Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa has said that his visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Wednesday 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 the Palestinian territories as long as they are under Israeli occupation, as it would be counted as a kind of normalization with Israel and give legitimacy to the occupation.
In a press conference on Thursday, which was covered by the state-run Middle East News Agency, Gomaa 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 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, rejecting accusations of treason by some Islamic forces.
Ezzat al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau, criticized the visit on his Twitter and considered it an act of normalization with the enemy.
Palestinian author Abdel Qader Yassin said Israel allowed Gomaa to enter without visa, as it is to 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,” he told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “It even prevents the Palestinians themselves from entering Jerusalem or praying in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Reverend Safwat al-Bayad, head of the Evangelical denomination in Egypt, said he was sure Gomaa thought his visit was in the interest of the Palestinians. “We cannot doubt his patriotism,” he said to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Refaat Fikry, pastor of the Shubra Evangelical Church, praised the visit. “Let’s not forget that we signed a peace treaty with Israel,” he said.