Islamic cleric claims Jewish women praying with men at Western Wall is an 'attack' on Islamic holy site

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Tourists walk by part of the Western Wall, following the Israeli government's approval to create a mixed-sex prayer plaza near Jerusalem's Western Wall to accommodate Jews who contest Orthodox curbs on worship by women at the site, in Jerusalem's Old City January 31, 2016. | REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM (Christian Examiner) – Jerusalem's leading Islamic cleric, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, has condemned Israel's decision to allow women to pray with men in an upgraded courtyard close to the Western Wall, the Jerusalem Post has reported.

According to the paper, Hussein said the Western Wall was part of the Islamic waqf – property claimed by purchase or conquest which can never be given to a non-Muslim. He said in a statement that the land belonged to Muslims in spite of the fact it was captured by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War.

Israel, however, did not start that war. It was invaded by an Arab coalition, which the fledgling Jewish state beat back beyond the Jordan, setting up decades of disputed claims over the West Bank and Jerusalem. Arabs refer to the capture of Jerusalem and other lands by the Jews in 1967 as An Naksah, or "the setback."

Hussein also said Israel's opening of the Western Wall for the mingling of men and women is an "attack" and "additional evidence of the Israeli aggression against Muslim holy places, in an attempt to Judaize Jerusalem."

The new, "egalitarian prayer space" at the Western Wall, as the newspaper called it, will be one section to which women will have access. They still, however, will not be able to prayer directly against the wall or read the Torah there. Restrictions on prayer shawls and tefillin, small boxes containing Scripture verses on the arm and hand were, however, lifted for women.

Women were first allowed to pray near the wall in 2013, but they have faced resistance from the Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, from the beginning. The Haredim oppose women being able to read the Torah at the Western Wall, though that may one day change as well.

Reuters reported Sunday that the Israeli government had approved a plan to create a "mixed-sex plaza at Jerusalem's Western Wall to accommodate Jews who contest Orthodox curbs on worship by women there."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the wall should be a source of unity, not division, for the Israeli people. Muslims believe the wall is part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, seated on what the Jews refer to as the "Temple Mount" -- the site of the first and second Jewish temples.