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Why imam’s apology is only a first step

Reconsidering words from divisive sermon, Davis imam offers eloquent apology

Imam Ammar Shahin, who last week gave a controversial sermon in Davis that inflamed religious dialogue well beyond that town, offered an in-depth apology on Friday, July 28, 2017, promising to work hard to help improved interfaith understanding an
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Imam Ammar Shahin, who last week gave a controversial sermon in Davis that inflamed religious dialogue well beyond that town, offered an in-depth apology on Friday, July 28, 2017, promising to work hard to help improved interfaith understanding an

In a July 21 service at the Islamic Center of Davis, Imam Ammar Shahin cited a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that claims “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews,” and also prayed that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem be liberated from “the filth of the Jews.” On July 14, the imam called on Allah to “turn Jerusalem and Palestine into a graveyard for the Jews.”

No matter how one feels about any religious, political or territorial dispute, the words were absolutely beyond any boundaries of decency and civility.

Instead of repudiating the hate speech, the Islamic Center of Davis posted a statement that misrepresented the facts surrounding the unfortunate violence at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and also cast aspersions on the integrity of a widely respected organization that translated the imam’s sermon to English.

I was gratified to hear that on Friday, Shahin apologized. I was also pleased that the Islamic Center’s non-apology has been removed from its website and Facebook page. These actions are partly a result of a unified effort led by Rabbi Seth Castleman, the president of our Board of Rabbis, and leaders in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities.

Our congregation and others have long engaged in harmonious interfaith relations in the Sacramento area. We believe that building bridges of understanding among our very diverse faith communities is vital to a healthy and just community.

I know there will be people in our community who will question whether the imam’s apology is genuine. We all know that actions speak louder than words. So we must continue to be vigilant, and when we see anti-Semitism or any other form of hatred or discrimination, we must respond forcefully.

A genuine apology is more than mouthing the words. It’s registering the damage that has been done. I sincerely hope that the imam will heed the words of a leader of another religious tradition (Buddha) who said, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

Reuven H. Taff is rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento. He can be contacted at rabbi@mosaiclaw.org.

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