Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, defended on Thursday his visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The Egyptian Independent reported that Gomaa said the visit was in his personal capacity, not his official capacity as mufti or member of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy.
The visit sparked uproar in Egypt, especially among political Islamists, who refuse to visit what they term “the Palestinian territories” as long as they are under the so-called “Israeli occupation.” Such visits, believe the Islamists, would be counted as a kind of normalization with Israel.
Gomaa made the remarks in a press conference on Thursday, in which he said he went to support the Palestinian people in their suffering.
“I did not go on an Israeli visa. It was all organized by the Jordanian authorities,” Gomaa was quoted as having said. “And I wanted to pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque to earn God’s great reward.”
Asked if his visit would encourage Muslims to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Gomaa said his visit is a special case. He went on to reject accusations of treason by some Islamic forces.
Earlier on Thursday, the spokesman for Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said the visit was "very strange."
"Muslim clerics have taken a position that there is no visiting Jerusalem with continued Israeli occupation," Ghozlan said. "He violated this opinion of the majority of clerics. Why, I don't know."
Abdel-Akher Hamad, the leader of the more radical Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, said the visit was a "challenge" to the boycott.
He said Gomaa was "taking advantage" of Egypt's turbulent political scene to defy a national position. He called the mufti a holdover from the era of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and predicted Gomaa would not last in his position after a new president is elected.
The visit was also criticized by Ezzat al-Rishq from the Hamas Political Bureau, who wrote on his Twitter account the visit is an act of normalization with the enemy.
Palestinian Authority-based author Abdel Qader Yassin also criticized the visit, but blamed Israel and said the Jewish state allowed Gomaa to enter without visa, because it is Israel’s benefit when an emulated religious figure like the mufti normalizes relations with it.
“Israel did this, whereas it prevents anyone else who is pro-Palestinian from entering the occupied territories,” Yassin was quoted as having told the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. “It even prevents the Palestinians themselves from entering Jerusalem or praying in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”