Saturday, May 11, 2002

Pro-Israel Imam Praised by Jews, Decried by Islamic Group

From Religion News Service

May 11 2002

TORONTO -- These days, a rousingly pro-Israel talk before a Jewish audience isn't news--except when it's delivered by a Muslim cleric, and in a synagogue to boot.

Sheik Abdul Hadi Palazzi, a Sunni cleric who spoke to synagogue audiences in three Canadian cities recently, was hailed as a beacon of sanity by Jewish groups, and condemned as anti-Islamic by the Canadian Islamic Congress.

Palazzi, an imam and secretary-general of the Italian Muslim Assn., is known for his vocal beliefs that suicide bombings by Islamic extremists are inimical to Islam and constitute fitnah, or sedition. Thus, they are deserving of punishment. Among his other controversial views are that Israel should retain control over all Jerusalem; that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is an unrepentant terrorist who will never make peace with the Jewish state; and that the West is being hypocritical in its fight against terrorism while it condemns Israel's military campaign in the Palestinian territories.

In a strongly worded statement, the Canadian Islamic Congress, an umbrella group for the country's 650,000 Muslims, called Palazzi an "anti-Islam campaigner" whose speaking tour will inflame tensions between Muslims and Jews.

The congress said the sponsor was "playing with fire" by having Palazzi talk at a Winnipeg synagogue. In Toronto, where he spoke to about 600 people, Palazzi dismissed the Islamic congress as "a branch of Hamas," the militant Palestinian organization that has claimed credit for a number of suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians.

The 41-year-old cleric said Islam clearly forbids both suicide and terror against civilians. "These are opposed to the dictates of Islam, and it is the moral duty of Islamic scholars to speak out," he said.

And denying Jewish rights to Israel, including Jerusalem, negates Islamic history, he argued.

"The Arab national movement and the Zionists were allies after World War I," he said, adding that Arab leaders at the time "recognized the Koranic prophecy of the return of the Jews to Israel. The Koran says the Jewish exile would not last forever."

Today's many Muslim leaders in the Arab world, especially in Palestinian-influenced areas, distort Islam's teachings, he charged.

"We must denounce fundamentalist movements in the name of Islam.... In behavior and policy, this is opposed to Islam. The intifada is also condemnable under Islamic law."

He also said Arafat "will never make peace, and it is absurd to expect that [he] will fight terror."

The sheik decried what he called the West's hypocrisy in the fight against terrorism by criticizing Israel.

In 1998, Palazzi co-founded the Islam-Israel Friendship Society, which promotes a positive Muslim attitude toward Jews and Israel. John Esposito, author of "Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam" and a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, told the Ottawa Citizen that Palazzi's Koran interpretations are "not credible."

"I'm not too sure who, other than Palazzi, supports the position" that the Koran endorses Jerusalem as an Israeli-held capital, Esposito said. "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."

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