A Northern California imam, Ammar Shahin’s sermon about Jews in disputed Jerusalem set off controversy and fear of violence apologized at a Friday news conference, saying his words were hurtful and “unacceptable.”
“To the Jewish community, here in Davis and beyond, I say this: I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused. The last thing I would do is intentionally hurt anyone, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is not in my heart, nor does my religion allow it,” Shahin stated.
Worried about protests and even potential violence, Davis interfaith leaders, including Shahin, spent several days discussing how to publicly address the controversy, said Rabbi Seth Castleman, president of the regional board of rabbis.
Right after the sermon hit the Internet, the mosque put out two statements about it, accusing The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of pulling a short clip out of context.
“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,” the mosque statement said. “If MEMRI and company sincerely followed Imam Ammar Shahin’s work and did not just cut and paste what suits their cause, they would have come across the countless lectures and sermons he has given regarding treating all people, especially non-Muslims, with kindness and giving them their full rights, supporting them when they are oppressed.”
Shahin spoke at a interfaith conference with other Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders in Davis, a university community outside Sacramento. The mayor and a county supervisor also spoke there about the videotaped sermon, which was watched many thousands of times in the past few days since it was posted by Shahin’s mosque, the Islamic Center of Davis (ICD).
On Wednesday, Shahin told The Washington Post that he wasn’t speaking of Jews in general but “specifically about this group shutting down the mosque — these soldiers, or settlers, or fighters, or oppressors.” He said he had focused on the situation at al-Aqsa because so many U.S. Muslims aren’t aware of it. He said he regularly speaks out against the Islamic State and extremism by Muslims and has made statements against Muslim extremist attacks in Europe, South Asia and elsewhere.