Arab social media has been enflamed by the appointment of Muhammad Al-Issa – a fierce opponent of political Islam who visited Auschwitz with Zionists in 2020 – to deliver the Day of Arafah sermon.
King Salman commissioned Al-Issa, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, to deliver the khutba from Masjid al Namira today on the most important day of the Islamic calendar.
But a series of prominent campaigns have been launched on social media demanding that Al-Issa be stripped of the honour and highlighting his previous controversial statements and actions.
For example, in 2020 he visited the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp at the invitation of a Jewish group in America which strongly advocates for Israel.
Al-Issa and the CEO of the pro-Israel American Jewish Committee, David Harris, led the tour to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial in Poland.
The American Jewish Committee said that Al-Issa, who is based in Makkah, led a delegation of 62 Muslims including 25 prominent religious leaders from some 28 countries during the “groundbreaking” visit.
The AJC delegation included members of the organisation, among them children of Holocaust survivors.
Specifically referring to Israel, the AJC says: “Around the world — from the hallways of the UN in New York, to the corridors of the European Union in Brussels, and to the countries of Asia — AJC advocates for Israel at the highest levels. And when Israel is under assault, whether from the terrorist organizations on her doorstep or the global BDS movement, AJC helps bring the world the truth about Israel.”
During his visit to Auschwitz, Al-Issa said: “To be here, among the children of Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and Islamic communities, is both a sacred duty and a profound honour. The unconscionable crimes to which we bear witness today are truly crimes against humanity. That is to say, a violation of us all, an affront to all of God’s children.”
Al-Issa called those around the world who engage in Holocaust denial “partners in the crime. They are like Nazis themselves.”
Emphasising that Muslims and Jews have much in common, he said: “Even if we could act on ten percent of the commonality, it would help bring peace to the world.” He added: “The meetings today and yesterday should send a strong message about our cooperation against those who twist the word of God to generate hate towards others, towards humanity.”
And during a visit to France, he said: “There is no place for political Islam in France or anywhere else because it does not abide by the values of our religion or the national values of any country. Political Islam does not respect the laws and constitutions of countries. It has a political background and it strives to accomplish a certain political agenda. Therefore, it does not represent Islam.”
The Saudi authorities have not responded to the online campaign but supporters of the regime have said it is orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Issa is a loyal supporter of the Saudi regime which is slowly establishing open low-level relations with Israel which runs contrary to the general Arab and Muslim boycott of the Israeli regime since its inception.
Al-Issa’s outreach to Jewish organisations also coincides with a broader alignment of interests and ties emerging between the Arab Gulf states and Israel, which share a common foe in Iran.
The Day of Arafah on the 9th day of Dhu al-Hijjah is the holiest day in the Islamic calendar, and the second day of the Hajj pilgrimage. At dawn, pilgrims make their way from Mina to the plain of Arafat. It was from this site that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave one of his last sermons in the final year of his life. Muslims also hold that part of the Quranic verse announcing that the religion of Islam had been perfected was revealed on this day.
In a statement on Tuesday, the General President of the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, congratulated Al-Issa “on the occasion of gaining the generous trust by assigning him a preacher for the Day of Arafah at the Namira Mosque for this year.”
The sermon will be broadcast and translated to Muslims around the world in 14 languages, and aims to reach 150 million people.