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A fitting award for the right man, at the right time

This year's King Faisal International Award for Service to Islam has been presented to Sheikh Raed Salah. The award is hugely significant. At a time when the Israeli desecration of Islamic sanctuaries in Palestine has reached unprecedented levels, it has a special meaning both for the recipient and the cause that he serves.

In making its announcement the awarding body noted, "Sheikh Salah won the award for being one of the most prominent personalities in the formation of the Islamic Movement in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948; the President of the al-Aqsa Foundation for Islamic Sanctuaries; and the first to have discovered the clandestine tunnel digging taking place under the al-Aqsa Mosque."


The King Faisal Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic institutions in the world, was founded in 1976 to commemorate the life and continue the work of the late King Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz al Saud. Its current board of trustees include the Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud Al-Faisal, and his brother Turki, a former ambassador to the UK and US.


To appreciate the importance of this award it must be recalled that King Faisal was himself a devout champion of global and Islamic causes. He was concerned passionately about the welfare of the disadvantaged and oppressed, whether they were Afro-Americans in the US or Palestinians in their historic homeland.

On the latter, Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, recalls that Faisal was convinced that the Palestinian issue could not be solved by the Arabs alone but that it required strong Islamic solidarity. In 1974, he was famously quoted as saying, "My greatest wish before I die is to pray in Jerusalem."

Although that ambition was never fulfilled, King Faisal left a towering legacy that sustained the connection between Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islam's other two sacred sanctuaries in Makkah and Madinah. In his capacity as leader of the Islamic movement in that part of historic Palestine now called Israel, Sheikh Salah has drawn global attention to the ominous dangers facing Islam's third holiest sanctuary.

Given Saudi Arabia's undisputed pivotal role and influence in the Muslim world, this year's award will, undoubtedly, raise the profile of the Sheikh; more importantly, it will also serve as an urgent reminder of the need for increased effort by Muslims to protect their endangered heritage in occupied Palestine and Jerusalem.

Speaking  to the Saudi newspaper Okaz, Salah said, "I am convinced that today the Muslim nation and the Arab world is required to adopt a strategy to accelerate their support for Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa; and to adopt all legal means on the political, diplomatic and financial levels [to do this]."

He added that the award confirms that the Palestinians are not alone on the path to support Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa mosque. "Indeed, we have the Islamic and Arab depth that will remain with us, with the conviction that a day will soon come when Jerusalem will be free and Al-Aqsa will be returned to us."

For Raed Salah, recognition from the Islamic world is much more important than the views of his detractors in the Israeli establishment and their fellow travellers in the West. Their calumnies against him were always destined to fail.

In June 2011 the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, ordered his arrest and detention. Three months later, the High Court ruled that Salah was "entitled to damages for wrongful detention". After a 10-month legal battle, a senior immigration judge and Vice President of the Tribunal in April 2012 dismissed the arguments brought by the Home Secretary against Sheikh Raed as "very weak" and ruled that his appeal against her deportation order "succeeds on all grounds".

Of course, the detention and attempted deportation issue was never about Raed Salah. It was always about his message because he has been a thorn in the side of the Israeli establishment due to his persistent and outspoken defence of Islamic sanctuaries, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque. Only last week, following a visit to the Maman Allah Cemetery in Jerusalem, he reminded the world that the current exhumation of the bones of the dead in the name of building a "Museum of Tolerance" is a criminal act. The cemetery is the largest Muslim cemetery in all of Palestine and dates back almost 1,400 years.

Western failure to act in the face of such provocation is nothing short of complicity with and encouragement for the occupying power. The West's refusal to halt such vile Israeli acts will only make matters worse, leading to more illegal settlements, more demolitions and more ethnic cleansing.

In the end, the King Faisal Award symbolises much more than recognition of Sheikh Raed Salah as a voice of reason and justice in occupied Palestine. It is, above all else, a resounding declaration of support for his work. There is a clear political message here: as the region's people attempt to play a greater role in shaping their future, governments and leaders will have to commit to their popular and just causes. On this occasion, Raed Salah's message to the Arab and Muslims states is also crystal clear: their independence and that of their people will never be complete as long as Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are occupied by the Zionist State of Israel.

Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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