Houston Imam’s Apology for Sermon Urging Muslims to ‘Fight the Jews in Palestine’ Falls Short for Local Jewish Leaders
The Houston, Texas imam who urged Muslims to “fight the Jews in Palestine” during an incendiary Dec. 8 sermon spoke of his desire on Thursday to “repair the damage” caused by his remarks — but Jewish leaders said his apology fell short in at least one critical regard.
Imam Raed Saleh Al-Rousan of the Tajweed Institute — a Quranic teaching organization with branches in Houston and Tampa — spoke in a Facebook post of his “hope to establish new and meaningful relationships with my neighbors in the Jewish community,” including through meetings “with Jewish leaders.”
“I want to hear their concerns, learn from them and bring our communities closer together,” Al-Rousan said. “I hope to work with them to alleviate any fears and to combat hatred in all forms, most especially antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry.”
“I am absolutely and completely opposed to and disgusted by all forms of terrorism, all terrorists, and I oppose anyone who would commit, call for, or threaten violence against civilians,” he continued.
But Al-Rousan’s claim in the same post that he was “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” received short shrift from the head of the Anti-Defamation League in Houston.
The Facebook post demonstrated that Al-Rousan “doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of his sermon,” ADL Regional Director Dayan Gross said in a statement.
“Although he says he opposes anyone who could ‘commit, call for, or threaten violence against civilians,’ and that he’s ‘mortified’ that his sermon is ‘being seen as a call for the very things I despise,’ video of the sermon unmistakably shows him citing an apocalyptic Hadith (a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) which declares ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews. The Muslims will kill the Jews….,'” Gross observed.
Israel’s consul-general in Houston, Gilad Katz, was also skeptical. “Keep in mind that in his speech, the Imam actually promoted violence and death to Jewish people,” Katz told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “Therefore, this kind of man is not a partner for a dialogue, whether he apologized or not.”
Al-Rousan’s sermon – first brought public attention to by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) — left little doubt as to his meaning. As well as quoting the widely-cited hadith, Al-Rousan accused the Jews in his own words of having “killed the prophets and the messengers of Allah,” charged that they had maliciously “changed the Torah,” and asserted that “the Hour (Judgement Day) will not arrive until Muslims fight the Jews there, in Palestine.”
In a statement condemning Al-Rousan released on Tuesday, the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) — a body that includes 21 Islamic communities in the Houston area — observed that the imam was himself “new to Houston,” and that he had made “inflammatory remarks about our Jewish community in a deeply disturbing tone.”
“While unaffiliated with this organization (Al-Rousan’s Tajweed Institute), the ISGH feels the need to set the record straight,” the statement said. “The ISGH condemns blanket statements against Jews or any other religious community. The ISGH affirms Islam’s values of pluralism and peace-building.”
Another statement signed by a group of community leaders, including seven local imams, emphasized their rejection of “any direct or perceived calls to violence whether it be against Jews, Muslims, Christians, or any other group.”
“We understand that words can create fear and tension and even cause some amongst your congregation to ask the question — ‘are Muslims really our partners, or are they not?'” the statement, addressed primarily to other faith communities, continued. “There should be no doubt — we stand with the Jewish community to combat antisemitism, and we remain confident that the Jewish community stands with us to combat Islamophobia and hate in all forms.”
Both the ADL and the Israeli consul-general welcomed the statements of condemnation from the city’s Muslim leaders.
“Israel sees partners for dialogue like the Muslim leaders who condemned such words of hatred and violence,” Katz said.
In a separate exchange with The Algemeiner, the ADL’s Gross said he was “deeply gratified” by the Muslim leaders’ responses. “These are good friends of our community who stand with us to combat antisemitism,” Gross said. “Likewise, we stand with the Muslim community against Islamophobia.”
“These are friendships that have been formed over many years,” he said.
The initiator of the group statement condemning Al-Rousan told The Algemeiner that while the Tajweed Institute was not particularly well-known among Houston’s Muslims, “we are using this as an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, by making it a teaching moment for the imam and for others.”
Shariq Ghani of the Minaret Foundation — a Houston-based interfaith organization — said that Al-Rousan would be expected to “express his regret through actions as well as words,” for example by studying with religious scholars committed to an interfaith perspective.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Ghani said that Al-Rousan’s sermon pointed to a deeper need within the Muslim community “to understand the context in which we speak, the audience we are speaking to, how we should represent ourselves, how we talk about politics, how we develop relationships with the Jewish, Christian and other religious communities.”
Asked whether the problem was better understood as a matter of beliefs and convictions, Ghani argued that creating a communal leadership that set an example was more effective than challenging extremist doctrines on a case-by-case basis.
“The way we can combat extremism is by explaining and clarifying our positions in our sermons and in everything else we do,” said Ghani, whose Minaret Foundation asserts that “one of the reasons Islam is so easily maligned and attacked is mostly because of our own community…Whether it be through not educating those around us or whether we actually end up misrepresenting our Deen (religion) through our actions, we bear most of the responsibility of the distorted image of our Deen in the West.”
“We have to bring people together as a community and show that we are united,” Ghani said. “We have to lead by example, that’s the Jewish and Christian and Muslim way.”
Asked whether he thought Jews and Muslims in America could one day debate the conflicts in the Middle East in an environment free of stereotypes and conspiracy theories, Ghani replied that on this issue as well, “unless we communicate with one another, nothing will change.”
Ghani acknowledged that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jews and Muslims “won’t agree on everything.”
But, he stressed, “what happens overseas should not determine the conversations and relationships we have here at home.”
Those “in power” in the Middle East, Ghani said, “should never be allowed to dictate how we live our lives in the course of our relationships with others.”