Controversy erupts over Davis imam’s sermon; Shahin denies his words were anti-Semitic
By Lauren Keene From page A1 | July 26, 2017
A sermon delivered last week at the Islamic Center of Davis in the wake of violence at a Jerusalem holy site is gaining widespread attention — and calls for a Homeland Security investigation — for what critics say is its hateful, anti-Semitic tone.
Imam Ammar Shahin says brief excerpts of his nearly hourlong remarks were taken out of context, edited and mistranslated by “an agenda-driven organization” to appear inflammatory.
“It was clear to all who listened to the entire sermon that Imam Shahin was not calling towards anti-Semitism nor towards violence against any religion,” Shahin and the Islamic Center’s executive board said in a written statement released Tuesday morning.
“Rather, he is known for his stance against extremism and his condemnation of un-Islamic groups which promote such views.”
Later Tuesday, the Islamic Center released a second, more conciliatory statement apologizing to those who were offended “if the sermon was misconstrued” and pledging to hold an interfaith town-hall meeting “in the near future.”
“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.”
Steve Cohan, co-president of Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis, issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern and disappointment in Shahin’s sermon.
“It’s deeply concerning to read hateful and violence-advocating words directed against any group, including ourselves as Jews, and we are disappointed that these words appear to have come from the Islamic Center of Davis, a place in our community that had to deal with an act of hatred earlier this year,” Cohan said.
“We look forward to going beyond the online media reports and will begin sharing our thoughts and concerns directly with Islamic Center leadership right away.”
Read the full statement at http://www.davisenterprise.com/files...-statement.pdf
See the video
A video of the full sermon appears on the Davis Masjid’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. Portions of it, totaling about 2 1/2 minutes, were posted on the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) TV Monitor Project’s website.
View the full sermon:
It focuses on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site for Jews and Muslims in East Jerusalem, which was the scene of a brazen July 14 attack during which three Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police officers guarding the mosque’s entrance.
Israeli security officials closed the shrine for several days, canceling Friday prayers for the first time in decades, and later erected metal detectors at its entrances — measures that angered Muslims and triggered further violence at the site.
Excerpts of the sermon that triggered controversy show Shahin, speaking in both Arabic and English, citing a hadith calling for a Judgment Day fight between Muslims and Jews. According to the MEMRI translation, he prays for Allah to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and “annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.”
“Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this,” Shahin says.
In the statement released Tuesday morning, Shahin and the Islamic Center board say the full sermon described “the theological issue regarding the apocalyptic battle between Jesus and the Antichrist,” or between good and evil, and not against any particular group.
“When people believe in Jesus and hold on to the truth, God will support them. This was the purpose of citing the prophetic tradition,” the statement says. “In the context of the full sermon, it becomes clear that the theme of the sermon was against oppression, and not against Jews or any religion.”
Read the full statement at http://www.davisenterprise.com/files...-statement.pdf
Other Jewish associations condemned Shahin’s comments as well. Rabbi Shmary Brownstein of the Chabad at UC Davis said the remarks “unacceptably advocated and incited hatred and violence against Jews.”
“I don’t know if this is typical of what’s said at the mosque, but there is too much acceptance of this kind of talk. Either people aren’t aware or they think it’s not that big a deal,” Brownstein said in comments to the Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner, noting that he’s is considering increased security measures at the campus center.
“As Jews, we are sensitive to this sort of rhetoric because we know what’s come of such talk in past times,” Brownstein added.
In Los Angeles, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human-rights organization, called upon the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to launch an investigation of Shahin “for inciting to murder Jews.”
“By explicitly urging Muslims to annihilate all Jews by their own hands, Shahin has crossed the line beyond protected speech,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Rabbi Yitzchok Alderstein, both SWC directors, wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
“Homeland Security knows better than anyone else that Islamist terrorism — fueled by religious fanatics — constitutes the No. 1 threat to the safety and security of the American people,” says the letter, which also was sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “In addition, American Jews are the No. 1 target of religious-based hate crimes in our nation.”
The Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region and the Jewish Community Relations Council called the sermon a “vitriolic attack” and called on the Islamic Center of Davis to issue a full public apology to the Jewish community.
“Language used to incite racial hatred against any community is dangerous and offensive,” officials from both organizations said Wednesday. “We would like to emphasize that we do not believe the statements made by Imam Ammar Shahin are indicative of our relationship with the Muslim community at large. We have always enjoyed a strong and harmonious relationship with the Muslim community and will continue to work with them to promote interfaith unity.”
Rabbi Seth Castleman planned to meet with members of the Islamic Center tonight to discuss the sermon, according to an earlier statement from the Jewish Federation.
Shahin, who was born in Cairo, came to the United States in 1999 to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. He also has degrees in Islamic sciences, Arabic language and islamic studies.
He’s currently a Ph.D. student at the Islamic University of Minnesota. He was an Imam at various mosques across the United States before coming to the Davis Islamic Center.
Criticism from within
The sermon also drew criticism from within the Davis Islamic Center’s own congregation.
Hamza El-Nakhal, a longtime member of the Muslim community in Davis and a former president of the Islamic Center’s executive board, said he was out of town and did not attend the Friday service, but viewed the video Monday and found it “disturbing.”
However, El-Nakhal also refers to MEMRI as a “very famous anti-Islam public relations organization” and notes that the local Jewish community has been supportive of its Muslim neighbors.
“While I am disgusted by the action of the Israeli government in preventing Muslim people from doing their prayers in the Masjid Al-Aqsa, I am equally disgusted by any religious leader who does not take the chance (during) high unsettling times to calm their congregations,” El-Nakhal said.
“Some people like Imam Ammar Shahin become angry for injustices. He spoke while angry. He should not have given this sermon while angry.”
Kate Mellon-Anibaba — founder of Statement of Love, which rallied in support of the Islamic Center following a hate-crime vandalism incident earlier this year — said while Shahin’s choice of words was insensitive, “this does not represent the Davis Islamic community and the work that has been done to bring interfaith communities closer and stronger together.”
“The alt-right thrives on stories like this, and it is a tactic that will be used time and time again to create a wedge between us in the hope to break down the unity and love that exists here in Davis,” Mellon-Anibaba said.
“It is my hope that together the Jewish community and the Islamic community can continue learning from each other, band together and support each other as we build empathy moving forward.”
The sermon controversy is the latest incident in what has been a tumultuous six months for the Davis Islamic Center, which on Jan. 22 was vandalized by a woman caught on surveillance video smashing windows and wrapping raw bacon — pork is a prohibited food among Muslims — on the door handles at the Russell Boulevard mosque.
Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, 30, of Davis, later pleaded guilty to vandalism and hate-crime charges and was sentenced in June to five years’ probation in addition to the four months she served in county jail — a punishment that mosque leaders deemed too lenient.
A week later, someone tossed computer-printed passages from the Quran from a moving car outside the mosque during Ramadan prayers, and someone slashed the tires on a bicycle on the property the following afternoon.
Both incidents remain under investigation.
Davis Mayor Robb Davis said today he’s reached out to leaders of both the Islamic Center and Jewish community. He declined to comment on the content of the sermon itself, but noted that in recent months “I have seen a great deal of fear and angst in both the Jewish and Muslim communities here. Acts of hate around the U.S. and in Davis have stoked that fear.
“In such an environment, it behooves all of us to consider the impact of our words and actions and ask whether they lead to greater mutual understanding or greater fear and division,” he said. “Whether they were meant to hurt or not (or taken out of context or not), I believe the imam must recognize that his words have caused harms in this community. We must ask what can be done to make the harms right.”
See Robb Davis’ full statement here: robb davis statement
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