Top Saudi cleric appears to call for ties with Israel

Sermon by the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca calls on Muslims to respect Jews.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A sermon by one of Saudi Arabia’s top religious leaders appeared to call for normalizing ties with Israel, the Al Araby newspaper reported Saturday.

The Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, stirred controversy after his Friday sermon used the theme of the Prophet Muhammad’s interaction with Jews. Sudais talked about the prophet’s early days in Mecca and the relationships he had with other religions, and in particular the Jews.

Sudais’ message called for Muslims to practice religious tolerance, especially toward Jews, which was interpreted in the Arab media as a religious endorsement for Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries to establish official relations with Israel.

The sermon came at the end of a historic week that saw the first flight of an El Al plane to the United Arab Emirates carrying a delegation of Israeli and American diplomats. Saudi Arabia allowed the flight to use its airspace, another first as the Saudis had previously banned all air traffic to and from Israel from flying over the country, adding hours of flight time to trips from Tel Aviv to Asia.

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Later in the week the Saudi transport ministry announced that flights from all countries could use its airspace to get to the UAE, giving flights from Israel permission without specifically using the word “Israel.”

The sermon by Sudais similarly alluded to Israel by referring to Jews, but did not explicitly say the name of the country.

“The Prophet had mortgaged his shield to a Jew when he died, he had shared harvest from the land of the Jews of Khaybar among two. The excellence he showed to his Jewish neighbor led the latter to Islam,” the Imam said.

“We must clean and purify Islam from the doubt and superstition that has stuck to it,” Sudais said in calling out  intolerance for other religions espoused by radical schools of Islam.

The sermon evoked some angry responses on social media, but there were no major protests or demonstrations reported.

“He [Sudais] is paving the way for normalization and treason from the holy Meccan pulpit,” tweeted Egyptian Islamic scholar Mohammed al-Sagheer.

Sudais also received support for his sermon, however, with a user named Abo Yara tweeting, “God preserve the imam and preacher of the Grand Mosque and extend his life, Amen.”

Sudais is apparently changing his tune from a past tainted by fiercely anti-Semitic comments. In a widely reported 2002 sermon, Sudais called on Muslims to “say farewell to peace initiatives with these people [Jews].” He also said he prayed to God to “terminate” the Jews, whom he called “the scum of humanity, the rats of the world, prophet killers, pigs and monkeys.”