Jewish community outrage over an incendiary July 21 sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis that included genocidal, anti-Semitic language has led to calls for a public apology.
Less than a week after he delivered a sermon calling on Allah to “annihilate” Jews, ICD Imam Sheikh Ammar Shahin had scheduled a July 27 press conference to issue an apology to the Jewish community. The event was postponed to the morning of July 28 so that additional Muslim community leaders could attend.
Local Jewish community leaders said they would not attend unless they are given a chance to read the text of Shahin’s apology in advance.
The Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council of the Sacramento Region issued a statement in the wake of the sermon, which Shahin delivered during last week’s Friday prayers, saying, “We strongly condemn this vitriolic attack and deem it to be purely anti-Semitic. Language used to incite racial hatred against any community is dangerous and offensive … We call on the Islamic Center of Davis to issue a full public apology to our Jewish community for the statements made by Imam Ammar Shahin. There is no place for comments that may incite violence or intolerance in a civilized society.”
California Imam Ammar Shahin Prays for Annihilattion of Jews, Calls to Liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque from Their “Filth” pic.twitter.com/YmPx4O3wQW
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) July 25, 2017
In his sermon, delivered in Arabic and English (and uploaded to the Davis Masjid’s YouTube channel), the Egyptian-born Shahin cited a hadith, or saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, that claims, “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah.”
He also prayed that the Al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem be liberated from “the filth of the Jews,” and to “annihilate them down the very last one. Do not spare any of them.”
Shahin’s sermon referred to recent violence on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where Israel temporarily installed metal detectors after two Israeli police officers were killed on July 14 by terrorists who smuggled weapons onto the site, which is holy to Muslims and Jews.
“We reject attempts to cast the conflict in Jerusalem as a religious war between Jews and Muslims,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which issued a public statement condemning the imam’s sermon. “At this time of heightened tension, it is more important than ever for the Jewish and Muslim communities to come together to condemn the use of stereotypes and conspiracy theories, and to rebuild trust so that people of all faiths can coexist with mutual respect in the Holy Land and around the world.”
In response to the Jewish community’s reaction, the Islamic Center posted a statement on July 25 that said, “The ICD will always stand against anti-Semitism similarly to how the Jewish community has always stood against Islamophobia in our close-knit community. We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism or any other form of bigotry.”
The statement also accused MEMRI of taking the imam’s remarks out of context: “MEMRI, an extremist agenda-driven organization that supports Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and other Islamophobic news organizations, accused Shahin of anti-Semitism, quoting edited, mistranslated passages of the sermon out of context. If the sermon was misconstrued, we sincerely apologize to anyone offended. We will continue our commitment to interfaith and community harmony.”
The July 28 press conference at Davis Community Church is one outcome of a meeting held earlier this week between Rabbi Seth Castleman, chair of the Sacramento Area Board of Rabbis, and elders from Davis’ Muslim community, including two ICD board members. Shahin also attended.
“We wanted to discuss how to move forward through our interfaith work,” Castleman said of that meeting. “We also wanted the imam to hear the impact his sermon has had on the Jewish community. We were trying to suggest how to make amends for what happened and to rebuild relationships with the two communities.”
Because the imam’s comments were made publicly, a press conference was suggested as an appropriate public forum for an apology.
Federation President Carol Loew confirmed that attendance by federation and JCRC representatives hinged upon the imam’s statement. “We don’t intend to go to the press conference unless we are given a copy of the Iman’s statement and apology to see that it’s appropriate.”
Despite current tensions, Jewish leaders spoke highly of Jewish-Muslim relationships in the area.
“My feeling is that in everything negative, there is an opportunity,” Loew said. “Because this area has such a strong interfaith community, I believe with calmness and not inciting violence, we will come to a very peaceful solution.”
JCRC chair Bruce Pomer agreed. “What gives me hope over the long haul is that there are excellent people on both sides who are talking about keeping calm. All the work we’ve done in the Muslim and Jewish communities is enabling us to hold the fabric together. When you get a situation like this that a lot of us are talking about, it doesn’t reflect on our overall relationship with the Muslim community.”
ICD board president Amr Zedan said he understood the outrage the imam’s remarks have caused and reiterated what was articulated in the organization’s online statement, saying, “We pride ourselves on our strong ties with the Jewish community. We are proud that we can say our communities have stuck together.”
Zedan said he views the press conference as an opportunity for Shahin to speak firsthand, and as a first step toward reconciliation.
“The main message is that we’ve always stood against all forms of hate,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we have such strong ties and that these ties are being tested.”
The federation and JCRC also pointed to the “strong relationship and kinship with the Muslim community.” Accepting the imam’s apology “is what the Torah teaches us,” Castleman said. “I’m not saying it’s enough, but if someone tries to apologize, we have to hear it.”
It also led to a petition at Change.org, initiated by Shireen Qudosi, director of Muslim Matters at America Matters in Los Angeles. The petition calls on the ICD to “immediately fire Imam Ammar Shahin and publicly apologize for the shameless prostitution of faith to attack the Jewish community.”
Sacramento federation executive director Willie Recht expressed concerns about the safety of the entire community, an issue the federation takes very seriously, while also calling for an apology.
“We need to be adamant about showing up for all communities,” he said. “We’ve had a supportive relationship going both ways, but we need a full apology in order to move forward. We need a public apology, we need an admission that this was dangerous and hurtful language, and to understand the hurtfulness that such language causes.”