French Court Acquits Imam of Incitement for Sermon That Cited Hadith Urging Muslim Violence Against Jews
A French court has acquitted an imam in the city of Toulouse of incitement to racial hatred for a sermon he gave in 2017 that quoted a hadith — a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammed — predicting the mass killing of Jews by Muslims.
The sermon delivered by the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Toulouse, Mohamed Tataiat, was not intended to “provoke hatred or discrimination,” the president of the Toulouse Criminal Court said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The words could have been said recklessly, but not with the desire to discriminate,” the statement added.
Six civil associations — among them CRIF, the main French Jewish organization, as well as the National Office for Vigilance Against Antisemitism (BNVCA) and the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA) — had pressed the legal case against Tataïat for the Dec. 2017 sermon, which was given shortly after the US moved its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, raising the ire of many in the Muslim world.
Video highlights of Tataïat’s sermon were posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a US-based think tank that monitors radical Islamists. Tataïat was heard remarking on the Prophet Muhammed’s prediction of “the decisive and final battle.”
He went on to cite the hadith often quoted by radical preachers declaring that “Judgement Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews. 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.”
Jewish leaders expressed deep frustration at the decision to acquit Tataïat, who first took up his post in Toulouse in 1987.
Franck Touboul, the president of the local branch of CRIF, told one French news outlet that the court’s announcement reminded him of the case of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish woman brutally murdered in her Paris by an antisemitic assailant who was subsequently excused from trial on the grounds of drug-induced incapacity.
“I respect court decisions even when I don’t understand them,” Touboul said. “But I can’t help thinking that even when you kill a Jew, you are not condemned if you are considered crazy. To say in front of several thousand people in a mosque that it is necessary to kill the Jews and then take refuge behind a text that is hundreds of years old [similarly] avoids any condemnation.”
Touboul added that in this context, “everyone will judge and everyone will appreciate the quality of the court’s decision.”
Lawyers for Tataïat meanwhile praised the Toulouse court’s “independence of mind” following the imam’s acquittal in a trial that lasted for three months.
The court had “resisted an unprecedented attempt to criminalize the perfectly lawful commentary on a hadith by an imam respected for years,” lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brenghart said.