RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority minister of religious affairs on Tuesday urged a top Muslim cleric to annual his recent fatwa which ruled that non-Palestinian Muslims should not visit Jerusalem while it remains under occupation.
Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a respected Sunni Muslim cleric, gave the decree after President Mahmoud Abbas urged Arabs and Muslims worldwide to visit the city at the Jerusalem conference in Qatar on Sunday.
Egyptian al-Qaradawi reiterated a previous fatwa on Monday which states: "The Palestinians have the right to enter Jerusalem whenever they want, but for non-Palestinians it is prohibited to enter the city.
"The reason behind prohibition is to avoid legitimization of occupation. Those who visit the city are actually legitimizing an entity which is controlling Muslim lands by force, and are forced to deal with the enemy’s embassy to obtain a visa."
But Minister of Waqf (Islamic endowments) and Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash stressed that visiting Jerusalem is a religious duty in Islam, and described Qaradawi's fatwa as "bizarre."
Quoting the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad which commend visiting al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, al-Habbash stressed that the Prophet was speaking while the city was under the control of the Roman Empire.
He referred to comments by Abbas in Doha: "Visiting Jerusalem can never be seen as normalization with Israeli occupation, but rather a means for maintain contact with Jerusalem and its people. Visiting a prisoner in his cell doesn’t mean recognition of the jailers or normalization with them."
Al-Habbash added: "When Muslims and Christians visit Jerusalem, they are actually challenging the Israeli policies aimed at isolating the holy city. Such visits represent material and moral support to the Jerusalemites who insist on remaining in Jerusalem so that they will not feel they were left alone to defend the Arab and Islamic identity of Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy places."
Qaradawi, who is head of the international union of Muslim scholars, is respected as a long-time supporter of Palestinian resistance, and spoke out in favor of Arab Spring revolutions in Syria and Libya after returning to Egypt as former president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. He had been imprisoned in Egypt several times, and was living in Qatar until February 2011.
Al-Habbash has clashed with Qaradawi before, after he criticized the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority government in light of the continuing occupation, and warned that the PA and Palestine Liberation Organization were leading the Palestinian people into great danger.
The PA minister said the Shiek's comments in early 2011 were "disappointing and unacceptable."