The catastrophic news that war is possible between Egypt and Turkey in Libya passed almost without notice, not least because Saudi Arabia is using the name of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in its frantic struggle to win the race to be the Arab country which is most normalised with Israel. I am not talking about an amateur blogger looking for fame or a free holiday in the Holy Land from the Zionists. Nor am I talking about a retired general competing for an advanced position in the Saudi-Israeli normalisation market that was initiated officially with Donald Trump's visit to Riyadh in 2017 and Mohammad Bin Salman's political escalations.
This is not personal normalisation by unofficial amateurs who can, when needed, be denied by officials as not representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is an official move that takes normalisation a step further, as it involves the first public higher education institution in Saudi Arabia, King Saud University in Riyadh, taking the lead in the approach to the occupation state.
Professor Mohammed Ibrahim Alghbban is the head of Near Eastern Languages and Civilisations and Hebrew Studies at the Department of Modern Languages and Translation at King Saud University. He has had an article in Hebrew published in an Israeli university magazine, Kesher, a move described as "unprecedented" in Israel. The Saudi academic's article was celebrated by Tel Aviv University last week as a way to improve the image of Prophet Muhammad in the eyes of the Jews. That, says Alghbban, was the intention.
Israeli media highlighted the article, in which Alghbban claimed that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had good relations with Jews and only disagreed with them on political, not religious, matters. Israel Hayom quoted Professor Raanan Rein, head of Tel Aviv University's Shalom Rosenfeld Institute, saying, "I hope that this academic cooperation is another step towards economic and political cooperation." The newspaper noted that, according to Rein, "The article's primary importance isn't its content, but rather the fact that a senior Saudi researcher chose to publish an article in an Israeli academic journal as a means to bring the two nations closer."
There is some academic deception at play here. The Saudi professor is falsifying history in the name of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Stating that Prophet Muhammad was keen on good relations with the Jews is historically accurate, but that fact has been used with the intention of boosting political falsehood and wrongdoing. The Jews in the Prophet's day were not occupiers usurping Islamic or Arab land; they were part of the original demographic of the Arabian Peninsula. It is, surely, fraudulent to use this as the basis for justifying reconciliation and normalisation of relations with the current political entity called Israel, embodied by the Zionist military occupation, which is built upon the calamity of the Nakba in occupied Palestine, a land known as such for centuries. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, only came into existence in 1932, just 16 years before the Zionist state. The Palestinians have deep roots in their land; the Saudis don't in theirs.
Moreover, Prophet Muhammad did not ally himself with colonial occupiers who stole other people's land, killed the people and burned their crops in order to establish a usurper political entity on the corpses of the indigenous population. On the contrary, he stood up for the poor and oppressed in society. Moreover, he signed treaties with the Jews of Madinah and would stand when a Jew's funeral passed by, out of respect for a fellow soul, not out of some social or political hypocrisy. The treaties ended when the Jewish tribes broke the terms and plotted against the Prophet and the early Muslims. Such incidents are recorded in detail in his biography.
This is what the youngest school pupil in the Middle East knows and understands about the Prophet of true Islam, not the "moderate Islam" that Bin Salman wants to impose as a religion based on Zionist specifications. His is a relentless pursuit to be the first normaliser in line and the first under Israeli sponsorship. That status has become the top priority for the stability and survival of the ruling despots and their thrones in the region.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 22 July 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.