On June 3, 2010, Iranian television offered a live broadcast of the mass reception that Israeli Arabs gave Sheikh Raed Salah after he was released from a police investigation. Salah was arrested for participating in the Turkish flotilla that sought to breach the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza – aboard its most problematic vessel, the Mavi Marmara – and this made him the hero of the day. Iran’s open show of sympathy for Salah was no accident. Salah and his movement share many precepts with Iran, particularly the goal of creating a worldwide Islamic caliphate in the spirit of Muhammad. That vision is also shared, in one form or another, by the Muslim Brotherhood(1) and by the Hamas and al-Qaeda terror organizations.
Thus the dream of Salah, or “Sheikh Al-Aksa,” does not focus on Jerusalem alone. Jerusalem and Al-Aksa are indeed a key element of his doctrine, but still they are only a step on a much higher ladder that leads to the objective – now feared throughout Europe – of the caliphate. If this component of Salah’s worldview is still not dominant, over the years it has become increasingly central to his faith and his conduct. The “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel is not only a tool for inciting against the Jewish people and the Zionist movement, nor merely a means to upgrade the holiness of Jerusalem on the Muslim scale. In the long term this libel is also intended to help consolidate global Islam around Jerusalem as the capital of the envisaged global caliphate.
In the world according to Salah, as proclaimed from various podiums,(2) not only does Israel lack any historical or religious right to Jerusalem, and not only is the Temple a figment of the imagination. Jerusalem, in Salah’s view, was a Muslim Wakf in its entirety, and must revert to exclusive Muslim rule and become the capital of the caliphate. This global entity will amend the Muslim word’s fragmentation into states and constitute part of the conquest of Christianity, Europe, and the West as a whole. Salah, whose doctrine is clear-cut, speaks openly of “the global caliphate whose capital is Jerusalem,” which will be “the last stage in the history of the Muslim nation until the End of Days.”(3) In this era, signs of redemption will appear. The Mahdi (a designation meaning “the elected one of God,” or “the guide on behalf of God”), whom Muslims regard as the redeemer of the world (comparable to the Messiah in Judaism), will emerge as well. He will arrive at the end of time, save the world from violence and injustice, and restore Islam to the original traditions of Muhammad. The era of the caliphate will also see the fulfillment of the Muslim tradition that speaks of the annihilation of Judaism. The full redemption will only occur when Muhammad’s prophetic will is realized with the surrender of Christianity and the reconquest of the three cities: Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Rome, capital of Italy and seat of the Vatican.(4)
In recent years, then, Salah has been busy expanding his own and his movement’s activity. He has gone from a sole focus on Jerusalem to intensive involvement with the Palestinian issue as a whole, while indicating support for the Hamas movement and some of its main figures. In an interview with the website Islam Online, Salah described the broadening of his compass:
The Muslim movement and its leadership played a prominent role on the issue of the occupied Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and Al-Aksa Mosque. This role began to expand from the local level to the general Palestinian level, and from there to the worldwide level, mainly regarding the issue of the occupied Al-Quds and Al-Aksa Mosque. This involvement has enabled the movement to forge international connections on all the matters that it concentrates on.(5)
Here Salah – possibly for the first time in public – describes the “issue of Al-Quds and Al-Aksa” not only as existing in itself but also as a means to other ends.
The trend Salah describes was tangibly manifested by his participation in the flotilla that embarked for Gaza from Turkey. Various others who were on the Mavi Marmara attest that Salah was a prominent figure there and made pro-jihad statements. In a press conference after the incident, Salah broadened his message from the national to the religious dimension, stressing the Muslims’ belief in shahada:(6) “we say to Israel. Even if you have atomic bombs, missiles, tanks, cannons, and ground, air, and naval forces, know that it is Allah who decrees life and death. We fear no one, except the sovereign ruler of the world. That shahada is the faith and the duty of each of us. Each one of us must hope for it and die yearning for it.”(7) Also with Salah on the ship were the chairman of the Higher Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arabs, Muhammad Zeidan, and the head of the southern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement, Sheikh Hamad Abu Dibas.
The vision, common to Salah and Iran, of the Islamization of the Christian continent has already begun to materialize in the Netherlands, Britain, and many other countries.(8) About fifty-four million Muslims already live in Europe today.(9) The British Centre for Social Cohesion reports that about one-third of the Muslim students in Britain favor the rule of the caliphate.(10) It is not only Salah who dreams of it. Member of Knesset Masud Ganaim, from the United Arab List–Taal party, who sat on the Central Council of the Islamic Movement and holds a BA in Middle Eastern history from the University of Haifa, proclaims a duty “to set up an Islamic caliphate and include Israel within it…since the Jews had their heyday under a caliphate of that kind.” In Ganaim’s view, the nakba (or “calamity” of Israel’s creation, according to the Palestinian narrative) “stemmed from the weakness and collapse of the Muslim body, which must be rehabilitated.” Ganaim took the same opportunity to express identification with the Iran-Hizbullah-Syria axis.(11)
As noted, Salah and his friends’ identification with Shiite Iran is no accident given that Iran’s goal is likewise a worldwide Islamic caliphate, as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes clear from time to time.(12)
Meanwhile, as the worldwide-caliphate dream of Salah and his allies in Iran, Turkey, Hamas, and Hizbullah progresses, anti-Semitism rages along with occasional terror strikes in Europe and elsewhere. Already in 2000 a senior Chechen figure expressed readiness to act against the Jews. The man, a former deputy of the Chechen rebel leader Johar Dudayev, asserted that
the goal is to stand beside our brothers in Jerusalem, and at Al-Aksa al-Sharif to the best of our ability….We have not forgotten and we will not forget our brothers at Al-Aksa. The Al-Aksa issue is the first in importance for us and for the Muslim world as a whole….The mujahideen have today begun, Allah be praised, practical steps for carrying out military plans against the Jews….Whoever does not…prepare himself for the liberation of Al-Aksa is distant from the Muslim nation and will die, and in his heart is something of hypocrisy….To attack the Jews everywhere. The Jews are dispersed and visible, Allah be praised, and it is possible to carry out military actions against them.(13)
Hamas, some of whose positions Sheikh Salah openly supports, is a terrorist organization in every regard. The Islamic Movement in Umm al-Fahm, however, is linked to Hamas in a way that is not only ideological. In 2008, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet closed the offices of the Al-Aksa Institute in Umm al-Fahm after its cooperation with Hamas headquarters in Jerusalem was uncovered. This cooperation, as the Shin Bet made clear, was funded by (among others) the Coalition of Justice – a worldwide roof organization of extremist Muslim foundations that was operated by Hamas. Already in 2002 Israel had declared it illicit.(14)
Hamas, like Salah, makes frequent use of the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel. Like him, too, Hamas speaks of a Muslim revolution that will bring about Islam’s conquest of the globe. A typical example is a statement by Yunis al-Astal, a representative of Hamas on the Palestinian Authority’s Legislative Council, who warned in March 2008 of Zionist plans to murder “Sheikh Al-Aksa Raed Salah” – plans motivated, in al-Astal’s telling, by Salah’s repeated warnings of a Zionist plot to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque.(15) A month later al-Astal broadened his purview and declared that Islam would soon conquer Rome, “capital of the Catholics or the Crusaders,” just as it had once conquered Constantinople, and from there it would proceed to take over the two Americas as well as Eastern Europe.(16)
A Hamas greeting card illustrating the purported Jewish-Israeli threat to the Dome of the Rock. Found in a mosque by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield, 2002. (Tsvika Israeli, Government Press Office)
Along with the Muslim demographic threat to Europe comes a constant threat of terror. Shiraz Maher, a young Briton of Pakistani extraction who for three years was among the leadership of an organization that supports and preaches international terror, described in September 2010 how he advocated terror, justified the actions of Hamas, favored blowing up buses and attacking children, and was haunted for years by the call of his organization’s leaders: “You, the children of Saladin, must liberate Al-Aksa at any price.” “The organization’s principles, which posit that democracy is not compatible with Islam, the State of Israel must be obliterated, and the laws of sharia must be imposed, making use of violence, all over the world – were my sustenance,” Maher acknowledged in May 2010 in a lecture at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. (17)
Thus, Hamas, Iran, Salah and his movement, and any other actor promoting the idea of a global Islamic caliphate are all part of the same phenomenon. Promoting the idea by violent means is also favored, as noted, by al-Qaeda as well as Hizbullah, which aspires to export the Muslim revolution all over the world and whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, also chimes in that “Israel is seeking to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque.”(18)
Sheikh Akrama Sabri, the former mufti of Jerusalem who was appointed to his post by the Palestinian Authority, is also among the leading disseminators of the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel. A few weeks before the September 11 attack, the sheikh gave a speech in which he implored: “Allah, bring destruction on the United States, on those who help it and all who cooperate with it.” Sabri also called for the annihilation of Great Britain.(19)
Yet another “agent” that spreads the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel among the Muslim masses is the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb ut-Tahrir), whose founder, Sheikh Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani, was a protיgי of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hizb ut-Tahrir is active in the Palestinian Authority, eastern Jerusalem, and in clandestine cells in Europe. This movement, too, includes the dream of the caliphate in its worldview. In June 2008, one of its senior figures, Khaled Said, presented his organization’s main precepts: faith, the caliphate, and jihad.(20) The movement has held several rallies on the Temple Mount, from which it openly called for the global caliphate.(21) Some Arab and European countries have declared Hizb ut-Tahrir illegal.(22) In Germany, for instance, the organization was outlawed after it emerged that the “brain” behind the September 11 attack, Mohammed Atta, was influenced by its ideology. Hizb ut-Tahrir believes that the creation of a caliphate is a precondition for the declaration of jihad, and Western observers consider it an organization that lays the groundwork for al-Qaeda and even is a “production line for terrorists.”(23)
The “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel, then, is not separate from the vision of a global Islamic caliphate and the export of Islam throughout the world. The libel is a tool in the hands of its disseminators to focus world attention on Jerusalem, which, according to Salah and some of his partners in the idea, is destined to be the caliphate’s capital.