Davis imam apologizes for inflammatory remarks about Jews

The imam at the Davis Islamic Center who recently came under fire for making inflammatory remarks about Jews apologized Friday, saying he let his emotions “cloud my better judgment.”

“I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts,” Imam Ammar Shahin said during a press conference held by religious leaders. “For this I truly apologize.”

Shahin’s July 21 sermon set off a firestorm of criticism after a videotaped excerpt was translated and distributed. In the sermon’s final prayer, Shahin said in Arabic:

“Oh Allah, liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews … Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

Shahin’s words were roundly criticized by local and national Jewish leaders. A few of them wrote a complaint to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In an effort to ease tensions Friday, Davis, Calif., Mayor Robb Davis participated in a press conference with a mix of religious leaders, including Shahin, who stepped up to the microphone to issue an apology.

“As a religious leader, this has humbled me,” Shahin said.

In the days following his sermon, Shahin said he discussed his statements with a number of people within and outside the Muslim community. That’s when he realized “the level of harm it has caused.”

“Indeed, commitment to defending religious rights in Jerusalem should not cause division or fan the flame of anti-Semitism,” Shahin said.

Islamic Center officials earlier this week said the imam’s comments had been taken out of context by “Islamophobic news organizations.”

Shahin’s sermon centered on recent turmoil surrounding the Al Aqsa Mosque, in one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, revered by Muslims and Jews.

The recent killings of two Israeli police officers and several Muslim worshippers there prompted Israelis to close the hilltop compound for several days, cancel Friday prayers for the first time in decades, and install metal detectors.

The new security measures were seen by many Muslims as an expansion of Israeli control and triggered some of the worst clashes East Jerusalem has seen in years.

Tensions eased greatly on Thursday, however, as Israeli authorities removed the metal detectors and other security restrictions.

In his sermon, spoken in Arabic and English, Shahin spoke of the history of Jerusalem and voiced outrage over events surrounding Al Aqsa Mosque. He encouraged fellow Muslims to rise up and speak out as well.

Moving forward, Shahin said he intends to improve his relationships with leaders of other faiths.

“I hope to grow and develop as a more worthy leader in the community,” he said.

Rabbi Seth Castleman of Davis thanked Shahin for his words and asked him to follow through with actions. He said he and other Jewish and Muslim religious leaders spent four hours Thursday, looking to hash things out, and they found that “we agree far more than we disagree.”

Looking at Shahin, Castleman said:

“Apologies are only as worthy as the actions that follow, so I call upon you. I implore you to follow those words with actions.”

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

@LATBermudez

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