WASHINGTON (JTA) — A California imam who accused Jews of “desecrating” the mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and seemingly called for their annihilation has apologized.
“I said things that were hurtful to Jews. This was unacceptable,” Ammar Shahin of Davis said at a news conference Friday, according to a statement by the Anti-Defamation League, which welcomed the apology. “I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused. The last thing that I would do is intentionally hurt anyone, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is not in my heart.”
A national Muslim umbrella group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, had earlier denounced the sermon.
“We are disturbed deeply by the remarks of an imam from the Islamic Center of Davis during a sermon (khutba), which is meant to be a spiritual and uplifting speech before the congregational prayer every Friday,” said the statement posted Friday by the Muslim council. “Instead, the sermon turned into a tirade against Jews by misquoting a saying (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad.”
The sermon last week drew controversy after the Middle East Media Research Institute translated it and published a transcript. In MEMRI’s translation, Shahin calls on God to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque. … Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”
The sermon referred to Israel’s temporary closure of the compound after three gunmen opened fire, killing two Israeli policemen, and the temporary installations after that attack of metal detectors. The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, and the third holiest site in Islam.
Shahin and his mosque have said that his intended reference was purely to the individuals shutting down the compound.
Other translators, according to a Washington Post report on Friday, said the MEMRI translation distorted the sermon, while saying that Shahin’s direct reference to “Jews” was nonetheless disturbing. Among Shahin’s critics was the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
These critics, along with MPAC, took issue particularly with Shahin for peddling an interpretation of the hadith — the saying of Muhammad — that casts Jews as villains in envisioning the end days. MPAC cited other readings of the hadith as envisioning harmony among the monotheistic religions.
The MPAC statement expressed frustration with MEMRI, an organization that has drawn fire from Islamic groups for what they say is its tendency to cut and paste Muslim pronouncements to cast them in the worst possible light.
“Groups like MEMRI exacerbate political divisions on the Middle East conflict rather than aim to reconcile differences,” the statement said. “In this case, it is doubly disappointing that an American imam used his pulpit to only provide more fuel for such groups to attack our communities writ-large.”
MEMRI has said it stands by its translation.
The MPAC statement noted that it also condemned the Al Aqsa closure — indeed, its statement on the matter was a lead item on the website’s front page as of Friday afternoon. It also noted the dangers both Jews and Muslims face in what it said was an atmosphere in the United States of increased hostility to minorities.
“Despite differences segments of our communities may have over foreign policy issues, we must stand together against destructive hatred in all its forms,” it said.
Seth Brysk, director of ADL’s San Francisco Office, issued a statement Friday, saying, “We welcome Imam Shahin’s apology and his clear recognition that hateful words have consequences. This is an important first step, but it is only the beginning of a journey that he needs to make in restoring confidence in his religious leadership and his understanding of the roots of anti-Semitism.”