Riyadh, Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi cleric Sheikh Muhammad al-Arifi returned to the spotlight with his recent announcement that he intends to visit Jerusalem, and that he is preparing to film an episode of his talk show “Da’Basmatak” that is broadcast by Iqra TV there.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that they did not object to the Saudi cleric’s visit, and that he could apply for an entry visa from the Israeli consulate in Amman.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman reportedly said “throughout the years many people from countries like Libya, Indonesia and other countries that don’t have relations with Israel have visited Jerusalem.” He added that “all these visits were naturally coordinated with Israeli authorities.”
Sources also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi cleric Muhammad al-Arifi is currently in the Jordanian capital, where he is delivering religious lectures at the Al-Isra University.
Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that at the time of publication, Sheikh al-Arifi had yet to complete the procedures to obtain an entry visa to visit Jerusalem.
There is extreme secrecy surrounding the details of this visit, and the Iqra TV officials are refusing to clarify any information on this, saying that all details will be revealed on Friday by Sheikh al-Arifi himself during his next episode of “Da’Basmatak.”
The source who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity also said that al-Arifi is not visiting Jerusalem as a propagandist or a media figure; however he refused to clarify the purpose of al-Arifi’s visit. The source also denied any coordination with the Hamas movement with regards to this visit.
Al-Arifi’s announcement received a lot of criticism, with many considering any visit that includes coordination with Israel to be part of normalizing relations. Sheikh Hamed al-Betawi, head of the Palestinian Scholars League and a preacher at the Al-Aqsa Mosque has called for Sheikh al-Arifi not to visit Jerusalem. In a statement published by the Muslim Brotherhood website Ikhwan Online, Sheikh al-Betawi, who is also Hamas’s Spiritual Guide, said that “with all appreciation and respect towards Sheikh al-Arifi for the role that he has played in the service of Islam and for his support for the legitimate resistance; we object to this visit, because it comes at a time when the Al-Aqsa Mosque remains in the grip of occupation, and rather we hope that such a visit will take place following the liberation of Jerusalem.”
He pointed out that such a visit comes in the context of normalizing relations with the occupation, as it is impossible for any such visit to take place without coordination with the occupation forces. Al-Betawi said that such a visit may also encourage other preachers and religious figures to follow in the footsteps of Sheikh al-Arifi as this would set a precedent for visiting Jerusalem. Al-Betawi said that he was surprised at the timing of this visit which comes at a time that Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are under attack by the occupation forces.