Grand Mufti Amin Al Husseini

In December 1942, the Islamic Central Institute was established in Berlin with an inaugural address by Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In his speech, AlHusseini vehemently criticized Jews, Americans, and British, declaring them as common enemies of both Germany and Islam. He portrayed the ongoing war as a pivotal chance for Muslims to liberate themselves from oppression, characterizing the Nazi-Islam collaboration as an alliance of convenience.

I am Dr. Kevin Baxter, and today we delve into a critical historical analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict, focusing on Grand Mufti Amin Al Husseini and his connection with Nazism, exploring the broader implications of racism and religious intolerance. Despite the Nazis’ notorious antisemitism, they also harbored a general disdain for organized religion. Although they tolerated Christianity for political reasons, they viewed it as a threat to their societal control. This context paints al-Husseini, a prominent Islamic religious figure, as an improbable ally for the Nazis, illustrating the principle that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

AlHusseini’s journey from Jerusalem to Berlin is noteworthy. In 1921, he was appointed as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem by the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine, also becoming the chairman of the Palestine Supreme Muslim Council. These roles provided him with control over the Sharia courts, religious finances, endowments, and significant Islamic sites, granting him substantial influence over the Muslim community in Palestine and globally.

Initially perceived as a moderate, AlHusseini was an Arab nationalist who had participated in the 1916 Arab Revolt against the Ottomans but had earlier shown willingness to collaborate with Imperial authorities. Hailing from a wealthy and influential family that had benefited from colonial rule, he was seen as a likely candidate to maintain the imperial status quo. However, these were tumultuous times in the Middle East. Following World War I, the British had promised Amir Faisal, a key figure in the emerging Arab federation, their own independent nation. The concept of Arab nationalism had begun to take shape by the late 19th century and was a significant factor in rallying the Arab tribes against Ottoman rule during the war.

Simultaneously, the movement of Zionism, advocating for a Jewish state, was gaining momentum amidst centuries of Jewish persecution in Europe. The Zionists sought a national haven for Jews, with most proposals centering on Palestine, the cradle of Judaism and home to a small Jewish minority. While many Arab leaders opposed this idea, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, issued by the British, promised a Jewish state within the upcoming British mandate in Palestine, conflicting with their earlier promises to the Arabs.

In 1919, a pivotal meeting occurred between Faisal and Chaim Weizmann, the leading Zionist, who had played a key role in negotiating the Balfour Declaration. They agreed to a Jewish state within a new Arab federation, with Faisal insisting that the Jewish state be limited to areas of Arab independence. Although the Zionists presented this agreement at the Paris Peace Conference without Faisal’s conditions, Faisal managed to secure an understanding with other Arab leaders, briefly suggesting the possibility of both an Arab Federation and a Jewish state coexisting. However, this proved to be an illusion.

The British, influenced by French interests in the Middle East, withdrew their promises to both Faisal and Weizmann, unraveling the agreement. Concurrently, as AlHusseini assumed his role as Grand Mufti, the British and French exploited ethnic and political divisions in the region. They made conflicting promises to various Arab factions, pitting them against each other and creating an atmosphere where changes, including Jewish immigration, were increasingly viewed as threats to the prevailing order.

AlHusseini, initially compliant with British rule in Palestine, began vigorously opposing Jewish immigration in 1928. The Supreme Muslim Council, under his influence, propagated rumors about a Zionist plot to destroy Muslim holy sites on Temple Mount. This incitement led to violent confrontations in August 1929, resulting in the deaths of 113 Jews and 116 Arabs. In December 1931, AlHusseini organized a World Islamic Congress in Jerusalem, advocating a boycott of Jewish trade and denouncing Zionism as a threat to Muslim welfare.

This period was marked by escalating tensions, partly fueled by the British policy of allowing limited Jewish immigration to Palestine. Both Zionist and Arab nationalist factions became increasingly forceful and confrontational in their demands. With the British reluctant to fully endorse either side, AlHusseini sought other alliances, turning to Adolf Hitler’s regime in Germany. In March 1933, a week after the Enabling Act was passed in Germany, AlHusseini met with Heinrich Wolf, the German Consul General in Jerusalem.

Wolf documented the meeting, noting that AlHusseini expressed that Muslims in and outside Palestine welcomed the new fascist regime in Germany, hoping for its ideological spread to other nations. A subsequent meeting near the Dead Sea a month later saw the endorsement of Germany’s anti-Jewish policies by Palestinian leaders. However, at this stage, the relationship between AlHusseini and the Nazis was primarily one of mutual rhetorical support. While AlHusseini harbored deep-seated animosity towards Jews, he initially preferred a political resolution over a military one.

In 1933, AlHusseini declined a proposal from Muhammad Al Kazam, a Syrian preacher and Arab nationalist, to join a jihad against the Jews in British Palestine. Concurrently, Nazi Germany, cautious about openly interfering in Middle Eastern politics, was facilitating their “Jewish question” by promoting Jewish emigration to Palestine. Any overt involvement in the region risked antagonizing the British and jeopardizing this strategy. As a result, in June 1933, Germany refused to support the establishment of a Nazi-inspired Arab nationalist party.

However, by the end of 1935, the situation in Palestine had significantly worsened. Al Kazam was killed by British police in November, becoming a martyr for the nationalist cause. The following year, on April 19th, a general strike was called. Initially hesitant, AlHusseini assumed leadership of the newly formed Arab Higher Committee on April 25th, leading protests and demanding an end to Jewish immigration.

The Arab revolt soon escalated into violence between Muslims and Jews. The British government outlawed the Higher Committee and issued an arrest warrant for AlHusseini in July. He fled Palestine in October 1937, seeking refuge first in Syria and then Lebanon, both under French mandate. Facing pressure from the French authorities, AlHusseini moved to Iraq in October 1939.

In Iraq, AlHusseini entered the Axis powers’ sphere of influence. Iraq, an independent monarchy with a pro-British Regent, had many pro-German government ministers and army officers and had become a sanctuary for exiled nationalist leaders. AlHusseini aligned with a group of army officers, led by Rashid Ali Alani, planning a coup. In preparation, AlHusseini’s private secretary was sent to Berlin in January 1941 with a letter to Hitler, highlighting the strategic role a pro-German Iraq could play in disrupting British communications and supplying oil to the Axis powers.

Hitler, recognizing the potential benefits, responded on April 3rd, acknowledging Arab aspirations for independence and promising military support if they combated the British. The coup unfolded on April 1st, but with Hitler focusing on the imminent invasion of the Soviet Union, he provided minimal support to Iraq, mainly some ammunition and a token force from the Luftwaffe.

Prime Minister. However, they were swiftly defeated by British and Transjordanian forces in May. Following this defeat, AlHusseini fled Iraq, journeying through Iran, Turkey, and Italy, before arriving in Berlin on November 6th. On November 28th, he met with Hitler. During their meeting, they identified their mutual adversaries: the British, the Jews, and the Bolsheviks. AlHusseini assured Hitler of the Arabs’ readiness to fully support Germany.

However, Hitler refrained from providing a written pledge to support Arab, especially Palestinian, independence. He stated that such considerations were premature, focusing instead on his goal of eradicating the Jewish influence in Europe. Hitler emphasized that after this objective was achieved, attention would turn to eliminating the Jewish presence in the Arab world.

For Hitler and the Nazis, AlHusseini’s value lay primarily in his potential as an anti-British propagandist. Since 1939, Germany had been broadcasting propaganda to the Muslim world. In that year, they established an Arabic language radio station in Zeesen, a town near Berlin, equipped with one of the most powerful shortwave radio transmitters available. The station, broadcasting as “Berlin in Arabic” and “Voice of Free Arabism,” targeted the approximately 90,000 shortwave radios in the Middle East and North Africa. Given the low adult literacy rates in the region, radio was a vital propaganda tool, with radios commonly installed in cafes, markets, and public spaces, reaching broad audiences.

The station’s programming, crafted by German Middle East experts and native Arabic speakers, began with Quranic verses and aimed to align Germany’s war efforts with the interests of Islam. The content portrayed the Nazi war as a fight against shared enemies of both Nazism and Islam.

Al Husseini quickly became a key figure in Nazi Germany’s propaganda efforts targeting the Muslim world. In the summer of 1942, coinciding with General Rommel’s successes in North Africa, the Third Reich Office (TRO) intensified its propaganda campaign. On June 16th, AlHusseini broadcasted a message welcoming the anticipated defeat of the British, whom he accused of collaborating with Jewish capitalism. His involvement wasn’t limited to radio broadcasts.

In July, 200,000 leaflets were airdropped over North Africa, featuring an appeal from AlHusseini for Muslims to support the Axis cause. A broadcast on July 7th exemplified the aggressive tone of this campaign, urging Muslims to annihilate Jews as a religious duty and as a means of self-preservation.

The Nazi propaganda aimed to establish a perceived common ground between Islam and Nazism. While Hitler regarded Arabs as racially inferior, he held a simplistic yet selective admiration for Islam, appreciating aspects he believed resonated with Nazi ideals like strength, discipline, and community. Hitler’s respect for Islam, as noted by Albert Speer after the war, was based on the religion’s historical conquests, aligning with his expansionist and genocidal ideologies.

However, the Nazi regime primarily viewed the Muslim population as a potential manpower resource. This perspective became more evident as the Allies landed in North Africa. Nazi propaganda, invoking memories of the Crusades, framed Operation Torch as an assault by the Anglo-Saxon and Jewish world against Arab Muslims. Broadcasting from Radio Bari, an Italian propaganda station, on November 11th, AlHusseini warned that a successful invasion would lead to Jewish expansion not only in Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Egypt but across all neighboring Arab countries. The propaganda intensified, portraying the conflict as a direct threat to the Arab world.

AlHusseini’s involvement in Nazi propaganda emphasized the necessity for Arabs to join forces with the Axis powers against their “deadliest enemies” – the British and the Jews. This strategy culminated in December with the opening of the Islamic Central Institute in Berlin. The German Foreign Office envisioned this institute as a tool to strengthen ties between the Nazi regime and the Islamic world, leveraging the influence of exiles like AlHusseini for propaganda purposes.

The institute’s inauguration was meticulously planned to resonate with a religious audience. The chosen date, December 18th, coincided with the Muslim holiday of Al-Adha. Among the attendees were Muslim soldiers from the Zer Legion. The opening address, pre-approved by Nazi officials and broadcast across North Africa and the Middle East, was delivered by AlHusseini himself. In his speech, he urged Muslims to revolt against Jews and their allies, framing the war as an opportunity for Muslims to escape persecution and oppression. He stressed that true Muslims should not fear or yield to anyone other than God, and should not place their trust in their enemies. This address reinforced the Nazi agenda to mobilize the Muslim world against their common foes.

The question arises: did this propaganda by AlHusseini and the Nazis significantly influence the Muslim world? The answer seems to be negative. A far greater number of Muslims served in the British Empire’s armies and the Free French forces than those who responded to the call of AlHusseini and Hitler. Despite the extensive Axis propaganda, their military presence in North Africa had not successfully ousted the Allies, and by this point, the Allies were gaining momentum with substantial new forces. This reality undermined the Axis’s portrayal of themselves as liberators, especially as they appeared to be on the losing side of the war.

Despite the limited impact of his propaganda, AlHusseini remained aligned with the Nazi regime. He continued his vehement anti-Jewish crusade, met with high-ranking Nazi officials like Heinrich Himmler, visited concentration camps, and even recruited Muslims into the SS. However, his influence and rhetoric likely seemed increasingly empty to those in regions like Cairo, Benghazi, or East Jerusalem, where the Axis’s waning military fortunes were evident.

What this propaganda did effectively was to deepen existing divisions, planting seeds of discord that would affect the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions for many years. AlHusseini’s efforts, although not substantially altering the course of the war or significantly shifting allegiances in the Muslim world, contributed to the long-term complexity and animosity in these areas.