Supreme Muslim Council

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Muslim institution in Palestine, 19211948.

During Ottoman rule in Palestine (15161917), Muslim waqf (plural, awqaf ) and shariʿa courts were headed by the Shaykh al-Islam, and in the nineteenth century they were administered by the Ministry of Awqaf in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The British occupation of Palestine, which started in 1917, severed all ties with Constantinople, and these Muslim institutions were placed under British officials. Palestinian Muslims were alarmed at the prospect of their religious affairs being controlled by a Christian power headed by Zionists: Sir Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner, and Norman Bentwich, legal secretary in charge of the awqaf and shariʿa courts. The Muslims complained of religious discrimination and demanded control over their affairs. Anxious lest the 1921 anti-Zionist disturbances recur and wanting to provide the Palestinians with autonomous institutions that the Zionists were granted, Samuel proposed that the Muslim secondary electors to the last Ottoman parliament choose a higher body that would control the affairs of the Muslim community.

Samuel issued an order in December 1921 establishing a Supreme Muslim Council (SMC) constituted for "the control and management of Moslem awqaf and Shariʿa affairs in Palestine." It was to consist of a president and four members, two of whom were to represent the district of Jerusalem and the remaining two to represent the districts of Nablus and Acre. All were to be paid from government and awqaf funds. In the first election, held on 9 January 1922, the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, was elected president; his budget was 50,000 British pounds.

Husayni initiated an Islamic cultural revival in Palestine in the 1920s. Through the SMC, he established an orphanage, supported schools, expanded welfare and health clinics, and renovated religious buildings. The most ambitious and impressive project was the renovation of the two dilapidated mosques within the Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest shrine of Islam. The restored structures enhanced the importance of Jerusalem in the Muslim and Arab worlds and asserted Jerusalem's centrality within Palestine. By the end of the decade, the mufti had consolidated his religious power and had increased his political influence throughout Palestine. He used his enhanced political position to advocate Palestinian self-determination. After he led the Palestine Arab Revolt (19361939), however, the British dismissed him and dissolved the SMC in 1937.

see also bentwich, norman; husayni, muhammad amin al-;palestine arab revolt (19361939); samuel, herbert louis; shariʿa; waqf.


Mattar, Philip. The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement, revised edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Palestine Government. A Survey of Palestine for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Jerusalem, 1947. Reprint, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991.

philip mattar

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