Book Review: Through the Eyes of the Mufti. The Essays of Haj Amin

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Book Review: Through the Eyes of the Mufti. The Essays of Haj Amin
Through the Eyes of the Mufti: The Essays of Haj Amin, Translated and Annotated. Published by Vallentine Mitchell, 2009. $59.95 pp.256

At times, says Zvi Elpeleg, the editor of Amin al-Husaini’s texts in his most recent book Through the Eyes of the Mufti—which was published by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Misri in 1954, also available in a book edition of 1957–“I even doubted the rationale of translating this collection and dealing with its contents.” According to Elpeleg, it contains some arguments that are groundless or impossible to discuss.

Zvi Elpeleg was military governor in the Israeli Triangle (in Hebrew Hameshulash, in Arabic al-Muthallath, covering a mostly Arab populated area between Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus in northern Israel) in the mid-1950s, in Gaza in 1956-57, West Bank and Gaza in 1967, in Egyptian area of Fayid in 1973 on the Great Bitter Lake as Israelis held parts of Egypt at the Suez Canal, and in southern Lebanon in 1982. From 1995 to 1997 he served as ambassador to Turkey. Since 1972, he served as a researcher at the Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University.

Elpeleg explains in the preface of his book Through the Eyes of the Mufti, that its publication would have been unnecessary, were it not for three points: (a) the collection was written by a man who founded and for decades then led the Palestinian national movement; (b) this is the primary source which he left; (c) his political doctrine swayed millions in the region based on the premise of a British-Jewish plot to empty Palestine of Arabs, destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque, rebuild Solomon’s Temple and to expand the Zionist policy to some other Arab lands.

Amin al-Husaini was the grand mufti (1921-48), Islamist and Palestinian leader until his death in 1974. Known for his biography of al-Husaini,[1] Elpeleg in this book now offers two additional sections. One includes al-Husaini’s text collection and his own responses in endnotes. The other contains Elpeleg’s articles on the al-Aqsa Mosque and Solomon’s Temple, the land called Palestine, an alleged British-Jewish plot, the Arab invasion and why the Arab Palestine was not created in 1948.

Al-Husaini built the Palestinian national and Islamist movement. But in European terms he had no nation yet. Nor did he have an idea of individualism and citizenship in the old Roman sense. The reader can see it here. This book collects political fatwas given by al-Husaini in the traditional question-answer style (1954-57), and Elpeleg added valuable comments. But how did this book came about?

A spy reported from Cairo that al-Husaini prepared this third edition together with the Nazi agitator and theoretician, [Professor] Johann von Leers: Haqa’iq An Qadiyyat Filastin[2] or “The truth on the Palestine question.” This was to be published in Germany too by a former SS officer, Karl-Heinz Priester of Wiesbaden.[3]  Al-Husaini in 1957 also consulted von Leers in Cairo, asking how to sway the non-aligned states. At this time, von Leers looked for an aid society for “nationalist groups imprisoned by court orders or prosecuted for their beliefs,”[4]a “Nazi amnesty international.” Thus, the third edition which reflected the views both of al-Husaini and von Leers was published at the height of postwar Nazi influence in Cairo.

Although American intelligence officers in Cairo claimed that in 1959 von Leers became the “chief propaganda advisor” to Abd an-Nasir [Gamal Abdul Nasser], [5] this is doubtful. Nevertheless, the impact of von Leers on him was considerable. In October 1958 this president read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that Leers had previously disseminated. Abd an-Nasir told an Indian journalist that the (forged) Protocols convinced him that Europe was in the hands of 300 Zionists.[6]  He called the Holocaust a lie. His brother, Shauqi, who edited the Protocols in Arabic, tirelessly propagated them, even in 1981.[7]

An American chart of Leers’ relationships included Ali Sabri, state minister of presidential affairs; Anwar as-Sadat, president of the Afro-Asian Council; Muhammad Khaliq Hasuna, secretary general of the Arab League; Amin al-Husaini; general Abd al-Azim Ibrahim Fahmi, director of general investigations of the interior ministry in Egypt and Syria; Sayyid Hafiz Abd al-Karim, secretary general of economy ministry. The Arab League also paid Umar Amin von Leers, as he was known after his conversion to Islam which al-Husaini had initiated, fairly well: 80 to 100 Egyptian pounds monthly.[8]

Al-Husaini and von Leers added documents. The Arab reacted to a decade of pressure. In 1946 American state secretary Dean Acheson announced the planned publication of a White Paper based on al-Husaini’s files which had been seized from Germany. But for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities and other political considerations it never appeared. A few days later al-Husaini claimed that among his American captured records were fakes, that the Zionists forged them. In the ensuing year Simon Wiesenthal and The Nations Associates edited a booklet and a documentary in English and French about al-Husaini. Both stressed the genocidal cooperation between Adolf Eichmann and Amin al-Husaini, this “duo of death,” in Nazi Germany, not only on the Balkans in Europe, in Soviet Asia and the Middle East.[9]

In turn, al-Husaini decided to publish some files disproving his “alleged pro-Axis steps as claimed by the Jews.”[10] However, his “records of innocence” were never published. On 16 July 1948 he edited a report on his Higher Arab Organization stressing suddenly its social activities. [11]

Only the third edition of The truth on the Palestine question carried some documents. Elpeleg removed them like the “Writ of Mandate or Balfour Declaration.” Unfortunately, he omitted in his edition Through the Eyes of the Mufti some Qur’an verses “which have no actual relevance to the contents”. On the contrary, for Middle East historians and the general public those verses as added and edited by al-Husaini were and remain relevant. Otherwise, the grand mufti would not have included them. So editing them out represents  a regrettable loss especially for those who are researching the roots of the currently triumphant national and global Islamism which emerged triumphantly after the revolts of 2011.

If we compare al-Husaini’s collection in the third edition of 1957 with his final memoirs which were published four decades later in Damascus, we find many similarities. In 1999 he added many more, even self-incriminating documents. So, Zvi Elpelegs book, which is also very current with regard to the state of art in Hebrew literature on al-Husaini, provides an additional and most valuable aid for the academic community. In a next edition some misspelled names can easily be corrected like Khalid al-Qarqani, Musa Kazim al-Husaini, Shakib Arslan, al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini and Fauzi al-Qawuqji, to name a few.

But “nakbat Filastin,” the Palestinian debacle, that is the loss of parts of  the land and the war until 1949, should never be translated as “Palestinian Holocaust.” Regrettably, Rachel Kessel, who did well generally and the editor used this term all over the book (XVI, 16, 23, 125, 128, 145, 209). There is no real comparison between both events, the “nakba” and the Holocaust, that would justify such an equivalence, all the more as this “nakba” is rooted in the deeply flawed national Islamist doctrine of al-Husaini which the reader on his own can discover in this book. As it is demonstrated here, al-Husaini was the architect of the nakba and as an accomplice contributed to it[12] — and to the Holocaust as well.

Contrary to what Elpeleg claims, we cannot consider this book as “the primary source left” by al-Husaini or as his “memoirs.” He was industrious, issuing thousands of pages with sermons, speeches, radio addresses, letters, leaflets and memoranda. Al-Husaini edited booklets in 1929 on the al-Aqsa Mosque,[13] in 1937 on Islam and Jewry.[14] A Nazi biography of 1943 reflects his influence.[15]  So this collection of 1957 is just a minor part in the bigger picture.

Al-Husaini’s early memoirs appeared in 1970 partially in the journal Filastin; his final memoirs as mentioned in 1999.[16] Why Elpeleg did not use this, and the more recent literature, is not clear. Still, major findings are to be expected on Amin al-Husaini as activist of a “Jew-free Middle East,” accomplice to the Holocaust, aide to Adolf Eichmann, even after 1945, plotter of the murder of Lebanon’s ex-premier Riyad as-Sulh and Jordan’s king Abdullah in 1951, and the man who secretly agreed to King Husain’s annexation of the West Bank for ruling Gaza himself. But finally in 1964 president Abd an-Nasir blocked this project for a Palestinian-Jordanian power and land sharing project.

In part two Elpeleg shows some key components of al-Husaini’s political doctrine. He concludes that the Palestinians were a parochial society divided by tribal allegiances and were only in the initial stages of developing a nationhood, both politically and economically (176). He wrote that the British high commissioner Herbert Samuel bestowed on al-Husaini the title “Grand Mufti” shortly after 8 May 1921 (181). Through this step Samuel empowered him, departing from the vanishing traditional rules of Ottoman Istanbul in managing the local and regional hierarchies of muftis and grand muftis. But the author calls him often just “the Mufti,” which is wrong.

In the most interesting essay why in 1948 no independent Palestine came into being, Elpeleg suggests that most of the failed initiatives are the responsibility of the Grand Mufti and the Arab states. He observes that al-Husaini was an extremist and a fanatic by nature, qualities that prevented him from being more flexible when it might have helped the Palestinian cause.

Indeed, his nemesis, King Abdullah, had the means to his disposal to prevent Amin al-Husaini and his aides from sufficiently activating the existing institutions of self-government. On 20 December 1948 the Transjordanian ruler appointed shaikh Husam ad-Din Jarallah as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. It was Elpeleg’s view that Arabs in neighboring states prevented the launching of an independent Palestinian state. All in all, this book is a major resource of information about the first global grand mufti,Amin al-Husaini, and the spread of his political ideology, now called national and global Islamism, which he made highly compatible with Hitler’s National Socialism.

Wolfgang G. Schwanitz is a historian of the Middle East and German Middle East policy.

He is the author of four books and the editor of ten others, including Germanyand the Middle

East, 1871-1945(Princeton: Wiener).His upcoming book deals with Islam in Europe, Revolts in the Middle East (Berlin: Weist).

[1]     Zvi Elpeleg:Hamufti Hagadol (Misrad Habitahon: Tel Aviv, 1989) [Hebrew]; Al-Mufti al-Akbar (Muassasat al-Aswar: ‘Akka 1991 [Arabic]; Zvi Elpeleg: The Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Hussaini, founder of the Palestinian national movement (Frank Cass: London, 1992); Zvi Elpeleg: Filistin Ulusal Hareketinin kurucusu: Haci Emin el-Hüseyni (Iletişim Yayinlan: Istanbul 1999) [Turkish].

[2]     Muhammad Amin al-Husaini: Haqa’iq  An Qadiyyat Filastin: Tasrihat wa Ahadith Li-s-Sayyid Muhammad Amin al-Husaini kashafa biha as-Sitar an Asbab Karithat Filastin wa Alaqatuha bi-l-Mu’amarat ad-Duwaliyya al-Yahudiyya(The truth on the Palestine question: Announcements and Interviews by Saiyyid Muhammad Amin al-Husaini in which he unveiled the reasons of the Palestinian Catastrophe and their relations to the global plots of the Jewry(Cairo 1957, 3rd ed.) [Arabic].

[3]   The planned German title was The World Fight against Imperialism and Colonialism.

[4]     USArchII, RG263, Von Leers Visit by Priester 09/30/57, Cairo 10/25/1957; Von Leers, Priester Article for states of Bandung Conference, National Aid Society, 01/30/1958; Book by Priester, Kirkut, and al-Husaini, 12/04/1958, 1.

[5]    Ibid., Von Leers Chief Advisor to Abd an-Nasir, 02/02/1959, 1.

[6]     “Nasser und die ‘Weisen von Zion’,” in Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin 31.10.1958. [German]

[7]     Shauqi Abd an-Nasir:Thaurat Abd an-Nasir (Al-Arabi: Nicosia 1981) [Arabic].

[8]     USArchII, RG263, Von Leers, Social Web, 02/02/1959, 2.

[9]     Simon Wiesenthal: Großmufti, Großagent der Achse (Ried: Salzburg 1947) [German]; The Nation Associates, eds.: The Arab Higher Committee, its Origins, Personnel and Purposes. The Documentary Record submitted to the United Nations (New York , May 1947), 70 pp.

[10]    USArchII, RG263, Al-Husaini to publish files refuting accusations on his alleged pro-Axis activities as spread by the Jews, 06/09/1947.

[11]    Report on the Activities of the The Arab Higher Organization [not to be confused with the old Arab Higher Committee] on the Occasion of the Second Anniversary of its Formation, June 1946-1948. Cairo, 07/16/1948, 10 pp. [Arabic, English]

[12]Gilbert Achcar: The Arabs and the Holocaust. New York: Picador 2010, p. 130.

[13] Supreme Muslim Council, Publisher: A Brief Guide to Al-Haram Ash-Sharif  (Muslim Orphanage Press:Jerusalem 1929), 16 pp.

[14] Muhammad Sabri: Islam-Judentum-Bolschewismus (Juncker-Dünnhaupt: Berlin 1938), therin Amin al-Husaini: Islam-Judentum, (Juncker-Dünnhaupt: Berlin 1938), and: Aufruf des Großmuftis and die islamische Welt [1937 Appeal of the Grand Mufti to all Muslims to free Islamic areas of Jews] [German]

[15]    Kurt Fischer-Weth: Amin al-Husaini, Grossmufti von Palästina (Titz: Berlin 1943) [German].

[16]    Amin al-Husaini:Muzakkirat al-Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husaini [The Memoirs of al-Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husaini]. Edited by Abd al-Karim al-Umar (Al-Ahali: Damascus 1999) [Arabic].

Book Review: Through the Eyes of the Mufti. The Essays of Haj Amin

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