World Bulletin/News Desk
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church on Monday rejected an invitation from the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to visit Jerusalem.
"Our position is clear on this issue: we do not allow Christians to visit Jerusalem," Father Polis Halim, Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman, told The Anadolu Agency.
"We want Christians to enter the city together with their Muslim brothers, which is an unchangeable principle of our church," he added.
Iyad Madani on Monday arrived at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.
Madani was received at one of the gates of the mosque by a host of mosque and religious endowments officials.
It is Madani's first ever visit to the iconic mosque.
On Sunday, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Madani renewed earlier invitations for Arabs to visit Israeli-occupied Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
At the opening of a fair on Jerusalem held in the West Bank, Madani had called on tourism ministers in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine to arrange visits to Jerusalem for tens of thousands of Arab tourists.
"To those who feel afraid of visiting Jerusalem, I say: visiting the city accentuates our [i.e., the Muslim] right to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem," Madani said.
He said that, regardless of the challenges visitors might encounter on their way to Jerusalem, their presence would deliver a message that they were not ready to abandon the historical city.
Halim, however, said that Egyptian Christians would only heed the will of Muslims in general and Egyptians in particular.
"If they [Muslims and Egyptians] visit the city, we will visit it with them," Halim said. "If they insist on not visiting it, we will do the same."
For years, Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church has banned its followers from going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
It says it will only allow followers to visit the city when it is free from Israeli occupation.
Egypt's Catholic and Anglican churches, however, have no such rule.
Nevertheless, some Coptic Christians reject the ban on visits to Jerusalem, describing the policy as "politically-oriented."
In May of last year, Madani called on Muslims of the world to visit Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to "safeguard their Islamic identities" against what he described as an Israeli policy to "Judaize" the holy sites.
Egypt's former mufti (top cleric), Ali Gomaa, visited Jerusalem in 2012, drawing strong reactions both at home and abroad and polarizing clerics at Egypt's Al-Azhar, a traditional seat of Sunni Islamic learning, and among the Palestinian religious and political leaderships.
Those who want to visit Jerusalem must obtain approval from the Israeli authorities. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip must also obtain approval to visit the city.
Last Mod: 05 Ocak 2015, 15:40