A Palestinian Authority official, Sheik Ikrima Sabri - known over the past 12 years as the mufti of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine - was quietly removed from his position last week. The reason: ongoing provocative Friday sermons. His comments in support of Hamas and criticism of Mahmoud Abbas were enough to have him finally ousted.
Sheik Sabri's sermons can be described as anti-Semitic and anti-Western. Therefore, it was somewhat surprising that he came to America on a speaking tour in the first week of March, visiting major American-Muslim population centers in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, and Colorado.
The Denver Post of March 5 described Sheik Sabri as "one of the most prominent Muslim leaders in the world." It was reported that his speaking tour was devoted to subjects on which he is known to have extreme views: America, the history of Jerusalem, and relations with Jews.
During an event sponsored by the Colorado Muslim Society on March 4, one member of that community was quoted by the Rocky Mountain News as saying the mufti's visit to America to "reach out to the American public" is like the pope visiting the Catholic community.
But the mufti has always been vehemently anti-American. Just two weeks before the attacks of September 11, 2001, he ended his weekly sermon on Palestinian Authority Radio by calling for "Allah [to] destroy the U.S."
Weeks after September 11, Sheik Sabri stated that Muslims were not involved in the attacks. His September 28, 2001, sermon was devoted to "the innocence of Muslims until he is proven guilty." Instead, he pointed to possible "elements inside America who carried out these [attacks]."
Speaking about the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center during a May 25, 2001, appearance on PA TV, Sheik Sabri gave his support to those jailed for the attack, the blind Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef, who were described as being "wrongly and aggressively jailed in America" and "charged with false claims." From the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheik Sabri declared, "[We] demand the release of these prisoners, who are monotheistic Muslims."
The mufti's views about relations between Jews and Muslims can be understood by what he told Saudi Al-Majd TV on February 20, 2005: "Anyone who studies 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' and specifically the Talmud will discover that one of the goals of these protocols is to cause confusion in the world and to undermine security throughout the world."
Sheik Sabri has a long history of denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem. In an interview with Kul Al-Arab on August 18, 2000, he said, "No stone of the Al-Buraq [Wailing/Western] Wall has any relation to Judaism." On May 9, 2004, on Dream TV 2, he added: "I am the mufti of Palestine from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River. ... The Al-Buraq Wall is part of Al-Aqsa Mosque. ... The Jews pray in front of the wall ... but the wall belongs to the Muslims."
Sheik Sabri also has gone on record countless times supporting suicide attacks and inciting Palestinian Arabs to perform them. On May 25, 2001, he addressed the Jewish residents of Israel: "We tell them - inasmuch as you love life - the Muslim loves death and martyrdom. There is a great difference between he who loves the hereafter and he who loves this world. The Muslim loves death and [strives for] martyrdom. The blessed and sacred soil of Palestine has vomited all the invaders ... throughout history and it will soon vomit, with Allah's help, the [present] occupiers."
Later that week on a Tel Aviv beach, 17 Israeli teenagers were killed in a suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium.
It is somewhat ironic that the mufti would want to reach out to the West when he has so much disdain for it. One notable example includes an interview with Tanweer TV on May 5, 2005, when he criticized "the laws of the West" for punishing men "as rapists merely because he slept with his wife against her will."
Sheik Sabri's visit to America raises many disturbing questions, among them: Who funded and initiated the trip? Why was this preacher of hate allowed to enter the country when he has called for its destruction? Did he incite his American followers behind closed doors?
To view translated segments of Palestinian Arab sermons, visit www.memritv.org.
Mr. Stalinsky is the executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.