Three U.S. imams have called for the death of Jews since December, a trend that has followed President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In the latest incident, Abdullah Khadra, a Syrian-American imam, announced during a sermon in a Raleigh, North Carolina-area mosque on Monday that Jews should be killed. The sermon was taped and transcribed by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)¸ a nonprofit group.
"The Prophet Muhammad gave us the glad tidings that...we will fight those Jews until the rocks and the trees will speak: Oh Muslim, this is a Jew behind me," Khadra said. MEMRI suggests that the words have a known connotation that Khadra did not say, but his listeners understood. “The continuation of the well-known Hadith is that the rocks and the trees say: ‘Come and kill him,’” MEMRI reported.
Raed Saleh Al-Rousan, a Houston-based imam, made a similar proclamation to his followers at the Tajweed Institute, an Islamic center, on December 8.
“The Muslims will kill the Jews, and the Jews will hide behind the stones and the trees, and the stones and the trees will say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him, except for the Gharqad tree, which is one of their trees,” Al-Rousan said, as recorded by MEMRI.
Al-Rousan issued an apology on the Tajweed Institute’s Facebook page following his remarks.
“Regarding my sermon on Dec. 8th, 2017 it must be understood that I unequivocally affirm and uphold the dignity, sanctity and value of all human life, including – of course – people of the Jewish faith,” Al Rousan wrote, condemning terrorism. “I am mortified that an impassioned sermon I gave in light of President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration is being seen as a call for the very things I despise. ”
The Islamic Center of Jersey City, New Jersey suspended an imam named Aymen Elkasaby for a sermon he gave on the same day as the Al-Rousan speech. Elkasaby warned that Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque "remains prisoner in the hands of the Jews" and prayed for the annihilation of "the plundering oppressors." He called Jews "the weakest of all peoples."
Trump announced the official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital in Israel on December 6. The president called the decision “the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” Prior to the announcement, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned that the move could fan extremism. “Today we say very clearly that taking such action is not justified.... It will not serve peace or stability, but will fuel extremism and resort to violence,” Aboul Gheit announced in a statement.
Scott Simpson, the public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates, a rights group, called the three speeches “despicable” but “isolated.” He told Newsweek that Americans should not condemn all Muslims for the words of a few.
"America doesn't judge its Christians by the hate of Westboro Baptist Church or all Republicans by the few elected officials who have called for the death of all Muslims, Simpson noted. “We should recognize these despicable isolated instances for what they are not hold all Muslims to a prejudiced double-standard."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a rights group, told Newsweek that violent rhetoric targeting Jews typically heats up when the Middle East becomes a hot topic in the news, as it did following Trump’s announcement. The director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, Oren Segal, suggested that such rhetoric becomes a little more concerning when it comes from a faith leader, who may have considerable influence in a community.
Segal said Americans “need people to be sensitive” regarding dialogue about Jews and Muslims during times when emotions are running high.
“It’s not like these are known extremists,” Segal said about the Imams. “And that’s what makes this more dangerous…these are religious leaders speaking to their communities.”
Segal said the ADL was aware of two similar incidents that took place in California in July, making it five recent speeches by Muslim faith leaders on U.S. soil calling for the death of Jews.
The heated rhetoric from local imams comes amid violent threats made against Jews by neo-Nazis. Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, a neo-Nazi who handles the technical side of the hate-speech website Daily Stormer, said on a white supremacist podcast in late December that Jewish children "deserve to die." ‘There is only one thing absent free speech that we can do to express our dissent and that’s to slaughter you like dogs, and you’re gonna have it coming and your children will deserve to die,” Auernheimer said on the podcast Radical Agenda, hosted by Christopher Cantwell. The company GoDaddy dropped the domain registry of Cantwell’s website after Newsweek reported on Auernheimer’s rant.
The death threats also come at a moment when favorable opinions of Muslims are rising, according to an Arab American Institute poll conducted by Zogby Analytics. The favorability rating of American Muslims rose nine points between July and December, Newsweek reported last month.
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