited me were "playing with fire".
IsraPundit: Another question related to your Canadian tour. The "Ottawa Citizen", my home-town daily, included this paragraph in reviewing your tour (http://leb.net/pipermail/lexington-net/2002-April/002661.html):
"But John Esposito, author of Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam and a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University in Washington, said Sheik Palazzi's Koran interpretations are "not credible." "I'm not too sure who, other than Palazzi, supports his position" that the Koran endorses Jerusalem as an Israeli-held capital, said Mr. Esposito, who is also editor of the Oxford History of Islam. "I understand why Jewish groups like him -- he's got a good product to sell -- but when you talk about top scholars on Islam, I've never heard his name mentioned."
Would you care to respond to this statement?
Prof Palazzi: First of all, I must say that Prof. John Esposito owes his academic prestige to his close relations to the Saudi-sponsored fundamentalist network is in the United States, and that the Department of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University is a known center of pro-Saudi academics. That is one of the reasons why Prof. Esposito is inclined to exaggerate the credentials of fundamentalist scholars, and to denigrate those Islamic scholars who voice an opposite point of view.
Dr. Khalid Duran of the Ibn Khaldun Institute, who abides by a point a view which is anti-fundamentalist, but different from my own, also attributes to Prof. Esposito the wall of silence with which the US academic world reacted to his sharp analysis of the structure of the Islamist movement in North America.
Apart from this, ShiaNews, the official Web site of the Shi'ite Community in Pakistan, republished an article of mine and considers me one of the "prominent scholars of Ahlul Sunnah". The International Islamic University of Tashkent translated some of my articles into Uzbek in order to use them as part of the courses for the local imams. The same Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs goes on inviting me to the Annual Meeting of Muslim scholars which is held in Mecca, and the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed also invited me to participate in the World Assembly of Muslim Scholars which was held in Putrajaya (July 2003), before the OIC Conference. I obviously do not accept Saudi invitations, exactly like I will not accept any more invitations coming from Dr. Mahathir, but those invitations were nevertheless received.
IsraPundit: In his book, "Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel", Prof. Paul Charles Merkley makes the point that the distinction between dar-al-harb and dar-al-Islam is fundamental to Islamic theology. From this distinction flows the assertion that "Islam forbids that there should ever be peace for Muslims so long as any part of Allah's world withholds submission. Reconciliation between dar-al-Islam and any part of dar-al-harb is not envisioned for the moment. A state of truce is permitted, so long as it is modelled on the ...Treaty of Khudaibiya". This would imply that there could never be peace between Israel and her Moslem neighbours.
What is your assessment of this claim?
Prof Palazzi: Dar al-Islam and dar al-harb are not related to Islamic theology, but to the history of Islamic jurisprudence. They are categories which the Islamic jurists of Middle Age conceived in order to describe the political situation of their time. One must also take the meaning those same jurists attributed to those categories.
"Dar al-Islam" means a territory which is ruled by a Caliph who ruled on the base of Islamic law, while "dar al-harb" means a territory wherein a Muslim cannot manifest publicly his religious identity without fear or persecution or forced conversion. One of those same jurists, Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi even theoretically conceived the existence of something which in his time was not common, i.e. dar as-sulh (also called dar ad-da`wah or dar al-islah), a territory which is not under the authority of a caliph, but wherein the religious freedom of the Muslims is not at stake.
In our time, due to the absence of a caliph - no part of the world is dar al-Islam in the legal sense, and limited areas (e.g. some parts of China) can be considered dar al-harb. Countries in which the right to be a Muslim and to practice Islam are protected by the law are included in the category of dar as-sulh, not of dar al-harb, and the rule for Muslims living in those conditions is abiding by the local law (principle of "obedience to the sultan"), except for local law which infringes on Islamic law. If living in one of these countries prevents a Muslim from abiding by Islamic law, he is nevertheless forbidden to rebel against the government or to cause sedition, but must migrate to another country where those negative conditions do not exist.
Of course, words can be used in the ordinary sense, and consequently dar al-Islam - in its non-legal and ordinary sense - can simply mean a country which is inhabited by many Muslims, exactly like dar al-harb can mean an area where wars are frequent. The ordinary language, however, is always distinct from the specific use of words in Islamic law. Consequently, the idea that "A state of truce is permitted, so long as it is modelled on the ... Treaty of Hudaibiya" is baseless. The treaty of Hudaybiyyah was temporary since it was a treaty between idol-worshippers and Muslims, and cleaning Arabia from idolatry was a basic duty of Islam. After that, no jurist objected to the circumstance that a Muslim state like the Ottoman Empire ratified permanent peace treaties with countries where Muslims were not persecuted, or that the Ottoman Sultan - who was also the Caliph - exchanged ambassadors with States in peace with the Islamic State.
IsraPundit: Thank you for your time, Prof. Palazzi, and on behalf of IsraPundit's readers, I wish you success in your efforts for a real peace between Israel and her neighbours. Above all, as a friend of Israel myself, I wish to thank you for your steadfast support for Israel, particularly at this very difficult time.
Prof Palazzi: Thank to you for the opportunity you are giving me to make my position known.