Palazzi: The honor is mine.
FP: One doesn’t find many prominent Muslim clerics today who openly denounce suicide bombings, let alone suicide bombings against Israelis. Yet you are quite vocal about supporting Israel's right to exist. Tell us why, as a Muslim, you have come to this disposition and why you have received so much criticism from certain elements of the Muslim community for it.
Palazzi: As a scholar of Islamic Law, I believe that Islam permits wars under certain conditions (i.e., it permits some soldiers to fight against other soldiers when ordered to do so by the State), but strictly forbids taking military initiatives by individuals, groups or factions (which is referred as "fitnah", i.e., sedition), strictly forbids targeting civilians and strictly forbids committing suicide. Consequently, as a Muslim scholar, I must necessarily condemn suicide bombing as a matter of principle, irrespective of who the victims are. I am obliged to say that a suicide bomber is by no means a martyr of Islam, but a criminal who dies while committing acts which Islam views as capital crimes.
Regarding Israel, I beg your pardon but may I ask you to please consider refraining from speaking of Israel's "right to exist." Affirming Israel's "right to exist" is as unacceptable as denying that right, because even posing the question of whether or not the Children of Israel (Jews) -- individually, collectively or nationally -- have a "right to exist" is unacceptable. Israel exists by Divine Right, confirmed in both the Bible and Qur'an.
I find in the Qur'an that God granted the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel and ordered them to settle therein (Qur'an, Sura 5:21) and that before the Last Day He will bring the Children of Israel to retake possession of their Land, gathering them from different countries and nations (Qu'ran, Sura 17:104). Consequently, as a Muslim who abides by the Qur'an, I believe that opposing the existence of the State of Israel means opposing a Divine decree.
Every time Arabs fought against Israel they suffered humiliating defeats. In opposing the will of God by making war on Israel, Arabs were in effect making war on God Himself. They ignored the Qur'an, and God punished them. Now, having learned nothing from defeat after defeat, Arabs want to obtain through terror what they were unable to obtain through war: the destruction of the State of Israel. The result is quite predictable: as they have been defeated in the past, the Arabs will be defeated again.
In 1919, Emir Feisal (leader of the Hashemite family, i.e., the leader of the family of the Prophet Muhammad) reached an Agreement with Chaim Weizmann for the creation of a Jewish State and an Arab Kingdom having the Jordan river as a border between them. Emir Feisal wrote, "We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in race, having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together. The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement."
In Feisal's time, none claimed that accepting the creation of the State of Israel and befriending Zionism was against Islam. Even the Arab leaders who opposed the Feisal-Weizmann Agreement never resorted to an Islamic argument to condemn it. Unfortunately that Agreement was never implemented, since the British opposed the creation of the Arab Kingdom and chose to give sovereignty over Arabia to Ibn Sa'ud's marauders, i.e., to the forefathers of the House of Sa'ud.
When the Saudis started ruling an oil rich Kingdom, they also started investing a regular part of their wealth in spreading Wahhabism worldwide. Wahhabism is a totalitarian cult which stands for terror, massacre of civilians and for permanent war against Jews, Christians and non-Wahhabi Muslims. The influence of Wahhabism in the contemporary Arab world is such that many Arab Muslims are wrongly convinced that, in order to be a good Muslim, one must hate Israel and hope for its destruction.
Incidentally, in countries where Wahhabism did not spread, this idea is not rooted. Most Muslims in Turkey, India, Indonesia, or the former Soviet Union do not believe at all that a good Muslim must necessarily be anti-Israel. To give some relevant examples, the leading Muslim scholar and former President of Indonesia, Shaykh Abdurrahman Wahid, is on friendly terms with Israel and also visited leaders of Jewish organizations in the United States. The Mufti of Sierra Leone, Sheikh Ahmed Sillah, is also a friend of Israel, as is the Mufti of European Russia, Sheikh Salman Farid.
An organization called "Muslims for Israel" was recently founded in Canada. Voicing pro-Israeli points of view obviously causes negative reactions from Wahhabi groups and Muslims influenced by Wahhabism. However, while those people verbally attack and circulate the most astonishing fabrications about me, I also receive encouragement and support from pro-Israel Muslims living in different parts of the world.
While visiting Israel, I was welcomed by a delegation of heads of Arab villages in the Jerusalem area. They were telling me how much they like living in Israel, and how much they fear being transferred to PLO rule. Many of the Arab inhabitants of Gush Katif today share the same feeling. They say, "Israelis give us jobs and an opportunity to live in peace. What kind of future awaits us under PLO?" I am sure that, were they free to speak and able to see the reality beyond propaganda, many more Arab Muslims would support my positions.
Irshad Manji, a pro-Israeli Muslim journalist from Canada, tells that some Muslims support her openly, yet many more Muslims tell her, "We are with you, but are afraid to tell it." The same happens to me in Italy, or when I visit Israel. As one knows, being anti-Israeli has become "politically correct" among Arabs. People are afraid to oppose what is "politically correct" even when they live in a democracy. What can one expect from those who live under totalitarian regimes and who have no access to a free press, but to governmental propaganda only? The world should give pro-Israeli Muslims a chance. We owe this to the memory of Anwar Sadat, martyred by those same Wahhabi terrorists who today spread terror everywhere.
In 1996, the Islam-Israel Fellowship of the Root & Branch Association was co-founded by myself and Dr. Asher Eder to promote cooperation between the State of Israel and Muslim nations, and between Jews and Muslims in Israel and abroad, to build a better world based upon a proper Jewish understanding of the Tanakh (Bible) and Jewish Tradition, and upon a proper Muslim understanding of the Qur'an (Koran) and Islamic Tradition. I recommend to FrontPage readers "Peace is Possible between Ishmael and Israel according to the Qur'an and the Tanach (Bible)" by Dr. Eder, with a Foreward by myself, which may be found at [www.rb.org.il ]. I also welcome your readers to visit my website at [ www.amislam.com ].
FP: Thank you Sheikh Palazzi. Tell us, if you believe in the life of the soul after death, where does the soul of the suicide bomber go?
Palazzi: Everyone who dies while committing capital sins such as suicide and murder will enter hellfire, except for the one who repents before death catches him. As for the one who dies without repenting for a capital sin -- while having a correct doctrinal belief and believing that his sin was a sin -- he will dwell in hellfire until his sin is expiated, or even less because of the eventual intercession of Prophets and pious people. However, those who die without repenting for a capital sin and without even believing it is a capital sin, will be denied entrance to heaven, and will dwell in hellfire as long as God wishes. However, God's mercy is such that it completely prevails over his wrath, to the point where hellfire ultimately becomes an abode of relief.
In Islam, both murder and suicide are capital sins about whose nature no Muslim can either doubt or claim ignorance. Every Muslim must know that committing suicide and murder are forbidden in Islam, exactly as every Muslim knows that daily prayers are five, that the month of fasting is Ramadan, that the destination of pilgrimage is Mecca, etc.
Consequently, the one who dies as a suicide bomber and who does so while wrongly believing that his action is in accordance with Islam, actually dies without having correct doctrinal faith and without any opportunity of repentance, and consequently will permanently dwell in hellfire and will never be admitted to heaven. Denying that suicide and murder are capital sins in Islam represents a lack of correct doctrinal faith according to the Shari'a.
FP: Kindly relate to us your experience at the University of California in Santa Barbara on March 4, 2004, when you came on campus and denounced terrorism. Many Muslim students from the Muslim Students Association at UCSB tried to shout you down. What happened and what do you make of it?
Palazzi: In reality, those who opposed my visit at UCSB were a small group of students, mostly related to the local Muslim Student Association (MSA; i.e., to the student branch of the Wahhabi Muslim Brotherhood). I invited them to be involved in the debate, to explain the reasons why they opposed my visit and/or the contents of my speech.
However, they were not in the least interested in real debate and discussion. They only shouted some slogans and left the hall. Other Muslim students, not related to the MSA, on the contrary appreciated my visit, and together with non-Muslim students went on asking me questions privately even after the public debate was over. Apart from that small group of vociferous opponents, both Muslim and non-Muslim students at UCSB were friendly and interested in thoughtful discussion of issues.
FP: Can you illuminate for us the humane and tolerant side of Islam?
Palazzi: In contrast to Wahhabism, which is a religion of terror, coercion and violence, Sunni Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. A Muslim is called to be a loyal citizen of the country in which he lives, on the condition that the State does not deny his basic religious freedom and does not compel him to accept another religion by force. If the government is in other respects tyrannical, corrupt, oppressive, etc., a Muslim may seek redress through established legal channels, without resort to sedition or violence. If he thinks government oppression is unbearable, he must migrate elsewhere. This is the case regardless of whether or not Muslims are a majority or a minority, or the ruler is a Muslim or a non-Muslim.
Sunni Islam recognized different forms of efforts to support Islam (jihad), and acknowledges a military form of jihad. In the Sunni understanding, military jihad can only be undertaken by an Islamic State. Muslims may not initiate armed conflicts on their own initiative, but only after the head of an Islamic State has formally declared war against another state which oppresses Muslims or denies their religion freedom. Islamic sources foresaw that the Islamic State (Caliphate) would cease to exist, and that Muslims and non-Muslims alike would be ruled for a period of history by secular states alone.
According to Sunni belief, the Caliphate will be restored in messianic times, by Imam al-Mahdi, and not by politicians or military leaders. As long as Imam al-Mahdi is not present, no restoration of the Caliphate is possible, and without a Caliphate military jihad is impossible. The only legitimate jihad in our time is not-military jihad, i.e., competing with non-Muslims in good deeds, such as creating a better world and establishing enduring peace.
Wahhabis simply take words used in Islamic Law and apply them against Islamic Law itself. In Islamic Law, terrorism is a sin, and suicide another sin. Wahhabis call "jihad" acts of suicide terrorism and "martyrs" those who die while committing them. With regard to murder and suicide, the conflicting positions of Sunni Islam and Wahhabism are fundamental and irreconcilable.
FP: Tell us a bit about your upbringing and your own intellectual and spiritual journey? Who were some mentors/figures who influenced you? Has your philosophy and outlook always been the same or has it changed over the years? Tell us about a matter about which you have changed your mind or have had second thoughts over the years.
Palazzi: I was born in Rome into a non-observant Muslim family, having no special interest in religion. At that time, there existed in Italy no Muslim organization and no religious facilities. Apart from some Arabic words and some knowledge of major Islamic holidays, I received no formal religious education. Even so, since my youth I was interested in spirituality and metaphysics, and this led me to study philosophy at the State University of Rome.
During that period, I felt a need to rediscover my Islamic roots. After completing my secular education I moved to Cairo, wherein I studied at al-Azhar Islamic University. In Cairo, I had the opportunity to study under the best teachers. At that time, al-Azhar was not, as it is today, a nest of Wahhabi and neo-Salafi fanatics and extremists, but was still a center of traditional Islamic learning.
While living in Cairo, I also had the opportunity to study Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam, under my main teachers, Sheikh Ismail al-Azhari and Sheikh Hussein al-Khalwati. I also benefited from the opportunity to study under the then Mufti of Egypt, the late Sheikh Muhammad al-Mutawali as-Sha'rawi, the one who convinced Sadat to make peace with Israel and who went with him to Jerusalem to pray in the al-Aqsa mosque.
When I came back to Rome, I met other Muslims sharing my attitude, and together we established the organization which today is called the Italian Muslim Assembly. While a teenager, I studied different ideologies and philosophies, and was to a certain extent influenced by them. However, after my stay in Cairo, I considered my basic period of intellectual and spiritual formation completed. My spiritual philosophy has remained more or less the same until today.
FP: What did you think about Pope John Paul II? What do you think of the new Pope?
Palazzi: I think the late Pope John Paul II was a contradictory personality. He made some decisions which were extremely progressive (interfaith meetings, visits to mosques and synagogues, etc.), but his individual theology was nevertheless extremely conservative and from a certain point of view naive. He publicly asked forgiveness for crimes committed by the Church against Jews, but afterwards canonized some very controversial personalities, such as his predecessor Pius IX (one of the most implacable enemies of democracy in the history of humanity), and even pro-Nazi Croatian Cardinal Stepinac.
John Paul II took no steps to censor priests and bishops who scandalously cooperated with mass-murderers such as Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat, and refused to take a clear position about bishops involved in covering up the scandal of pedophile priests. He approved the war in Kosovo to free the oppressed population from Milosevic, but had no courage to support the war for the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. The refusal of John Paul II to "bless" the international Coalition fighting for the liberation of Iraq is something I as a Muslim can hardly forgive, as I cannot forget Catholic organizations marching together with Communists and neo-Nazis "against Bush's war" and objectively in support of Saddam's regime.
On themes such as birth control and embryology John Paul II's mentality was totally obscurantist and medieval. He compared abortion to massacres committed by Nazis and Communists. He promoted dialogue between the Church and non-Catholic religions, but permitted Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) to silence theological debate and dissent within the Catholic Church itself.
From a political point of view, John Paul II supported a direct and constant interference of the Church in the affairs of European States, especially Italy. Many Italians, even practicing Catholic Italians, were disappointed by the idea of a foreign (in this case Polish) pope who interfered with the dialectic of majority rule and minority opposition in our country, and considered it a gross infringement of our national sovereignty.
To conclude, I must say that the pontificate of John Paul II was characterized by light and darkness. Positive elements were counter-balanced by many negative ones.
As for Benedict XVI, taking into consideration the documents he signed when he was President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the "Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition"), he seems to be even more conservative than was John Paul II, and even less inclined to tolerate theological pluralism inside the Catholic Church. In one these documents, the "Dominus Jesus" Declaration, the then Cardinal Ratzinger explained that "interfaith dialogue must be understood as a part of the missionary activity of the Catholic Church." The same document openly says that non-Catholic religions are "seriously defective" from a theological and ethical point of view.
All this is not encouraging at all. We have a Pope, Benedict XVI, who simply rejects the notion of pluralism. He does not see the Catholic Church as an element of society which must co-exist with other elements on a basis of equality and dignity, but sees the Catholic Church as the master which must educate society.
According to the approach of Benedict XVI, religions do not represent different spiritual perspectives, each of which can make its unique contribution to help us partially understand the mystery of God. Benedict thinks the truth about God is already known, and the Pope (i.e., himself) is the only authorized interpreter of that truth. Catholics and non-Catholics alike must simply be educated by the one (i.e., himself) who represents that truth on earth.
Dialogue is not seen as an end in itself, but only as a tool to bring non-Catholic religions more in line with Catholicism. With regard to the attitudes of past Popes such as John XXIII and Paul VI, Benedict XVI seriously risks nullifying the results of the Second Vatican Council and returning Catholic theology to what it was at the time of the Counter Reformation.
Ratzinger, therefore, is a Pope who preaches a totalitarian understanding of religion, and incidentally is also the first Pope to have participated in a Nazi German youth movement. Perhaps this past will not affect relations with Jews, but Benedict recently chose not to mention Israel by name in a public statement of solidarity with nations that recently suffered terrorist attacks. When the Israeli government protested this omission, the reaction of the Press Office of the Holy See was arrogant, condescending, and dismissive, adding insult (a sin of commission) to the original injury (a sin of omission), especially when one considers that the omission was committed by a Bavarian Pope who was both a member of a Nazi German youth movement and a soldier in the Nazi German Wehrmacht.
FP: You are, of course, right about some of these things. I guess I will just say that Pope John Paul II was an incredible human being who provided crucial and meaningful spiritual leadership during a tumultuous time. His job was not to run a popularity contest. I think in some ways he was a very holy man and brought much light to a dark world. He was firm in several areas where it was necessary to be firm. And, of course, he played a tremendous role in the crumbling of an evil empire.
The hype that the media went on about Benedict XVI being in the Nazi German youth movement is also a vicious and dirty cheap shot. Pope XVI was never a Nazi and everyone knows it. All German boys at that time were forced to become members of the Hitler Youth – and so was he. This Pope has made it clear years ago how his faith showed him the evil of Nazism and anti-Semitism.
Palazzi: Although "all German boys at that time were forced to become members of the hitler youth," the young Joseph Ratzinger nevertheless volunteered for a combat unit of the Hitler Youth. This circumstance is confirmed by the Vatican press office. Of course, we are dealing with a teenager living in a period when Nazi indoctrination was systematic, but at least during that period Joseph Ratzinger was a convinced Nazi who chose to join a military unit fighting against the Allies. I do not doubt that his faith showed him the evil of Nazism and anti-Semitism, but this happened after World War Two was over, not before.
FP: Well, Sheikh Palazzi, the evidence suggests that the Pope volunteering for a combat unit is simply untrue and that is why the Pope evaded people who were trying to force him to "volunteer" for a combat unit by declaring his intent to become a priest. There is no trace to the assertion that the Vatican Press Office confirmed the opposite. Ratzinger received a dispensation from the Hitler Youth because of his religious studies and he deserted the German army. He never attended any Hitler Youth meetings and his seminary professor secured the paper "proving" his attendance on his behalf.
And it is this upon this falsehood that you frame your further assertion that Ratzinger was at that time a "convinced Nazi" -- which is, with all due respect, simply a historical falsehood and a personal slander. His own word, and those of all who knew him and his family, says otherwise: that he and his whole family were anti-Nazis. There is no trace of Nazism in anything Ratzinger has ever done since the war, and it seems that many people are just trying to smear him and his theological conservatism – quite an unworthy thing to do.
In any case, let’s get back to the terror war. What is the best way for the West to fight it? What do you think of the American liberation of Iraq?
Palazzi: To win a war, one must identify who the enemy is and neutralize the enemy's chain of command. World War Two was won when the German army was destroyed, Berlin was captured and Hitler removed from power. To win the War on Terror, it is necessary to understand that al-Qa'ida is a Saudi organization, created by the House of Sa'ud, funded with petro-dollar profits by the House of Sa'ud and used by the House of Sa'ud for acts of mass terror primarily against the West, and the rest of the world, as well.
Consequently, to really win the War on Terror it is necessary for the U.S. to invade Saudi Arabia, capture King Abdallah and the other 1,500 princes who constitute the House of Sa'ud, to freeze their assets, to remove them from power, and to send them to Guantanamo for life imprisonment.
Then it is necessary to replace the Saudi-Wahhabi terror-funding regime with a moderate, non-Wahhabi and pro-West regime, such as a Hashemite Sunni Muslim constitutional monarchy.
Unless all this is done, the War on Terror will never be won. It is possible to destroy al-Qa'ida, to capture or execute Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, al-Zawahiri, etc., but this will not end the War. After some years, Saudi princes will again start funding many similar terror organizations. The Saudi regime can only survive by increasing its support for terror.
Saddam's regime was one of the worst criminal dictatorships which existed in this world, and destroying it was surely a praiseworthy task for which, as a Muslim, I am thankful to President Bush, to the governments who joined the Coalition and to soldiers who fought in the field. Destroying the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq were surely praiseworthy tasks, but I regret that focusing on these secondary enemies was -- for the White House -- a way to obscure the role of the world's main enemy: the Saudis.
FP: What do you think of President Bush?
Palazzi: I am extremely disappointed with him. I hoped that -- after Saudi terrorists attacked the U.S. on 9/11 -- this would necessarily cause a radical revision in U.S.-Saudi relations. The first action a U.S. President had to do after such a criminal attack as 9/11 was to immediately outlaw Saudi-controlled institutions inside the U.S. and acknowledge that viewing Saudis as "friends" was a mortal sin representing sixty years of failed U.S. foreign and economic policy.
U.S. governmental agencies have plenty of evidence about the role of the House of Sa'ud in funding the worldwide terror network. U.S. citizens can even read in newspapers that some days before the 9/11 attack Muhammad Atta received a check from the wife of the former Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, but unbelievably this caused no consequences. Let us consider plain facts: the wife of a foreign ambassador pays terrorists for attacks which murder thousands of U.S. citizens, and the U.S. government not only does not declare war on that foreign country, in this case Saudi Arabia, but does not even terminate diplomatic relations with that country.
On the contrary, then-Crown Prince Abdallah, the creator (together with the new Saudi ambassador to the United States, former Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Father of 9/11, Prince Turki al-Feisal) of al-Qa'ida, is immediately invited to Bush's ranch as a honored guest, and Bush tells him, "You are our ally in the War on Terror"! Can one image FDR inviting Hitler to the United States and telling him, "You are our ally in the war against Fascism in Europe"?
Something very similar happened after 9/11. As a matter of fact, the Saudis supported Bush's electoral campaign for his first term in office, and asked him in exchange to be the first U.S. President to promote the creation of a Palestinian State. Once he was elected, Bush refused to abide by the agreement, and the consequence was 9/11.
"We paid for your election, and now you must do want we want from you", this was the message behind the 9/11 attack. Bush immediately started doing what the Saudis wanted from him: compelling Israel to withdraw from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, in order to permit the creation of a PLO state. Western media speak of a "Road Map," while Arab media call it by its real name: "Abdallah's Plan."
One hears about a U.S. President who allegedly leads a "War on Terror" and promotes the spread of "democracy" and "freedom" in the Islamic world, but the reality shows a U.S. president who -- after a Saudi terror attack against the U.S. -- abides by a Saudi diktat, hides the role of the Saudi regime behind al-Qa'ida and wants Israel, the only democratic state in the Middle East, cut to pieces to facilitate the creation of another dictatorial regime, lead by Arafat deputy Abu Mazen, the terrorist who organized the mass murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Theoretically, Bush proclaims his intention to punish terror and to spread democracy, but the Road Map is the exact opposite of all this: it means punishing the victims of terror and rewarding terrorists, compelling democracy to withdraw in order to create a new dictatorial Arab regime. For the U.S. there is only one single trustworthy ally in the entire Middle East: Israel.
Now Bush is punishing America's ally Israel to reward those who heartily supported "our brother Saddam", those who demonstrate by burning Stars and Strips flags and those who call America "the imperialist power controlled by Zionism". In doing so, Bush seriously risks becoming the most anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish President in the history of the U.S.
Let us look at the impending victims of Bush's foreign policy, at the inhabitants of Gush Katif. What is their crime? What did they do to merit deportation from their homes and the theft of their farms and businesses? They live in peace, work hard and provide jobs for thousands of Gaza Arabs. To please the Saudis, Bush wants a Judenrein Gaza, with the Jews of Gush Katif deported from their homes, their houses destroyed and even the remains of their relatives exhumed and buried elsewhere.
Were one to proclaim "Jews, for the only reason of their being Jews, must be deported from New York and forcibly resettled in New Jersey", the whole world would shout and say this is racist deportation, ethnic cleansing, violation of basic human rights, etc. Now, by supporting the infamous anti-Israeli Saudi Plan, Bush is applying the same identical principle: he accepts the idea that Jews, for the only fault of being Jews, must be deported from their homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and resettled elsewhere.
Throughout history, Jews were frequently deported from country to country by Romans, Popes, Czars, Nazis, etc. Now, thanks to Bush's policy, Jews will also be deported from Israel, and deported not by anti-Semitic regimes, but by Jews and others wearing Israeli uniforms. It is the norm for Arab dictators to conceive a political project based on ethnic cleansing and deportation of Jews, but it is simply unbelievable that a U.S. President approves such a project and compels Israel to accept it.
I am shocked to realize that a U.S. President supports ethnic cleansing of Jews from parts of the Land of Israel, and that most American Jewish organizational leaders either keep silent or even approve of this deportation plan. With the few praiseworthy exceptions of the Zionist Organization of America (Morton Klein), Americans for a Safe Israel (Herb Zweibon and Helen Freedman), National Council of Young Israel (Pesach Lerner) and a few other groups, most Jewish organizations in the U.S. collaborate with Bush's plans against their own brothers and sisters in Israel.
The implications of the Road Map are staggering: A Jew is not like other human beings, he can be deported from place to place, according to the cynical oil drenched dictates of political opportunism. Deporting Jews and cutting Israel into pieces was the original goal of Arab dictators supported by the Soviet Union.
The U.S. has consistently opposed this racist policy and supported Israel against terrorists who wanted to destroy it. Now Bush is granting those same terrorists a victory: what was not accomplished by terror will be accomplished by the Israeli Defence Forces with the support of the United States. Saudis are able to compel a U.S. President to betray U.S. allies and to force the creation of an entity ("Palestine") controlled by terrorists.
President Bush claims to be a Born Again Christian and also claims to read the Bible everyday. The Bible says that God gave the Land of Israel as a heritage to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and gave the rest of the world as a heritage to other peoples. As confirmed by the Qur'an and Islamic tradition, Abraham himself bequeathed to his descendants from Isaac the Land of Israel, and bequeathed to his descendants from Ishmael other lands, such as the Arabian peninsula.
Now descendants of Ishmael, the Arabs, have a gigantic territory extending from Morocco to Iraq. The descendants of Isaac, the Jews, on the contrary, only have a tiny, narrow strip of land. However, Arab dictators are not satisfied with their huge territory. They want more. They also want the little heritage of the Children of Israel, and resort to terror in order to get it.
U.S. Presidents have always opposed this attempt to steal from the Jewish People what God granted them. Now we have a U.S. President who claims to honor the Bible, and yet wants to give Arab dictators what belongs to the Jewish People. By doing so, Bush is not only rewarding terror, encouraging further terror and showing the world that terror works, but he is also opposing God's will. I pray that the citizens of the U.S. will be spared the full consequences of this anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-God foreign policy.
FP: There is indeed a tragedy inherent in the Israelis not being defended the way they should be. And the disengagement from Gaza truly comes with many dangerous risks. But there are several very shrewd strategic reasons involved in this move and they are in Israel’s interests. We shouldn’t forget that. Bush and Sharon are making wise and calculated steps in their own context. It is more complicated than simply seeing this as a great malicious betrayal. But we’ll have to debate this another time.
Let us turn to your personal interests for a moment. What are some of your favorite books?
Palazzi: Books I prefer reading are those dealing with spirituality. I am especially interested in the study of similarities between Sufism and Kabbalah, and consequently I consider "al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah" by Ibn 'Arabi and the "Zohar" as my basic sources. I am also interested in the study of non-monotheistic mysticism, and consequently appreciate the Upanishad, the Vedantasutra and the Purana of the Hindu tradition, the Buddhist Canon and the Greek Philokalia. I am also interested in the history of Middle East. Books such as "Battle Ground" by Shmuel Katz and "The Secret War Against the Jews" by John Loftus are among my favorites.
FP: Do you listen to music? If so, tell us what music you like.
Palazzi: Because of my academic interests in ethnomusicology and ritual dance, I frequently listen to Medieval music, be it Arabic-Andalusi, Maghrebi, Persian, European or Byzantine. Then I am also fond of symphonic music, and my favorite composers are Bruckner, Mahler and Stravinsky. I also like jazz, especially from New Orleans.
FP: Why do you think Islamic extremists demonize music? For instance, the Taliban illegalized all music, Khomeini illegalized many forms of “Western music” etc. What is it about music that they see so threatening? Isn’t music a divine gift? Also, do you think dancing is anti-Islamic?
Palazzi: Khomeini was not so extreme about music as are the Taliban (who follow an Indian version of Saudi Wahhabism known as Deobandism) or the Saudis. Khomeini never demonized music in principle. He rather imposed his personal preferences regarding which music was acceptable and which was not. Khomeini deemed traditional Islamic music and Western classical music to be acceptable, and modern Western popular music to be unacceptable. The Taliban, on the contrary, even banned Sufi music and traditional Islamic chants, and the Saudis go on doing the same until today.
Some Muslim scholars of the past restricted the range of acceptable music to a minimum, but Imam al-Ghazali, a leading authority in the Shafi'i school of jurisprudence to which I belong, preferred to emphasize the positive value of music. A chapter of al-Ghazali's book in Persian, "The Alchemy of Happiness", is entitled "Concerning Music and Dancing as Aids to the Religious Life".
al-Ghazali writes: "The heart of man has been so constituted by the Almighty that, like a flint, it contains a hidden fire which is evoked by music and harmony, and renders man beside himself with ecstasy. These harmonies are echoes of that higher world of beauty which we call the world of spirits; they remind man of his relationship to that world, and produce in him an emotion so deep and strange that he himself is powerless to explain it. The effect of music and dancing is deeper in proportion as the natures on which they act are simple and prone to motion; they fan into a flame whatever love is already dormant in the heart, whether it be earthly and sensual, or divine and spiritual".
While other scholars tried to classify musical instruments and musical styles as permissible or forbidden on the basis of their personal preferences, Imam al-Ghazali on the contrary classified music according to the effects it produces on the soul: music which promotes illicit and immoral desires must be avoided, while music which echoes spiritual harmony and awakens contemplation should be encouraged. The latter kind of music is surely a divine gift. Till today Sufi musicians play traditional songs and mystical melodies in order to increase love for God and to cause listeners to join in ecstatic dancing.
FP: So do you ever dance to your favorite music?
Palazzi: I not only regularly dance according to the teachings of the Mevlevi school as they were received by the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufi Orders, but I also teach my students, with the authorization of my Sheikhs, what in the West is known as the ritual dance of the Whirling Dervishes. In Arabic, this same dance is called Sama', meaning "listening". The ritualized techniques of Sufi dance are necessary since an ordinary person lacks spontaneity. For those who reach a certain spiritual level, technique itself is not necessary anymore: listening to traditional Mevlevi music, especially to the sound of flute and drum, is enough to lead to spontaneous dance out of love for God.
During the last years, I have led seminars and arranged performances of the ritual dance of the Whirling Dervishes in cultural centers, universities and dancing schools. Students at dancing schools have some technical advantages over participants who never attended such schools, but in many cases the dance students were less spontaneous and more concerned with external appearances. These dance students were educated to perform for the public in performances which must please audiences. In Dergas, Sufi dancing halls, students dance exclusively for the Beloved One, and to be united with Him. That is the basic difference.
FP: Do you think that veiling of women in Islam should me mandatory or voluntary?
Palazzi: Wearing or not wearing a veil should be the choice of a Muslim woman alone. No one has the right to compel her to wear or not wear a veil. As with prayer, fasting and all the other religious practices, veiling has meaning when it is spontaneous and reflects one's will to please God by choosing to observe a religious precept. Forcing people to observe religious precepts does not result in an increase in faith, but rather an increase in hypocrisy. One does not pray, fast or wear a veil as an expression of freely chosen faith to submit to what one believes to be commanded by God, but only due to human coercion.
Consequently, I strongly condemn those regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which force women who do not want to wear the veil to do so; and regimes, such as Turkey and France, which prevent women who do want to wear the veil from doing so. My ideal of religious freedom is that, if a woman wants to veil, she must be free to do so, and the State must defend her right to veil; while if a woman does not want to veil, she must be free to do so, and the State must defend her right not to do so.
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