Sheldon Kirshner

Muslim Communities Must Crack Down On Anti-Semitic Imams

Islam is supposedly a religion of peace and friendship, but if you’re Jewish, you may be excluded from its friendly embrace.

Sermons delivered by two imams in California recently prove this point yet again.

At the Davis Islamic Center, Ammar Shahin prayed for the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem to be freed “from the filth of the Jews.”

“Oh, Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them to the very last one,” he declared.

At the Islamic Center of Riverside, Mahmoud Harmoush accused Jews of coveting Palestinian territory, the Saudi Arabian holy cities of Mecca and Medina and “most of the Middle East.”

“Oh, Allah, liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and the occupiers,” he said. “Oh, Allah, destroy them, they are no match for you. Oh, Allah, disperse them and rend them asunder. Turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.”

Shahin and Harmoush unleashed these diatribes as the recent crisis at the Temple Mount unfolded, following the murder of two Israeli guards stationed there and Israel’s decision to place metal detectors and overhead cameras at its entrance.

Announcing it had no intention of changing the status quo at the Temple Mount, the Israeli government said it had installed these devices solely in the interests of security. But to Muslims, the metal detectors and overhead cameras signified something deeply sinister — an Israeli attempt to seize control of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

Apparently buying into that Palestinian national narrative, Shahin and Harmoush denounced Israel and attacked Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. If they had confined themselves to attacking Israel on a political level, they most likely would not have caused a stir. But they went much further by their blatant incitement to violence. Shahin, for his part, upped the ante by demonizing Jews.

Under pressure, both imams walked back their hateful rhetoric.

Shahin, speaking in the presence of Davis’ mayor and religious leaders, issued an apology, saying he had allowed his emotions to “cloud my better judgment.”

Harmoush, in his mea culpa, said, “All life is sacred and every person has a sacred right to respect, safety and liberty. Members of all faiths, including my own, rest firmly on these principles …”

Their apologies are probably the outcome of expediency rather than sincerity. But that’s not the real issue at hand. What really matters is that Shahin and Harmoush are not the first imams to misuse their pulpits to advocate violence against Jews and spew anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, this disturbing phenomenon has appeared and reappeared all too frequently around the world. Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about imams in Montreal and Toronto who had abused their positions in a similar manner.

It’s safe to say that imams who promote such noxious views are guilty of hate crimes, which are criminal offences in the United States and Canada. In all likelihood, imams of this ilk are followers or sympathizers of radical Islam, which is an affront to democratic principles.

Muslim communities will have to deal seriously with this virulent strain of Islam sooner rather than later. They cannot turn a blind eye to it any longer. They should discipline imams like Shahin and Harmoush. And they must see to it that mosques and Islamic community centres are not commandeered as platforms to promote and perpetuate disgusting conspiracy theories, racial stereotypes and anti-Semitism.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,