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Saudi imam faces criticism after sermon seen as prelude to normalization with Israel

Abdulrahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, is delivering the Friday prayer sermon on September 4, 2020.

Abdulrahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, is facing criticism over a sermon that was interpreted as a prelude to Saudi Arabia's normalization with Israel.

In a Friday sermon, Sudais spoke about dialogue and kindness to non-Muslims, clearly referencing to Jews.

His comments came less than a month after the United Arab Emirates and Israel reached a US-brokered deal to normalize relations, amid speculation other Persian Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, would follow suit.

Sudais called on worshipers to avoid "any misconceptions about correct beliefs in the heart coexisting with having healthy dealings in interpersonal exchanges and international relations".

"When the course of healthy human dialogue is neglected, parts of people's civilizations will collide, and the language that will become prevalent is one of violence, exclusion and hatred," he said.

His remarks caused a stir on social media, with many users accusing Sudais of exploiting the platform of Islam's holiest mosque to promote normalization that undermines the Palestinian cause.

His sermon also referred to the status of al-Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem al-Quds.

Sudais said al-Asqa Mosque had been "taken prisoner", adding, "This is an issue that is of utmost priority to the people of Islam and it must not be forgotten amid new struggles that appear."

"It must be kept in mind, but without exaggerations in the media or battles on the internet."

At the end of his sermon, the imam prayed to God to "rescue al-Aqsa Mosque from the clutches of the aggressors" and allow it to be "a revered location until the day of reckoning".

Justifying normalization and at the same time praying for saving al-Aqsa from the aggressors was deemed as a contradiction by social media users, many of whom accused the imam of betraying the Palestinian cause.

The Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas on Friday called on Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to stop helping the UAE implement its normalization deal with Israel, after the two countries opened their airspace to flights between Israel and the UAE.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that backing the UAE in implementing the deal would embolden the Israeli regime to “commit more crimes.”

The first direct flight between Israel and the UAE was conducted on Monday through the Saudi airspace.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told US President Donald Trump in a phone call on Sunday that the kingdom wanted to see a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue based on the so-called Arab Peace Initiative.

The so-called Arab Peace Initiative, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, calls on Israel to agree to a “two-state solution” along the 1967 lines and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

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