The imam at the Islamic Center of Davis is now the center of a controversy over a sermon that critics are calling anti-Semitic.
Imam Ammar Shahin’s hour-long sermon on Friday focused on one of Islam’s holiest sites, Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. Two Israeli police officers were shot and killed at the site on July 14, leading Israeli authorities to place metal detectors at the entrance. After protests by Muslims, the detectors were dismantled Tuesday.
Shahin’s sermon was given in a mix of English and Arabic. In an edited clip of the sermon shared by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Shahin says in English, “The Prophet Muhammad says that the time will come, the last hour will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews. We don’t say if it’s in Palestine or other [place].”
MEMRI translates Shahin’s later comments as, “Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”
The Islamic Center of Davis rejects the claims of anti-Semitism. In a statement posted to its website, the mosque wrote it “will always stand against anti-Semitism similarly to how the Jewish community has always stood against Islamophobia in our close-knot community.”
In the statement, the Islamic Center of Davis wrote that it “rejects any attempt to blame all Jews for Israel’s policies, just like we reject the attempts to blame all Muslims for the acts of fringe groups.”
It calls MEMRI “an extremist” organization “supporting Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land,” and says the organization mistranslated and presented Shahin’s quotes out of context.
The full statement can be found on the Islamic Center of Davis's website.
Rabbi Seth Castleman, of Davis, met with Shahin and other leaders of the Muslim community Tuesday evening. Castleman, who is currently the president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Sacramento, says he found Shahin to be a sincere, emotional and passionate person.
“I don’t know what’s in his heart, and I can’t say I fully understand what he said or was trying to say in his sermon,” Castleman said. “I do know what he said, and how it’s been translated and understood has been deeply damaging to individuals and to the Jewish community at large.”
Castleman said he urged Shahin to make a “full-throated and unqualified” apology to the community in writing and in public.
Basim Elkarra, the Sacramento-area director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, sounded distressed when he was reached by phone on Wednesday. He said he has been in close contact with Jewish leaders, and called the region’s Jewish and Muslim communities very close.
“They want to hear directly from him about the sermon, and his translation of what he said,” Elkarra said, referring to Jewish community members.
“Words have consequences,” he said later in the conversation. He said he, too, wants to hear from Shahin on this issue.
The Anti-Defamation League, a national organization devoted to fighting anti-Semitism, condemned the sermon.
“These statements are anti-Semitic and dangerous. We reject attempts to cast the conflict in Jerusalem as a religious war between Jews and Muslims,” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement released Tuesday.