Amin al-Husseini: Mufti of Jerusalem Caught in Controversy

Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, played a pivotal role during the tumultuous years leading up to the migration of hundreds of thousands of European Jews to Palestine. His influence over the Palestinian people in resisting Israeli aggression and his suspected connections with Nazi Germany’s leader, Adolf Hitler, have made him a controversial figure in Western public opinion. In a surprising turn of events, during the 2015 World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu linked the Grand Mufti to the Holocaust, accusing him of influencing Hitler’s decision to massacre six million Jews.

Born in Jerusalem in 1896 to an aristocratic family, Amin al-Husseini came from a long line of muftis in the city. Initially, his family held a different position in Sharafat, a village six kilometers from Jerusalem. However, in 1890, when the last mufti from that family passed away without a qualified successor, Amin al-Husseini’s grandfather, Mustafa al-Husseini, was asked to take up the role. Amin al-Husseini received his early education in Jerusalem and later went to Cairo, continuing his studies at Dar ad-Da’wah wa al-Irsyad, owned by Lebanese Muslim reformist Rashid Rida, a supporter of pan-Islamism.

In 1914, following the British occupation of Palestine, Amin al-Husseini founded al-Nadi al-Arabi, an organization advocating for Arab statehood and countering Zionist propaganda. He believed that Zionism posed a threat to Arab nations and Islam, fearing that the establishment of Israel would lead to the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Despite his opposition to Zionism, al-Nadi al-Arabi was not excessively radical and was even more pro-British than other organizations at the time.

Allegations arose in 1920, connecting Amin al-Husseini and al-Nadi al-Arabi to anti-Jewish riots during the Easter celebration in Jerusalem. Jewish sources accused the organization, leading to Amin al-Husseini being tried in absentia and sentenced to ten years in prison. However, he was never executed, as High Commissioner for Palestine Sir Herbert Samuel granted him amnesty, believing he might be useful to Britain’s future interests in the region. In 1921, at the age of 26, Amin al-Husseini was appointed as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

In addition to his role as the Grand Mufti, Amin al-Husseini held positions such as President of the Supreme Muslim Council and Head of the Waqf Commission. Through these roles, he sought support from Arab nations and Muslims worldwide to focus on the Palestine issue. As tensions rose and the British allowed a large influx of Jewish immigrants in 1936, Amin al-Husseini and the Palestinian people initiated the Great Revolt, demanding independence and an end to Jewish migration. However, the rebellion marked Amin al-Husseini as a target for the British.

Facing increasing difficulties, he fled to Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran before being invited to Germany for an official meeting with Adolf Hitler. Although he stopped in Rome for a month to meet with Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, his primary objective was the meeting with Hitler. Amin al-Husseini sought Hitler’s open opposition to Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, aligning with their common enemies—Britain, Jews, and Communists.

While Amin al-Husseini’s meeting with Hitler stirred controversy, historians assert that he was merely a seeker of asylum in Germany. He lacked the capacity to influence German domestic and foreign affairs. Hitler, in response to Amin al-Husseini’s request, stated Germany’s uncompromising stance against Jews, including their desire for a homeland in Palestine.

After World War II, Amin al-Husseini sought asylum in Switzerland, but his request was denied. He was later taken to France and treated as a political prisoner. In 1947, he managed to escape to Egypt, where he continued advocating for his homeland. However, following the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, which resulted in Israel’s victory, Amin al-Husseini’s influence waned. He passed away on July 4, 1974, in Beirut, and his request to be buried in the Masjid al-Aqsa complex was denied by the Israeli government.

Amin al-Husseini’s life was marked by complex relationships, shifting allegiances, and controversial actions. His role as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during a critical period in Middle Eastern history, coupled with his association with Nazi Germany, has left an indelible mark on his legacy. The debates surrounding his influence on Hitler’s decisions and the Holocaust continue to fuel discussions about his true impact on the course of history.