How to control a mosque Israel may gift to the Saudis?

It is an emotional issue for 100 million Jordanians–and, of course, the legitimacy of their King who traces his dynasty to none other than the Hashemite clan of Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam.

They have reasons to be worried.

For, in the 21st century, the Islamic world is witnessing unprecedented developments. The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is splitting into Arab versus non-Arab Muslim nations, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively; Turkey is making efforts to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, which died in the 1920s, and reintegrate the Sunni Arab nations once again; the Arabs are signing peace accords with their age-old enemy, Israel, to the chagrin of non-Arab Muslims.

Even Saudi Arabia, which is Custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, is inching closer to Jerusalem: only last week, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Salman (MbS) had a not-so-secret meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saudi soil.

Now has come reports on how Jordan is trying to reaffirm its own custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. As soon as the Sunday night meeting between MbS and Netanyahu became known, Jordan became apprehensive that Jerusalem could ‘gift’ the al-Aqsa mosque as well to the Saudis as part of the peace deal.

Amman is mighty concerned about the fate of Islam’s third holiest sites which it thinks could be up for grabs in a normalisation deal between MbS and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The November 22 confabulations between MbS and the Israeli PM alarmed Jordanian leaders who were already unnerved by Riyadh’s regional posturing, particularly after the two Saudi acolytes—the UAE and Bahrain—signed the “Abraham Accords” with Jerusalem in September in the US where President Donald Trump was their host.

Now they fear al-Aqsa could be gifted away to the Saudis by Israel by the outgoing Trump Administration. So concerned is Jordan about this possible deal that its foreign ministry released a statement last Wednesday challenging any “attempts to alter the historical and legal status quo” of the al-Aqsa mosque. Its spokesman said: “The kingdom will continue its efforts to protect and care for the holy mosque, and preserve the rights of all Muslims to it in compliance with the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites.”

Apparently concerned about Trump digging the pitch for him in the Middle East, President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. It was after this call that Amman’s foreign ministry released the statement reminding that Jordan continued to be custodian of the al-Aqsa mosque.

The Jordanian royal dynasty claims its origins to the Hashemite clan of Prophet Muhammad. The King has governed the Jerusalem sites, known as Haram al-Sharif, since 1924, the same year the Saud dynasty was given control of Mecca and Medina upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

The Muslim world believes in the legitimacy of the ruling Hashemite King due to his guardianship of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock  for a century. In fact, this custodianship pre-dates the creation of Jordan and Israel who had agreed to continue this arrangement in their peace deal in their October 1994 peace treaty.

Jordan now apprehends that if Israel gifts away custodianship of the Haram al-Sharif to the Saudis as a quid pro quo for a peace deal, it could ‘delegitimize’ claims of the King being a descendant of the Prophet.

In other words, the deal could seal the Saudis’ leadership of the Muslim world, particularly the Sunnis who constitute nearly 80 percent of the Muslim population globally. This brilliant move could torpedo Turkey’s attempts to resurrect the Ottomans’ Empire as well as the Caliphate.

That is, the Saudis could then decide whom they considered “Muslims”, deny pilgrimage rights to the “non-Muslims” and even excommunicate the latter—as Riyadh would then have custodianship of all three holiest Islamic shrines!

There is also the Iran angle to the possible al-Aqsa deal. Tehran and Riyadh have often been at each other’s throats on many issues. If the peace deal goes through, the Saudis will be protected by the Israeli nuclear umbrella against any possible Iranian attack. In such an eventuality, the Saudis could excommunicate Iran and its friends from Islam.

The Hashemite dynasty of Jordan had controlled Mecca for centuries until it was conquered in 1924 by the House of Saud. Both Mecca and Medina became part of Saudi Arabia, while al-Aqsa remained under Hashemite control. Ever since, the two dynasties have been engaged in a struggle for influence, increasingly dominated by the Saudis.