Reconsidering words from divisive sermon, Davis imam offers eloquent apology
The imam of the Islamic Center of Davis apologized for a sermon he delivered last week, in which he prayed for the annihilation of those responsible for closing the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam. His remarks were condemned by critics as anti-Semitic.
The sermon used Quranic passages to address the political unrest after two Israeli police officers were killed by Arab gunmen outside the mosque. The Palestinian gunmen were also killed. Israeli police installed metal detectors and increased security at the mosque, spurring a violent clash between protesters and police.
The metal detectors were removed Monday, but protests continue.
A clip of Davis Imam Ammar Shahin’s July 21 sermon was published on Breitbart news, a right-wing site.
“I do understand how my words were hurtful, and I am sorry,” Shahin said in a statement during a news conference Friday at the Davis Community Church. He did not take questions. “I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts, for this I truly apologize. Words matter and have consequences.”
Rabbi Seth Castleman said he accepted the apology, but asked the imam to follow his words with actions. Castleman was one of approximately 60 religious and civic leaders who attended the news conference.
“That your sermons, your teachings, your guidance as a spiritual leader, your actions in the world live up to the words that you have spoken,” he said. “And I know that the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the Davis community and beyond will be looking for that and demanding that. And nothing less than that will satisfy the community that you serve and I serve.”
The July 21 sermon was Shahin’s second controversial sermon in as many weeks. The Middle East Media Research Institute released a translated clip, in which it says Shahin condemns Jews for restricting access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in a July 14 sermon.
“Prayer is the strongest weapon that Muslims have,” Shahin said, according to the translation. “By Allah, brothers, it is stronger than the weapons of the Jews, the deceit of the Jews, and their wickedness. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is besieged, and there are no prayers in it. Those wicked Jews are prohibiting prayer there.”
Shahin could not be reached for comment regarding the July 14 sermon. UC Berkeley Near East professor Hatem Bazian, who translated the July 21 sermon, was not immediately available to review the institute’s translation.