Saudi Academic Calls for Islamic Religious Sanction for Normalization with Israel

(MEMRI) Y. Yehoshua - It appears that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman regards Israel not as an enemy but as a potential ally, and believes that forming ties with it can serve the kingdom's economic, political and security interests. The informal contacts that have taken place between the countries in recent years, and the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab countries, chief of them the UAE, have somewhat eroded Israel's demonic image in the eyes of the Saudi people, especially among the younger generation. Intellectuals, journalists and social media activists in the kingdom have begun to openly express a tolerant and even positive attitude towards Israel, seeing peace with it as inevitable. Many also direct harsh criticism at the Palestinians, who, they say, are not adopting a realistic policy conducive to resolving the conflict. Yet Saudi Arabia - which is essentially a religious state and regards itself as the leader of the Islamic world - will find it difficult to form official relations with Israel without first establishing the legitimacy of this move from the perspective of the shari'a (Islamic law). Clerics opposed to the Abraham Accords have stated that normalization with Israel is an act of treason against Allah and against the Prophet Muhammad who fought the Jews. However, religious rulings sanctioning ties with Israel were already issued in the 1990s by Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz ibn Baz, who served as Saudi mufti from 1993 until his death in 1999. Issued against the backdrop of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, the rulings stated that a country may sign a peace agreement with the Jews, i.e., with Israel, if such an agreement is deemed to be in the interest of its Muslim citizens. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman told Saudi TV in 2021 that it is always possible to employ independent judgement and interpret the shari'a according to the spirit of the time and the place. Writing in the Saudi state daily Al-Jazirah on June 20, 2022, Dr. Khalid bin Muhammad Al-Yousuf, a senior lecturer on international law at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and the secretary-general of the university's Supreme Council, argues that Israel is an existing reality just like any other world country. Therefore, it must be treated according to the accepted norms of the international community. Al-Yousuf calls on Saudi clerics to formulate a new religious perception of international relations compatible with these new norms, which will enable the ruler of an Islamic state to employ independent judgement and form ties with Israel if he deems this to be in the interest of his country. The writer is Vice President for Research and Director of MEMRI Israel.

2022-07-04 00:00:00

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