Illustration: Jewish visitor on the Temple Mo
Illustration: Jewish visitor on the Temple MoFlash 90

Saudi Arabia's highest religious council, the Majlis al-Ifta’ al-A’ala, has threatened a "religious war" over any attempts to implement equal prayer rights for Jews on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site, the site of two Jewish Temples and where some Jewish traditions state the world began. It is also the site of the large "Al Aqsa" Islamic complex, which is built on top of the ruins of the Jewish Temples. The site itself is administered by the Waqf Islamic trust.

In measures Jewish activists decry as discriminatory, only Muslims may pray or carry out any other religious rituals on the Mount. Jews who attempt to pray are regularly arrested. Just yesterday the Mount was closed to Jews after a Jewish group sang songs in honor of the festival of Hanukkah, in response to harassment by Muslim extremists at the site.

The council condemned what it said were "Israeli attempts to split the Al Aqsa Mosque" by implementing alternate prayer arrangements for Jewish and Muslim worshippers, as well as by establishing a fixed area for Jewish worship.

In an announcement issued on November 30th, the council alleged that "the occupation authorities [i.e. Israel] are trying to create a Jerusalem 2.0", and went on to claim that the Israeli government is trying to "complete the construction of a museum at the foot of the Al Aqsa Mosque". That latter allegation echoes claims by Palestinian Authority media that the Israeli government plans to build a large complex - complete with a "Jewish museum" - near the Mughrabi Gate.

Israel has not officially responded to the claims, according to Israel’s Channel 2 News, but similar claims have been made in the past by Muslim extremists to encourage riots and other violence against Israeli police and Jewish worshippers.

The council continued by alleging that the ultimate aim of the Israeli government was "to facilitate a breakthrough at the holy Al Aqsa Mosque and to defile it in an intensive way through the settlers [referring to Jewish worshippers - ed.], and by providing them with security".

It further warned that "the offensive activity against the holy Palestinian [sic] sites, and first and foremost the holy Al Aqsa Mosque, will turn the region into a ticking time bomb and trigger an imminent religious war", and declared that "the Al Aqsa Mosque, will all its corridors and expanses, and every part of it - both over and underground - is the absolute right of the Muslims alone, and the city of Jerusalem will remain Islamic and Arab".

The threat was likely a response to a bill, tabled by Israel's Religious Affairs Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, which would put an end to discriminatory practices on the Temple Mount and instate shared prayer arrangements similar to those in effect at the Cave of the Patriarchs (Me'arat Hamachpela) in Hevron.

That bill has received angry responses from Muslim parliamentarians and Islamist leaders in Israel, as well as from Islamist groups and the Palestinian Authority, who demand exclusive rights of prayer for Muslims on the Mount, and regularly deny any Jewish claims to Jerusalem in general, and the Temple Mount in particular.

Antiquities groups have also condemned the Waqf over the systematic destruction of ancient Jewish artifacts at the site - something they say is part of an overall attempt to "Islamize" the Temple Mount and erase any trace of the Jewish Temples there.

At the same sime, Majlis al-Ifta’ al-A’ala condemned the alleged decision by the Angolan government to ban Islam and close all mosques in the African country. In the days since that report initially surfaced, however, the Angolan government has denied the claims.

In a statement some may consider ironic given its aggressive opposition to equal prayers rights on the Temple Mount, the council said that "the religion of Islam is religion of the way of the King [i.e. God], of reconciliation and of co-existence, and is the religion of the Lord of the universe, who respects humanity and not terrorism or extremism".