THE PAN-ISLAMIC CONGRESS IN JERUSALEM, 1931By Jennie Lebel
The disturbances in August 1929 were an important turning point in the history of the Arab nationalistic movement. Haj-Amin's image assumed unexpected proportions, and the SMC was regarded as the most important Arab political body in the country. Encouraged by their victories, the Arabs demanded a total ban on Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Haj-Amin considered that the moment had come to widen his influence also outside the borders of Palestine. As a start, he began collecting contributions throughout the Moslem world 'for the renovation of the mosques in Jerusalem'. He travelled to Iran and Afghanistan and particularly wanted to establish ties with India which was inhabited by a large Moslem community, the largest in the British Empire. The ties were consolidated when an Indian delegation stopped over in Cairo on its way to the Round Table Conference on India in London, which was to agree terms for the independence of India. Haj-Amin left for Cairo, met the delegation and even demanded that they raise the problem of the Wailing Wall at the conference. After his return to Jerusalem, the Mufti sent Jamal el-Husseini to London to strengthen the ties with the Indian Caliphate Committee leaders, especially with the brothers, Shawkat and Muhammad Ali. Shawkat Ali was the spiritual leader of 70 million Muslims in India, and Muhammad, an Oxford graduate, was writer and editor of opposition newspapers in India, who always insisted on the Islamic character of his movement and delimited it
from the general current of Indian nationalism.
During the London Conference the sudden death occurred of Muhammad Ali dies suddenly… It was decided to bury him in Jerusalem, near the Aqsa mosque, on January 23, 1931. The funeral was attended by Moslem leaders from many countries, and numerous journalists got invitations to be present and report to their readers on the course of events. The only ones not to receive invitations were the Jewish journalists, both those that reported to Jewish papers and foreign correspondents. Gershon Agronsky, secretary of the Association of foreign correspondents, commented on this in the Palestine Bulletin and Jamal el-Husseini reacted with a letter to the editor:
"The committee for the organisation of the funeral discussed Mr. Agronsky's application and decided to send invitations only to members of the Association known to the committee as non-Jews. The committee relied on its experience that Jewish correspondents always distorted facts concerning the Supreme Moslem Council. The Great Mufti approved this decision, but Jamal-effendi el-Husseini, who is not a member of the committee, met Agronsky at the Lydda railway station and told him that he had sent a couple of invitations to the Association of correspondents. Agronsky threatened that the press would not publish anything on the funeral, and Jamal-effendi replied that the Arabs were not interested in the Jewish reports at all… "
The Palestine Bulletin published this letter, with a comment by Gershon Agronsky:
"I could not threaten that the news of the funeral would not be published. I only said that the report would not be complete, since the Jewish press would have to base its reports only on Arab sources. As to the Mufti, whom Jamal-effendi wishes to call 'Grand', Jewish correspondents never distorted his words, for the Mufti had never spoken to Jewish journalists. The distortion of the truth was never the practice of journalists, be they Jews or non-Jews. If the editorial staff of a paper, mainly a non-Jewish one, considers some person, of whatever religion, to be able to be their correspondent, the Supreme Moslem Council should honour this decision and enable him to carry out his function."
In the same year the elderly Emir Hussein ibn-Ali, born in Hedjaz, father of the kings of Iraq and Transjordan, died in exile in Cyprus. His funeral took place in Jerusalem, and not in Mecca, the cradle and holiest city of Islam. Haj-Amin used these two funerals to realize an idea conceived in mid-1930, on the convocation of a Pan-Islamic Congress, the third
after World War I.
In the execution of this idea Haj-Amin was assisted by Shawkat Ali, who came to Jerusalem for the funeral of his brother Muhammad. The Mufti considered Shawkat's presence and the general atmosphere at the time convenient for influencing the conscience of Moslems throughout the world, which could in turn lead to a change of the political and economical situation in the Middle East. The Mufti attached great importance to the Congress, for he hoped that he would obtain recognition there as a leader on a pan-Islamic level. On July 26, 1930 he called a meeting of the Supreme Moslem Council, which authorized him to convoke the Congress for December and to send out invitations with his signature, which he did, adding on the invitations, beside his past titles another one: 'Mufti of the Holy Places'.
As stated in the invitations, the scope of the Congress was a discussion on the general situation of Moslems and the study of some problems in the Moslem world: the Custody of Moslem holy places in Palestine, the opening of a Moslem University in Jerusalem and similar items. It was originally envisaged to send invitations only to official representatives of Moslem countries, but many leaders of these countries regarded the convocation of the congress as a clear manipulation by the Mufti of Jerusalem for his own advancement.
In order to attract Egypt to his idea, the Mufti went to Cairo on March 17, 1931. There was some guessing about the object of his visit, which was reported as having a 'strictly social character'. In the talks he conducted in the Egyptian capital, the Mufti stressed that he had come for consultations regarding the holding of an Islamic Congress in June of the same year, which would, among other things, deal with an Islamic Federation that would lead to the termination of Western domination in the Islamic countries. However, despite all the Mufti's efforts, the Egyptian King Fuad did not receive him for talks.
The June date for the Congress was cancelled, for on May 12 the Mufti received a letter from Shawkat Ali with the request to postpone the Congress, because he had very important engagements in India.
The date was finally fixed for December 1930 and Haj-Amin sent invitations not only to Islamic governments and purely religious organisations, but also to various political parties and groupings, which he considered to represent an important factor in the structure and life of Moslem society.
Many Moslem countries, among them Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Albania, Hedjaz and Persia, boycotted the congress and did not send their official representatives. Each of these countries had their own specific reasons, beside the general ones. Republican Turkey saw in the invitation of Sultan Abd el-Madjid, who lived in emigration in France, an attempt to renew the institution of the Caliphate, which had been abolished in 1924, and therefore a direct attack on the modern Turkish state. Since the Congress was to meet not in Mecca but in Jerusalem, which was under British rule, it was clear to the Turkish government that this was not about the solving of religious problems, but purely about the political aims of those who convoked the congress. A reduction of the holiness of Mecca was also indicated by the fact that, besides Muhammad Ali, the mortal remains of the old Emir Hussein ibn-Ali were also brought to Jerusalem for burial.
The Mufti's intention to renew the caliphate and to enthrone the former Turkish sultan offended others as well, first and foremost the kings Ibn-Saud of Hedjaz and Fuad of Egypt. In addition, it was feared in Egypt that the foundation of an Islamic University in Jerusalem would diminish the significance of the famous Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
Haj-Amin promised solemnly that the congress would not deal with the problem of the renewal of the Caliphate, and as to the University, it would not be founded to compete with Cairo's Al-Azhar, but with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, opened in 1925. There were problems with the Mandatory Government, which feared that the congress would only inflame spirits in Palestine and lead to new disturbances. The Government in London considered that the holding of the congress would hurt its diplomatic relations with countries that opposed the congress and boycotted it. There was also the question of issuing entry visas for the participants of the congress. Therefore Haj-Amin promised the High Commissioner Sir Arthur Wauchope that the congress would not deal with any theme, which could embarrass the British authorities, and handed him a five-point program of the Congress:
1. Foundation of an Islamic University in Jerusalem.
2. The custody of Moslem holy places in Palestine.
3. The problem of the Hedjaz railway.
4. The propagation of Islam.
5. The fight against atheism among Moslems. Many Palestinian leaders also boycotted the
congress. In a proclamation issued by the opposition headed by Jerusalem Mayor Ragheb Nashashibi, it was stated that the Mufti was not authorized to represent the Moslems of Palestine. Shawkat Ali from India and Abd el-Said Hamid from Egypt tried without success to reconcile the contending parties. On December 11, 1931 the opposition held a parallel anti-congress, 'Congress of the Palestine Moslem Nation' (The Umma Congress) in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, with the participation of hundreds of Moslem personalities from all over the country, headed by Fakhri Nashashibi, Omar Salah Barghuti and Assad Shukeiri.
The Mufti nevertheless succeeded in assembling 242 participants from 22 countries (some sources quote greater or lesser numbers). The number of those present by country was as follows:
Algeria 5, Caucasus 15, Ceylon 9, China 1, Egypt 17, Hedjaz 6, India 20, Iraq 12, Java (Indonesia) 4, Lebanon 16, Morocco 18, Nigeria 19, Palestine 14, Persia 13, Russia 7, Syria 8, Tunisia 3, Turkey 2,
Transjordan 10, Tripoli (Libya) 11, Yemen 10, and Yugoslavia 22.
The Moslem delegation from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was the most numerous, even more than the delegations from Islamic countries, and made up over 9% of the total number of delegates. The Yugoslav delegation, lead by Dr. Mehmed Spaho, founder and president of the Yugoslav Moslem Community (Jugoslovenska muslimanska zajednica -JMZ), included the most distinguished representatives of the political and religious life of Yugoslav Moslems: Dr. Spaho's closest collaborator in the JMZ Uzeiraga Hadzihasanovich, Mujaga Merhemich, Aliya Reza Karabeg, Hamid and Salim Muftich, Muhamed Mujagich and others.
Three members of the JMZ delegation left the congress before its conclusion. They explained this by a cable which they received from home, but neither its content nor the sender or the reason for its delivery are known. Nor are the names of these three delegates.
The Sarajevo Jevrejski glas (The Jewish Voice), which published reports from the Congress, did not take advantage of the opportunity to interview the participants after their return to Yugoslavia.
Before the opening of the Congress, Gershon Agronsky addressed the organisers in the name of the Association of foreign journalists, and which asked them to permit the presence of members of the Association, so that they could report on the Congress. Agronsky made a similar request as correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, one of the important Christian newspapers in America. He enclosed with his request a telegram, which he had received from the editorial staff of the paper and asked to grant him access to the Congress. The answer, signed on behalf of the preparatory committee by Jamal el-Husseini, read as follows:
1. All Christian members of the Association were already invited;
2. Jewish members of the Association would not be granted access to the Congress, for they took advantage of every opportunity and persevered in distorting all facts concerning Arabs and Islam;
3. As to the Christian Science Monitor, whose correspondent was Agronsky, Jamal el-Husseini advised him to send a telegram to his newspaper and advise them to choose a Christian or Moslem to represent them, and this representative would be invited to the Congress.
Agronsky answered Jamal el-Husseini that his arguments were completely unfoun ded. He did not know any member of the Association whose acts could justify his accusations, and he stressed that there had never been a case where a Jewish journalist published a report that did not originate from an Arab or other non-Jewish source, so he asked Jamal to take back his accusations.
Nothing helped. The Congress announced officially that most of the sessions would be closed to the press in general, and for the remaining sessions the presence of any Jewish journalist would not be permitted, not even to Jewish correspondents of foreign newspapers and agencies, and this did not provoke any protest from his colleagues.
Representatives of the Egyptian film company arrived from Cairo to film the course of the Congress. Several British Christian journalists attended the opening of the Congress, but the remaining sessions were accessible only to Moslems.
The solemn opening of the Congress took place on December 6, 1931 in the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
As was to be expected, this was Haj-Amin's 'one man show' . Although he had declared that the Congress would deal only with religious matters, he himself delivered a very long political speech at the beginning. He kept his promise to the British that he would not attack them and spoke about the only theme that united almost all present: the danger facing Palestine from the 'creation of a Zionist homeland on the Arab Moslem holy land'. As was to be expected, the Mufti was elected president of the Executive Committee of the Congress.
It soon turned out that the foundation of the 'Islamic University' in Jerusalem was one of the secondary issues. The Congress became a sharp anti-Jewish platform, which demanded the cancellation of the 1917 Balfour Declaration and a total prohibition of Jewish immigration to Palestine.
The Executive of the Jewish Agency submitted a sharp protest to the Palestine Government over the Mufti's obvious attacks, provocations and anti-Jewish campaign, pointing out the danger to the Jews from the misled crowds not only in Palestine, but in all Arab countries.
It must be stressed that even at the Congress itself, among those present, except for a general acceptance of the 'anti-Zionist resolution', there was no unity. The Mufti saw to it that not even the smallest opposition should appear, but this still happened. Individuals distributed leaflets accusing the Mufti of corruption. It finally came to a split between the Mufti and Shawkat Ali, whom Haj-Amin accused of usurping titles that belonged only to the caliph, while Shawkat Ali considered that the Arabs had occupied all leading positions in the pan-Islamic movement and demanded an end to this practice and also that at the planned Islamic University in Jerusalem lectures should not be held only in Arabic, but also in Turkish, Persian, Hindi, Tatar and other languages used by Moslems, who, while understanding the prayers from the Koran, did not know spoken Arabic.
The Congress was concluded on December 17, 1931. It was decided to hold it in future every second year in Jerusalem, to found the 'Aqsa Islamic University', to take better care of Islamic education, to organize an association to save the country from the Jews and for the defence of the felahs (peasants), to open a branch of the Congress in all Moslem countries etc. Haj-Amin el-Husseini was elected permanent chairman of the executive committee.
In the same year the 'Istiqlal' (Independence) party was founded in Palestine, having as its aim the creation of a federation of all Arab countries. At the time, it still considered Palestine to be 'Southern Syria'.
The Congress did not fulfil the hopes it had raised. The Aqsa Islamic University in Jerusalem was not created and congress sessions were not held every other year, but branches of the congress were constituted, and their representatives met in August 1932 in Jerusalem. The greatest success was that of the Mufti, who added yet another rank to his titles: ' Chairman of the General Islamic Congress' . He further deepened the already existing links with Moslems throughout the world and created new links that served him well during his stay in Italy and Germany during World War II.
Jennie Lebel: THE MUFTI of JERUSALEM HAJ-AMIN EL-HUSSEINI and National-Socialism Translated from Serbian by Paul Munch Chigoja Press, Belgrade 2007