Since his appointment as head of the Muslim World League in 2016, Muhammad al-Issa has taken the organization—which has historically been used by the Saudi monarchy to spread fundamentalist, intolerant, and often anti-Semitic teachings around the globe—in a decidedly anti-Islamist direction. He has, in recent months, also been trying to offer a new attitude toward Jews. Having interviewed Issa, Ben Cohen writes:
[I]t is plain to see why, at this particular juncture, [Issa] is an asset to a Saudi government eager to convince the West that, finally, it stands resolute against both Sunni and Shiite variants of Islamism and is determined to establish Islam as a religion of peace and coexistence. Still, to reduce Issa’s own message to a strictly political calculation would be a grave mistake, if only because its theological content needs to be heard irrespective of the political machinations in Gulf capitals. . . .
Throughout our discussion, Issa was adamant that Muhammad’s faith was predicated on an appreciation for a divine order in which differences among religions and nations are a cause for peace, rather than conflict—the diametrical opposite of the vengeful teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations. . . . Moreover, Issa stressed that—in contrast to the long-standing Christian depiction of the Jews as eternally responsible for the death of Jesus—Islam did not approach Judaism from the vantage point of “original sin.” . . . A Muslim, then, faces no challenge to his faith when it comes to “respecting the Jewish religion and the right of the Jews to live in dignity.”
When that “dignity” includes an independent, sovereign state that is yet to exchange ambassadors with Saudi Arabia after 70 years of existence, what then? Again and again, Issa emphasized the political neutrality of the Muslim World League, and the need for a strict separation between religious faith and political orientation. At the same time, he gave no succor to historic Arab ambitions for Israel’s elimination. Peace begins, Issa said, by recognizing that all the nations of the region will remain exactly where they are.
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