Islamic leadership in Jerusalem

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Islamic Leadership in Jerusalem refers to the leading cleric (ulema) of the Muslim community in Jerusalem. Historically, the primary religious leader was the Qadi. During the late Ottoman Empire, the Muftis became pre-eminent, particularly the Mufti of the Hanafi school, and during the British military administration the post of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was created,[1][2] which continues today.

Ottoman era[edit]

For most of the Ottoman period, until the late nineteenth century and the creation of the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem, the muftis of the Jerusalem were considered to be outranked by the Qadis.[3] The status of the mufti began to increase as the Ottoman Empire became more secular from the mid-nineteenth century on.[4] The legal role of the Qadi began to diminish in importance.[5]

The elevation of the muftis' status was made legal on 26 April 1913 with the passing of the Temporary Law Concerning the Appointment of Shari'a Judges and Officials, which noted that "the muftis head the ulama' of their locality".[6]

During the Ottoman period, the Mufti of Jerusalem was subordinated to Istanbul's Shaykh al-Islām, and his role was limited to local vicinity of Jerusalem and later the wider Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem.[7] When the British authorities took control, they severed the link with Istanbul, and widened the jurisdiction of the Mufti to cover the whole of Mandatory Palestine.[8]

The position of Qadi was usually a one-year role, and was appointed by the central Ottoman government, whilst the muftis were usually a member for a notable family in the town.[9]

When Mohammed Tahir al-Husayni died in 1908, his son Kamil al-Husayni succeeded him and served with approval of the British authorities once the British conquered Jerusalem in December 1917. However, during World War I, the Ottoman Empire claimed that al-Husayni was a British stooge and that As'ad Shuqeiri-who was appointed by the Ottoman Empire as the Qadi 1914-1918-was the rightful Islamic leader of the region. Shuqeiri was the father of Ahmad Shukeiri (1908–1980), the first leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Shortly after the 1917 Battle of Jerusalem, newly appointed British Military Governor Ronald Storrs met with Hussein al-Husayni, who explained that the majority of Jerusalem's 11,000 Muslim residents were followers of the official Ottoman Hanafi rite, with a minority following the Shafi’i school which had been predominant prior to the Ottoman conquest.[10] At the time there was a Hanafi mufti and a Shari'a mufti of Jerusalem. Storrs advised the British government to declare that there would only be a single recognized post of mufti going forward.[10]

The British created the role of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in order to increase the prestige of the seat. The idea was borrowed from that of the Grand Mufti of Egypt.[11][1] The British also combined the traditional roles of mufti and qadi.[12]


Pre-Ottoman Qadis[edit]

  • Shihab ad-Din Abulabbas al-Omawi al-Masri ? to 1440

Ottoman Qadis[edit]

  • Shaikh Najm al-Din, late 17th century[13]
  • 'Ali ibn Habib Allah ibn Abi '1-Lutf, d. 1731[14]
  • Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahim Jarallah (Abu '1-Lutf), d. 1728[14]
  • Muhammad al-Khalili, d. 1734[14]
  • Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Muwaqqit, d. 1757[14]
  • Najm al-Din al-Khairi, d. 1759[14]
  • Muhammd al-Tafilati, d. 1778[14]
  • Sheikh Ḥasan b. ‘Abd al-Laṭīf al-Ḥusayni (1781-1806/7)
  • Muhammad Salih al-Imam, d. 1828[14]
  • Muḥammad Fadil Jārallāh d. 1856

Ottoman Hanafi Muftis[edit]

Grand Muftis of Jerusalem[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Porath, Yehoshua (1971). "Al Hajj Amin al Huseyni, Mufti of Jerusalem". Asian and African Studies. Jerusalem Academic Press.
  • Pappe, Ilan (2012). The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Huyaynis 1700 - 1948. Saqi. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-86356-801-5.


  1. ^ a b Pappe 2012, p. 123: “And so, after an awkward start, Kamil al-Husayni became a favorite of the British authorities, who came to trust and rely upon him. The family itself was astonished by the number of posts he was granted. First, he was made the Grand Mufti - al-Mufti al-Akbar. No longer was he the mufti of one school but of all Muslims, and not only of Jerusalem but of all Palestine. This was an idea hatched by the British officials in Egypt. There the religious hierarchy was headed by the Grand Mufti of Egypt and had been even when the country was under Ottoman rule. In addition, Kamil was appointed head of the Sharia court of appeal - which had traditionally been held by a member of the Khalidi clan - and guardian of all Muslim religious properties in the city."
  2. ^ Porath 1971, p. 128-129: "Apart from combining in his hands the judicial function with that of Ifta, the British military authorities saw fit to give further public expression to the pre-eminence of his status in their eyes. They afforded him the title Grand Mufti (al-Mufti al-Akbar), a title not previously current in Palestine, and looked upon him as "the representative of Islam in Palestine".
  3. ^ Porath 1971, p. 125-126: "We must be careful, however, not to impute to the office of Mufti of Jerusalem in Ottoman times the same dominant status it was later to acquire under the Mandate. The Mufti of Jerusalem was not considered to rank very high in the hierarchy of the Empire's muftis, Jerusalem being in those days little more than a remote country town that had never served as the capital of a province (eyalet; or as it was later called, vilayet). But the changed international importance of Jerusalem from the middle of the nineteenth century and its reconstitution as a district linked directly to Istanbul undoubtedly enhanced the importance of those holding office in the city. No less important was the great change which took place in the status of the town mufti in Ottoman society. At least until the latter part of the nineteenth century he was considered to be outranked by the qadi of his town in the ulama hierarchy of the Empire."
  4. ^ Porath 1971, p. 127a: "The increase in relative important of the urban mufti was further accelerated by the process of secularization which swept over the Ottoman Empire from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The judicial authority of the qadi fell victim to this process; whereas up until this time his authority had extended to every area of daily life and he had served as the chief administrative officer in his district, the qadi was now restricted to the handing down of judgement on personal matters only, the civil courts (nizami) gradually assuming most of his former powers."
  5. ^ Porath 1971, p. 127b: "What is more, during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire and during the Young Turk period an even more far-reaching trend began to emerge - the tendency to view Islam as a purely spiritual religion concerned primarily with the relationship between Man and his Creator, a view deriving above all from the thinking of Zia Gok-Alp. It is clear that the mufti, his basic function being that of guidance rather than passing of judgement (a function commanding authority), stood to gain from these developments."
  6. ^ Porath 1971, p. 127c: "This change in status was given formal expression in the Temporary Law Concerning the Appointment of Shari'a Judges and Officials of 19 Jumada al ula AH 1331/26 April 1913. Paragraph 37 of this law laid down that 'the muftis head the ulama' of their locality."
  7. ^ Porath 1971, p. 128a: "Two important factors should, however, by kept in mind: firstly, the local mufti, in the present case the Mufti of Jerusalem, remained throughout the Ottoman period subordinate to the Sheikh ul-Islam in Istanbul, and secondly, his pre-eminent status among the local 'ulama' was restricted to the Jerusalem District alone, the two other districts of Palestine, Nablus and Acre, being attached throughout the nineteenth century not to Jerusalem but to Beirut (before this, up until the Egyptian conquest, the Acre district was usually part of the eyalet of Sidon, while the Nablus district formed part of the eyalet of Damascus)."
  8. ^ Porath 1971, p. 128b: "It was precisely in these two respects that the British occupation of Palestine and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire affected the status of the Mufti of Jerusalem: the link with Istanbul was severed, and Jerusalem became the chief city of Palestine, seat of the Government and the Supreme Court. "
  9. ^ Porath 1971, p. 126: "The qadi was appointed by the central government and sent to his seat of office, where he did not usually remain for more than a year. The mufti, on the other hand, was a member of one of the notable families in the town, steeped in a long tradition of Muslim learning. These families were generally of sharifi origin, and during the eighteenth century, with the weakening of the central government and the sipahi system, they came to constitute a dominant factor in the social and economic life of the Empire."
  10. ^ a b Pappe 2012, p. 122: “On 21 December, Storrs located Mayor Hussein al-Husayni, the president of the city council… Then Storrs asked how many Muslim inhabitants there were in Jerusalem. “Eleven thousand” said Hussein, adding that the majority belonged to the Hanafi school, which had been predominant in the Ottoman Empire, and a minority to the Shafi’i school, which had been customary before the Ottoman conquest. The Husaynis held the post of Hanafi mufti, the only one approved by the Ottoman religious authorities. Storrs made a note of this information and advised his government to declare that this would be the only recognized post of mufti”
  11. ^ Porath 1971, p. 129: "In doing this they no doubt had in mind the example of Egypt, where the mufti hierarchy, headed by the "Mufti of Egypt" was determined independently of the rest of the Ottoman Empire. The experience gained by many of these officers while serving in Egypt was bound to guide them when they came to serve in Palestine. The military authorities had to solve the problem of Muslim religious organization following the severance of the tie with Istanbul and the consequent cessation of the Shaykh al-Islam's control over the muftis and the shari'a courts and that of the Ministry of Awqaf over the Waqf managers. Prior to the British occupation there was no central body in Palestine authorized to do this, and all the various functions of the Muslim community were subject to control from Istanbul. It was against this background, and in view of Jerusalem's transformation into the focal centre of the country and the Mufti's amenable and cooperative spirit, that the interesting developments so profoundly affecting the status of the Mufti of Jerusalem during the Mandatory period took place.
  12. ^ Porath 1971, p. 128c: "During the period of military government the presidency of the shari'a Court of Appeal in Jerusalem fell vacant. The authorities departed the age-old custom of maintaining a strict separation between the functions of mufti and qadi, and appointed Kamil al-Husayni to this post as well, his combined salary reaching a very high figure. He also headed the Central Waqf Committee, thereby controlling religious foundations throughout the country."
  13. ^ Abdul-Karim Rafeq (2000). "6: Ottoman Jerusalem in the writings of Arab travelers". In Sylvia Auld and Robert Natsheh (ed.). Ottoman Jerusalem, The Living City: 1517–1917. I. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust. pp. 63–72.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Kamal J al-'Asali (2000). "18: The cemeteries of Ottoman Jerusalem". In Sylvia Auld and Robert Natsheh (ed.). Ottoman Jerusalem, The Living City: 1517–1917. I. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust. pp. 279–284.
  15. ^ David Kushner, Palestine in the late Ottoman period: political, social, and economic transformation, BRILL, 1986. passim