Is the question of Palestine a Muslim or non-Muslim issue?

This hotly debated question looms large over much of the discussion, activism, and awareness regarding the Israel-Palestine issue, but all it does is shift attention away from the main cause of concern, that the occupation breeds injustice. No matter which angle of understanding is chosen, the issue ultimately deals with humanity. It is thus a Muslim issue. And a Christian issue, and a Jewish issue, and a Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, agnostic, atheist, and everything-in-between issue. The occupation poses a humanitarian challenge, so it inevitably concerns all of humanity.

A Muslim cause

There is no question that the Israel-Palestine conflict should lie central to the Muslim faith.

An estimated 85 to 90 percent of Palestinians living within the occupied territories, outside as refugees, and around the world as second or third generation displacees follow the religion of Islam. The religion’s third holiest site, the Al Aqsa Mosque, lies in Jerusalem surrounded by military installations. Hundreds of mosques dot Palestinian lands, some lavishly decorated, others modest in appearance, and many experiencing dwindling participation as a result of checkpoints and roadblocks preventing worshipers from reaching the prayer rows.

The occupation is an immediate and direct assault on the Muslim faith and even if only one Muslim faced the injustice of siege and brutality, this is a matter of grave concern within the folds of Islam. Muslims traditionally refer to each other as brothers and sisters and recognize themselves as a small but important component in a greater Ummah or worldwide community. It is natural then to expect Muslims to take issue if one component is threatened, if one religious obligation is made impossible to fulfill, or if the sanctity of the religion is violated.

Similarly, the occupation creates and then instigates prejudice, corruption, theft, torture, harassment, murder, and various other human rights violations. Islam condemns these abuses to the fullest extent, regardless of whether the injustices fall on Muslims or non-Muslims. Islam highlights the importance of discrediting and defeating wrong with right, dark with light, and one way to fulfill this particular tenet is to shed light on the unjust reality of Israel’s occupation.

A non-Muslim but religious cause

On the topic of religious tenets, it is foolish to restrict the Israel-Palestine issue just to Islam. Many people share the unfortunate misconception that Muslims are obligated to dominate the cause or that they themselves, as non-Muslims, are not afforded the authority or even the attention necessary to make a dent in the occupation machine. This cannot be more untrue.

Every established religion shares the same perspectives on humanity and basic rights. Preserving self-sovereignty, preventing abuse, and rejecting injustice are all foundational tenets in Judaism, Christianity, and other common organized religions. Therefore, anyone affiliated with a religious group or label shares the responsibility of countering the humanitarian violations that come with a foreign occupation.

Restricting the campaign for Palestinian self-determination to only the religion of Islam wipes away the networking, coalitions, and widespread effectiveness that solidarity activists and grassroots leaders have spent decades trying to build. Alliances with Christian groups can be traced back to the shared struggles of Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians dealing with the forced emptiness of mosques and churches in direct relation to flying checkpoints in the West Bank. Gandhi, a common Hindu, preached the same nonviolent tactics used in Sheikh Jarrah, Wallaja, and dozens of other Palestinian villages today. Jews waving Palestinian flags stand alongside people of all colors and faiths in protests all over the world. To deny the non-Muslim solidarity community’s efforts would be to deny Palestinians of the support that is necessary for change.

Regarding Judaism, Israel adopts Theodore Herzl’s Zionist strategy and considers itself a Jewish state, consequently applying a de facto apartheid system for those who do not follow the Jewish faith. In more forceful terms, the Israeli government has taken the Jewish faith hostage by attempting to justify its policies as religiously motivated and spiritually guided, and so it is only natural to expect conscious Jews to denounce the occupation as both a violation of human rights and, more directly, a violation of Jewish principles. It really is that simple.

An irreligious cause

Many are under the impression that religion plays no legitimate role in the current condition of the conflict and that religion should continue to play no role in the conflict’s eventual resolution.

It is wrong to believe that the conflict lacks a religious element and it is even more wrong to believe that properly understanding the conflict requires an absolute shut-off of religious involvement. But this is not to say that the conflict is in its entirety a religious cause.

The blockade of Gaza, Israel’s continued transfer of its citizens to settlements in the West Bank, and the apartheid walls that snake through Palestinian villages are just a few examples of Israeli policies that stand in total contradiction to international law, a series of doctrines that have no religious core. One does not have to be affiliated with any religion to recognize the illegality of these practices. The occupation of Palestine violates humanitarian law regardless of whether or not people pray.

The aforementioned tenets condemning all forms of injustice exist outside of religion as well. Harassment, theft, brutality, and discrimination threaten life, thus kick-starting an instinctual attempt at self-preservation — an instinct that surpasses even the most fundamental levels of religion and digs deeper into the roots of humanity. For those with calibrated moral compasses, the issue of Palestine threatens the livelihood of an entire population of people who have absolutely no control over their social, economic, or political statuses, and this alone sparks that same instinctual response leading to self-preservation and the preservation of others.

Religion is free to guide the response but at the end of the day, standing against the occupation of Palestine is an all-encompassing reaction stemming from the human nerve.

An issue for all of humanity

Calling for an end to injustice and a fresh start for equality is a social responsibility that must be undertaken by everyone without exception. To afford human and civil rights for Palestinians is the right thing to do no matter how religious or irreligious one might be. It is easy to understand that the Israel-Palestine issue features a very obvious religious element but this should not discount the non-religious elements. The same can be said in reverse.

It is unrealistic to expect the entire world to mobilize against broken humanitarian ethics. After all, over six decades have passed and the Palestinian struggle is still demonized as a rogue attempt to upset the West. It is also unrealistic to expect everyone to agree. Some will insist that this is strictly a religious issue reserved for the religiously-minded. Others will insist that religion will complicate matters. And others will even insist that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Israel’s actions.

Nevertheless, it is entirely realistic and perfectly logical to expect the rest to share their passion, compassion, solidarity, and concern with anyone and everyone interested in advocating for justice — not just for the Palestinians but for anyone marginalized by oppression.

Sami Kishawi

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There are 4 comments

  1. cantabarrister

    Interesting post. Personally, I think it can be dangerous to classify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a ‘Muslim issue’. There are many Christians who also disapprove of the actions of Israel in repressing the Palestinian people, myself included. Yet identifying the problem as a ‘Muslim issue’ can conceal this fact, and can lead to some Muslims perceiving Israeli actions as part of a more general anti-Muslim strategy or plot by the West.
    It would be better if people of all faiths combined to criticise excessive violence and repression by all governments, including those of Israel and, currently, of Syria.

  2. Andreas Moser

    I have been to the Al Aqsa Mosque many times and I have never seen it “surrounded by military installations”. In fact the Temple Mount is administered by a Muslim Council who sometimes refused to allow me inside the mosque based on me not being Muslim. (I am an atheist.) Luckily, at other times I was allowed in. The decisions seemed to depend on whether they had run out of money and were catering to the tourists again or not.

    1. Sami Kishawi

      Road blocks, flying checkpoints, and makeshift army/police stations and compounds all qualify as military installations.

      You are free to paint the picture that Al Aqsa is cordoned off for Muslims only (which even the most obtuse observer would realize is a falsified description of the Israeli military’s control over access to the area), but while you’re at it, you should also mention how Arabs aren’t allowed anywhere near the Western Wall.

  3. Mari

    I havent been to the Al – Aqsa Mosque,nor Israel/the palestinian territories, for that matter, but Ive seen a documentary from Richard Dawkins(concerning organized religion),Some parts of the documentary highlighted religion in Jerusalem(kinda weird how all the abrahamic religions view Jerusalem as a wholy place). There where an interview with the Grand mufti, and he says something about how muslims are not allowed to negotiate on the al – aqsa mosque. That if the jews want peace with the arabs and muslims, they should stay away from the al – Aqsa mosque. Something like that. I would belive that most religious people that doesnt like jews, certainly doesnt like homosexuals and atheists, and have a negative view on women.

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