Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (ca. 1895-July 4, 1974, امين الحسيني, also spelt al-Husseini or el-Husseini, also known as Al-Hajj Amin or Haj Amin), was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim religious leader. A member of Jerusalem's most prominent family, his most important positions were as Mufti of Jerusalem and President of the Supreme Muslim Council .
Known as the "Grand Mufti of Jerusalem", he received this title in 1921 after the death of his father (the Mufti of Jerusalem) under the auspices of the then High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel. He played a major role in Arab resistance to Zionist political ambitions in Palestine and recruiting Muslims to fight in the German army during World War II. He became very close to the Nazi leading circle and conducted radio broadcasts and recruitment operations on their behalf during the war.
Born in Jerusalem in 1895 (some sources say 1893), at a time when less than 7 percent of Palestine's population was Jewish. He attended al-Azhar University in Cairo (where he founded an anti-Zionist society) and studied Islamic Law for about one year. In 1913 at the age of 18, al-Husayni made the pilgrimage to Mecca and received the honorific of Hajj. Prior to World War I, al-Husayni studied at the School of Administration in Istanbul.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, al-Husayni joined the Ottoman Turkish army, received a commission as an artillery officer and was assigned to the Forty-Seventh Brigade stationed in and around the predominately Greek Christian city of Smyrna. In November 1916, al-Husayni left the Ottoman army on a three month disability leave and returned to Jerusalem where he remained for the duration of the war. In 1916 he took part in the Arab Revolt and became an acknowledged leader of Palestinian nationalism. He was employed as a clerk in the British military administration in the Department of Public Safety.
In 1919, al-Husayni attended the Pan-Syrian Congress held in Damascus where he supported Emir Faisal for King of Syria. That year, al-Husayni joined (perhaps founded) the Arab secret society El-Nadi al-Arabi (The Arab Club) in Jerusalem and wrote articles for the first new newspaper to be established in Palestine, Suriyya al-Janubiyya (Southern Syria). The paper was published in Jerusalem beginning in September 1919 by the lawyer Muhammad Hasan al-Budayri , and edited by 'Arif al-'Arif , both were prominent members of al-Nadi al-Arabi .
Until late 1921, al-Husayni focused his efforts on Pan-Arabism and Greater Syria in particular with Palestine being a southern province of an Arab state with its capital in Damascus. Greater Syria was to include territory now occupied by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The struggle for Greater Syria collapsed after Britain ceded control over present day Syria and Lebanon to France in July 1920 in accord with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The French army entered Damascus at that time, overthrew King Faisal and dissolved Greater Syria.
After this, al-Husayni turned from a Damascus oriented Pan-Arabism to a particularly Palestinian ideology centered on Jerusalem.
Viewing the Balfour Declaration as a betrayal, Al-Husayni organized anti-Jewish demonstrations in Jerusalem. During the Jerusalem pogrom of April, 1920, Al-Husayni incited the masses to murder Jews and loot their homes. He organized Jaffa riots of May, 1921, followed by the annual anti-Balfour riots. For his crimes the British military court sentenced Al-Husayni (in absentia) to ten years imprisonment on charges of fomenting the riots, but he had already fled to Damascus by way of Trans-Jordan.
In 1921, the British military administration of Palestine was replaced by a civilian one. The first High Commissioner Herbert Samuel decided to pardon al-Husayni and appointed him Mufti of Jerusalem , a position that had been held by his brother Kamil and the al-Husayni clan for more than a century. The following year Samuel "appointed" him as President of the newly formed Supreme Muslim Council, which controlled the Waqf funds worth annually tens of thousands of pounds, the orphan funds, worth annually about 50,000 pounds, besides controlling the Shariah courts, the Islamic religious court in Palestine. These courts, among other duties, appointed teachers and preachers.
This method of appointment was actually in consonance with tradition (some have said Al-Husayni seized power). For years under Ottoman rule, Muslim clerics would nominate three clerics and the secular temporal leader, the Caliph, would choose among the three who would become the Mufti. After the British took over Palestine, the secular temporal leader was the High Commissioner. This led to the extraordinary situation of a Jew, Herbert Samuel, choosing who would actually become Mufti. The only difference was that in this instance five candidates were nominated instead of three. It is thought that in furthering the dispute between the Nashashibi and Husseini clans.
Al Husseini formed an international muslim campaign to improve and restore the mosque known as the Dome of the Rock. Indeed, the current landscape of the Temple Mount was directly affected by Husseini's fundraising activities. He raised the vast sums necessary to plate the Dome of the Rock with gold.
On 19 April 1936, an Arab rebellion broke out in Palestine. Soon the rebellion had spread across the country, openly and officially led by the Mufti and his Arab Higher Committee , founded a week after the rebellion had started. The Committee, presided by the Mufti, proclaimed a general Arab strike and called for nonpayment of taxes, shutting down of municipal governments and demanded an end to Jewish immigration, a ban on land sales to Jews, and national independence. Jewish colonies, kibbutzim and quarters in towns, became the targets for Arab sniping, bombing and other terrorist activities.
The British removed the leaders of his rivalling clan, the Nashashibis (Jerusalem's other most prominent clan, which tended to be more moderate and accommodating than strongly anti-British Husaynis) from influental positions. During most of the period of the British mandate, bickering between these two families seriously weakened the effectiveness of Arab efforts. In 1936 they achieved a measure of unity when all the Palestinian groups joined to create a permanent executive organ known as the Arab High Committee under al-Husayni's chairmanship.
The British removed al-Husayni from the presidency of the Muslim Supreme Council and declared the Arab High Committee illegal in Palestine. In October 1937 al-Husayni fled to Lebanon, where he reconstituted the committee under his domination. Al-Husayni retained the support of most Palestinian Arabs and used his power to punish the Nashashabis.
The rebellion lasted until 1939 when it was quelled by the British troops. It forced Britain to make substantial concessions to Arab demands. The British abandoned the idea of establishing Palestine as a Jewish state and, while Jewish immigration was to continue for another five years (allowing a total of 75,000 Jews to immigrate), the immigration was thereafter to depend on Arab consent. Al-Husayni, however, felt that the concessions did not go far enough, and he repudiated the new policy. See also Peel Commission, White Paper of 1937 .
In 1947 the United Nations revealed a documentary of captured records of the activities of the Arab Higher Committee, which the Mufti presided over. They stated that the "Arab riots of 1936 in Palestine were carried out by the Mufti with funds supplied by the Nazis". The documents of the German High Command, captured after the War, reveal that "only through funds made available by Germany to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was it possible to carry out the revolt in Palestine".
Nazi ties and WWII
In 1933, within weeks of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, al-Husayni sent a telegram to Berlin addressed to the German counsul-general in the British Mandate of Palestine saying he looked forward to spreading their ideology in the Middle East, especially in Palestine and offered his services. Al-Husayni's offer was rejected at first out of concern for disrupting Anglo-German relations by allying with an anti-British leader. But one month later, Al-Husayni secretly met Wolff , the German Consul-General, near the Dead Sea and expressed his approval of the anti-Jewish boycott in Germany and asked him not to send any Jews to Palestine. Later that year, the Mufti's assistants approached Wolff, seeking his help in establishing a National Socialist Arab party in Palestine. Wolff and his superiors disapproved because they didn't want to become involved in a British sphere of influence, the Nazi's desired further Jewish immigration to Palestine, and because the Nazi party, was restricted to German speaking "Aryans" only.
On 21 July 1937, Al-Husayni paid a visit to the new German Consul-General, Hans Döhle , in Palestine. He repeated his former support for Germany and "wanted to know to what extent the Third Reich was prepared to support the Arab movement against the Jews." The Mufti approached representatives of the Nazi regime and sought cooperation on July 21, 1937, when he visited the German Consul in Jerusalem. He later sent an agent and personal representative to Berlin for discussions with Nazi leaders. SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich was second in command to Heinrich Himmler in the SS hierarchy and was the chief of the Reich Security Head Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA) and was the head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the SS Security Service. In Septemper, 1937, Heydrich sent two SS officers, SS Hauptscharfuehrer Adolf Eichmann and SS Oberscharfuehrer Herbert Hagen on a mission to Palestine, one of the main objectives being to establish contact with the Grand Mufti. During this period Husseini received financial and military assistance and supplies from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.
In September 1937 two SS officers, named Karl Adolf Eichmann and Herbert Hagen , came to Palestine with the objective of getting "acquainted with the country and the life and to establish contact with people" among them Al-Husayni.
In 1938, though Anglo-German relations were a concern, Al-Husayni's offer was accepted. Al-Husayni's links to the Nazi regime grew very close. From Berlin, al-Husayni would play a significant role in inter-Arab politics. In 1939, al-Husayni fled to Lebanon (dressed as a woman), and then to Iraq.
In May 1940, the British Foreign Office declined a proposal from the chairman of the Vaad Leumi (Jewish national council in Palestine) that they assassinate al-Husayni, but in November of that year Winston Churchill approved such a plan. In May 1941, several members of the Irgun including its leader David Raziel were released from prison and flown to Iraq for this purpose. The mission was abandoned when Raziel was killed by a German plane (Mattar, 1984).
In April 1941 the Mufti and the "Golden Square " pro-German army officers, led by General Rashid Ali, forced the Iraqi Prime Minister, the pro-British Nuri Said Pasha , to resign. In May he declared jihad against Britain. In a few months British troops crushed the rebellion and the Mufti went to Germany, via Iran, Turkey and Mussolini's office in Rome. See Farhud for more details of the events in Iraq.
In Nazi-occupied Europe
al-Husayni and Adolf Hitler (1941)
Upon Haj Amin el Husseini arrival to Europe, he met the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop on 20 November 1941 and was officially received by Adolf Hitler on November 28, 1941 in Berlin. He presented Hitler with fifteen drafts of declarations that he wanted the Axis to adopt. These declarations sought Nazi support for the wiping out of Jews in Palestine. Hitler refused to issue an official proclamation in support of the Palestinians but gave the Mufti his word that Germany shared the Palestinian desire of wiping out the Jews from the Middle East and promised that when Germany conquered the Caucasus they would wipe out Palestinian Jewry. After meeting Hitler and Ribbentrop in Berlin, the Mufti was made an SS Gruppenfuehrer by Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler. The Mufti established close contacts with Bosnian and Albanian Muslim leaders and spent the remainder of the war conducting the following activities:
Beginning in 1943, al-Husayni was involved in the organization and formation of Bosnian Muslims into several divisions of the Waffen SS and other units.
The largest was the 13th "Handschar" (sometimes spelled Hanjar) division (21,065 men), which conducted operations against Communist partisans in the Balkans from February 1944. In fact 13th SS "Handschar" was made up of at least 10% Catholic Croats, this was done out of compromise since the Croat facists, the Ustashe had objected to the recruitment of the Bosnian Muslims, since they were worried about possible independence and considered the Muslim areas apart of their "[[Independent State of Croatia".
The uniform worn by the division was regular SS issue, with a divisional collar patch showing an arm, holding a Scimitar, over a Swastika. On the left arm was a Croatian armshield (red-white chessboard). Headgear was the Fez, in field grey (normal service) or red ("walking out"), with the SS eagle and death's head emblazoned. Non-Muslim members could opt to wear the normal SS mountain cap. The oval mountain troop Edelweiss patch was worn on the right arm. The division also had Muslim imams in the division.
The "Handschar" division was entirely commanded by German officers and was sent to France for training where some members staged a mutiny on sept 17-18 1943, in reality it was only a small number of communist sympathizers who staged the mutiny, a few were killed during the mutiny and later 12 others were executed by the Germans. The division later completed training in Germany.
It was responsible for a number of atrocities against civilians mostly committed during its anti partisan operations, of which it was specifically raised for. Towards the end of the war however, many of its members deserted the division sometimes with their weapons, as many of the Muslims decided to return to Bosnia to protect their homes and families or defected to titos partisans. The division was essentially disbanded by november 1944, although some sources allege a small number continued to fight until being captured or killed by 1945.
The 21st "Kama" division (3,793 men) did not reach divisional operations strength and was disbanded after five months; its personnel being transferred to other units. Additional units included a Muslim SS self-defense regiment in the Raška (Sandžak) region of Serbia, the Ostmusselmanische SS-Regiment.
On March 1, 1944 the Mufti broadcasted from Berlin: "Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor."
In June 1944, Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's deputy for Slovakia and Hungary, told Dr. Rudolf Kasztner in Budapest that he was convinced that the Mufti had played a role in the decision to exterminate the European Jews... The importance of this role must not be disregarded... The Mufti had repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he was maintaining contact, above all to Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution of the Palestinian problem.
At the Nuremberg Trials in July 1946, Wisliceny testified:
"The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan... He was one of Eichmann's best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard him say, accompanied by Eichmann, he had visited incognito the gas chamber of Auschwitz."
Wisliceny also testified that after the Mufti's arrival in Germany he had paid visit to Himmler and shortly afterwards (late in 1941 or early in 1942) had visited Eichmann in his Berlin office at Kürfurstrasse , 116. According to Wisliceny, Eichmann told him that he had brought the Mufti to a special room where he showed him maps illustrating the distribution of the Jewish population in various European countries and delivered a detailed report on the solution of the Jewish problem in Europe.
When the Red Cross offered to mediate with Adolf Eichmann in a trade prisoner-of-war exchange involving the freeing of German citizens in exchange for 5,000 Jewish children being sent from Poland to the Theresienstadt death camp, Husseini directly intervened with Himmler and the exchange was cancelled.
Among the sabotage al-Husayni organized was an attempted chemical warfare assault on the Jewish community in Tel Aviv. Five parachutists were sent with a toxin to dump into the water system. The police caught the infiltrators in a cave near Jericho, and according to Jericho district police commander Fayiz Bey Idrissi , "The laboratory report stated that each container held enough poison to kill 25,000 people, and there were at least ten containers." (, Source: The Quest for the Red Prince by Michael Bar-Zohar and Eitan Haber , 1983, ISBN 1585747394)
After the war, al-Husayni fled to Switzerland but was detained and put under house arrest in France but escaped and was given asylum in Egypt. Zionist groups petitioned the British to have him indicted as a war criminal. The British declined, partly because they considered the evidence indecisive but also because such a move would have added to their growing problems in Egypt and Palestine, where al-Husayni was still popular. Yugoslavia also unsuccessfully sought his extradition.
In 1948 al-Husayni declared the president of the All-Palestine government in the Gaza Strip. On October 1, an independent Palestinian state in all of Palestine was declared, with Jerusalem as its capital. This government was recognised by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, but not by Jordan or any non-Arab country. His government was totally dependent on Egypt. Egypt annulled the All-Palestine government by decree in 1959. The failure of this venture and al-Husayni's lack of credibility because of his collaboration with the Axis powers during World War II did much to weaken Palestinian Arab Nationalism in the 1950s.
Al-Husayni served as president of the World Islamic Congress , which he had founded in 1931.
Al-Husayni died in Beirut, Lebanon in 1974. He wished to be buried in Jerusalem, but the Israeli government refused this request.
Some historians point out that he was a major influence on Yasser Arafat: "The Fatah leader’s actual name was Abd al-Rahman abd al-Rauf Arafat al-Qud al-Husseini. He shortened it to obscure his kinship with the discredited ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini." (Howard Sachar , A history of Israel: from the rise of Zionism to our time 1982, c1979 p.682)
Yasser Arafat's interview with the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat was reprined by a leading Palestinian daily Al Quds (August 2, 2002):
Interviewer: I have heard voices from within the [Palestinian] Authority in the past few weeks, saying that the reforms are coordinated according to American whims... Arafat: We are not Afghanistan. We are the mighty people. Were they able to replace our hero Hajj Amin al-Husseini?... There were a number of attempts to get rid of Hajj Amin, whom they considered an ally of the Nazis. But even so, he lived in Cairo, and participated in the 1948 war, and I was one of his troops."
According to John Marlowe, "The dominant figure in Palestine during the Mandate years was neither an Englishman nor a Jew, but an Arab — Haj Amin Muhammed Effendi al Husaini... Able, ambitious, ruthless, humourless, and incorruptible, he was of the authentic stuff of which dictators are made."
The Mufti of Jerusalem by Philip Mattar (Columbia University Press revised edition, 1988, ISBN 0231064632)
The Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Arab Politics , 1930-1937 (Outstanding These from the London School of Economics and Political Science) by Yehuda Taggar (Garland Pub, 1987, ISBN 0824019334)
Palestinian Leader, Hajj Amin Al-Husoyni, Mufti of Jerusalem (Kingston Press Series. Leaders, Politics, and Social Change in the Islamic World, No 5) by Taysir Jbara (Kingston Press , 1985, ISBN 0940670216)
- The Mufti of Jerusalem: Amin el-Husseini, and his diplomatic activity during World War II, October 1941-July 1943 by Daniel Carpi (1983)
- "Al-Husayni and Iraq's quest for independence, 1939-1941" by P. Mattar in Arab Studies Quarterly 6,4 (1984), 267-281.
- "The Formation of Palestinian Identity: The Critical Years, 1917-1923" by R. Khalidi in Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East edited by James Jankowski and Israel Gershoni (Columbia University Press, 1997, ISBN 0231106955)
- by Moshe Pearlman (V Gollancz, 1947)
- "The Grand Mufti and Hitler: National Socialist Networks in the Mideast" chapter 4 of The Hitler Book : A Schiller Institute Study edited by Helga Zepp-LaRouche (Ben Franklin Booksellers, 1984, ISBN 0933488378)
Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890 by Philip Rees (Macmillan Library Reference, 1991, ISBN 0130893013)
- The Mufti and the Fuehrer : The rise and fall of Haj Amin el-Husseini by Joseph B Schechtman (T. Yoseloff, 1965)
, Founder of the Palestinian National Movement by Z. Elpeleg , David Harvey, Shmuel Himelstein (Frank Cass Publishers , 1993, ISBN 0714634328)
The Israel-Arab Reader : A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict edited by Walter Laqueur and Barry M. Rubin (Penguin Books 6th Rev edition, 2001, ISBN 0140297138)
Extreme Islam: Anti-American Propaganda of Muslim Fundamentalism edited by Adam Parfrey (Last Gasp, 2002, ISBN 0922915784)
Article on Amin al-Husayni, including a picture with Hitler
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13