A recent controversy in California shows the perils of assuming, as nearly everyone does, that mosques in the West teach peace and tolerance, and that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are moderate and loyal members of secular societies.
On July 21, the imam Ammar Shahin gave the Friday sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis, California, and had the misfortune of having his sermon videotaped by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh Allah, show us the black day that You inflict upon them, and the wonders of Your ability. Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.
Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this. Oh Allah, let us support them in words and in deeds. Oh Allah, let us support them in words and in deeds. Oh Allah, let us support them in words and in deeds.
This understandably touched off a firestorm, and the Islamic Center of Davis initially resorted to the familiar deflection of Islamic supremacists everywhere: it claimed that Shahin’s remarks had been “taken out of context.”
To the Jewish community here in Davis and beyond, I say this deeply: I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused … I let my emotions get the best of me and cloud my better judgment. I said things that were hurtful to Jews. This was unacceptable.
Very well. But there was just one problem. In his sermon, Shahin also referred to a well-known statement that Islamic tradition attributes to Muhammad.
Allah does not change the situation of people "until they change their own situation." The Prophet Muhammad said: "Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah" … "Come, there is someone behind me" -- except for the Gharqad tree, which is the tree of the Jews. Except for a certain tree that they are growing today in Palestine, in that area, except this form of tree, which they are growing today … That’s the tree that will not speak to the Muslims.
Shahin left a key part out of this narrative. In the hadith, the trees don’t just say, “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah … Come, there is someone behind me.”
They say that there is a Jew hiding, and that the Muslim should come kill him:
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews. (Muslim 6985)
Why did Shahin not quote the part about the trees calling upon Muslims to kill Jews?
Was it because he is a moderate, and believes that the Muslims should not kill the Jews hiding behind trees, but should hug them and invite them to inter-religious dialogue?
Or was it because he knew his audience would know this hadith, and he didn’t want to attract unwelcome scrutiny by calling outright for the killing of Jews?
The latter is much more likely. After all, he couched his call for the annihilation of Jews as a prayer to Allah; he didn’t call on Muslims directly to kill Jews. But he also knew that his listeners would know that the Qur’an says:
Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands … (9:14).
So a call for Allah to annihilate the Jews is also a call for Muslims to do so, as Allah punishes the Jews by the Muslims' hands.
All this makes it abundantly clear that the statements for which Ammar Shahin apologized are firmly based in Islamic tradition -- meaning Shahin was essentially apologizing for being a Muslim. Consequently, it is unlikely that his apology was sincere; Shahin was not likely to discard deeply held religious beliefs in the face of a controversy that has already faded from the headlines.
This raises a larger question: what will prevent other imams from quoting these Islamic passages, and enjoining their congregations to act upon them? What about the numerous exhortations to jihad warfare that are contained in the Qur’an and Sunnah?
What are U.S. authorities going to do if imams keep … quoting Muhammad?
Eventually an imam will get caught as Ammar Shahin was, and will not apologize, but will instead assert that he is simply preaching the commands of his religion: warfare against unbelievers, the sexual enslavement of infidel women, wife-beating, and the rest. And he will refuse to back down.