“Dr. Mohammed al Arifi, the Lion of Islam and brave warrior, go in the name of God to Jerusalem and do not pay attention to trouble-makers.” “Sheikh al Arifi, you are a man of initiative, and your visit to Jerusalem expresses support of the Prophet’s Night Journey to Jerusalem and of the people of Jerusalem who are under siege and oppressed. So put your trust in Allah [and go to Jerusalem].”
These are just two of the numerous comments made by male and female fans of Sheikh al Arifi on a number of websites that tackled this interesting issue. Of course these youthful comments were made before Sheikh al Arifi announced that he would not be going to Jerusalem. He said that the whole matter was merely a misunderstanding and added that he could never visit Jerusalem as long as it remains under Zionist occupation. He further stated that he would never appeal to or beg the Israeli consulates to grant him an entry visa so as to perform prayers in Jerusalem. Sheikh al Arifi ended by stating that he would never enter Jerusalem except by the sword just as the Zionists seized it by the sword.
Sheikh al Arifi said that he had no intention of breaking Arab and Islamic consensus and taking an unprecedented step towards normalizing the Zionist occupation of Jerusalem. We could not have expected anything less from someone like Sheikh al Arifi who is known for his religious fervour. I believe it would be a waste of time to continue to blame and censure him after this clarification, despite whether his critics call it a correction, a retraction or clarification and despite whether or not it was convincing.
What we really ought to pay attention to and consider a cause for concern is the fact that many young Arab men and women, including the millions of fans of Sheikh al Arifi, approved of his visit to Jerusalem. Some of them welcomed the project as an indication of an actual visit to Jerusalem rather than merely viewing it from Jordan, as al Arifi stated. Those youth expressed their strong wish to see their beloved Muslim cleric perform his prayers in Al Aqsa Mosque.
These random and supportive comments are what should catch the attention of observers and analysts. It is quite worrying that a large number of young Arabs are completely oblivious to the reason why Muslim scholars, preachers, intellectuals, leaders and politicians do not go to Jerusalem and pray in Al Aqsa Mosque. Many of them have even asked, “What’s wrong with praying in Al Aqsa Mosque?”
The only good thing about al Arifi’s bombshell – regardless of the motivations, justifications, intentions and hidden facts behind it despite that it brought about strong anger across the Muslim world and was misunderstood by many as Sheikh al Arifi himself said – is that it gave us the opportunity to reopen the issue of anti-normalization with Israel and highlight the features and justifications of this position that will remain unchanged as long as Israeli troops continue to desecrate the sacred land of Jerusalem. Dozens of Arab satellite television channels dedicated hours of live broadcast to cover the issue of the Jerusalem visit and to explain its broad impact, danger and [potential] repercussions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. A number of Muslim sheikhs and scholars appeared on television and warned against this. It was one rare occasion where the entire intellectual and political spectrum including Islamists and liberals shared the same view and criticized the idea of a Muslim scholar visiting Jerusalem. Of course each camp had its own agenda, motivations as well as its announced and unannounced objectives for criticizing the potential visit.
Though the statement made by Sheikh al Arifi about visiting Jerusalem caused unease, discontent, confusion and strong reactions, it must be stated that it was not all bad. The question ‘what’s wrong with visiting Jerusalem’ was finally answered in a detailed and comprehensive manner through debate, discussions, articles and fatwa shows in response to Sheikh al Arifi’s proposed visit to Jerusalem. It was a good opportunity to shed light once again on the issue of anti-normalization with our Zionist enemy and to revive the idea among the younger generations that are sadly unaware of the significance of the anti-normalization campaign and the necessity of keeping it alive.