The Al-Aqsa Islamic Society on Germantown Avenue has come under fire in recent days after video emerged of a guest speaker, Imam Abdelmohsen Abouhatab, making numerous anti-Semitic comments to a crowded sanctuary in visits to the mosque between November and February.
Abouhatab described Jews as “the vilest” people, and said that powerful Jewish media figures have conspired to portray Muslims as “oppressive and predatory lions” in the mainstream Western media, among other comments.
“The Jews are the vilest people in terms of their moral values, their nature and their violation of agreements, but when they lived near Arabs, they adopted some of their moral values and customs,” Abouhatab said.
The videos were obtained, translated from Arabic and released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a media watchdog organization dedicated to translating and identifying hate speech in news broadcasts delivered in Arabic and other languages.
“Al-Aqsa Islamic Society rejects anti-Semitism in any form,” wrote Chukri Khorchid, secretary of the Board of Trustees, and Imam Mohamed Shehata, in a statement responding to the release of the video. “We are shocked and outraged to learn that one of our guest speakers said reprehensible anti-Jewish remarks on the floor of Al-Aqsa. This in no way represents our beliefs or policies. We condemn this action and will make sure that this never happens again. We expect that all guest speakers will respect and uphold our policy that hatred against any group of people or religion will not be tolerated.”
Abouhatab’s sermons were streamed live on the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society’s YouTube channel. In one video, he tells assembled worshippers, “Remember how Menachem Begin, that Polish crook, would stand next to a pregnant woman, and would make bets whether it is a boy or a girl. He would make bets, while the woman was still alive! Then he would slit her belly open, while she was still alive, to see whether it is a boy or a girl. Just like that. This happened. This happened.”
He also said that the qualities of nobility, morals and dignity had been conferred upon Muslims exclusively, then studiously copied by Jews. Abouhatab made reference numerous times to the “Jewish media” as “nefarious” or some variation thereof.
The mosque has worked as a community leader in interfaith dialogue with a number of local organizations, including the ADL and the City of Philadelphia. They have participated in solidarity events such as the 2017 “Stand Against Hate” rally organized by Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and have also, since 2003, organized an annual Peacewalk, which welcomes a variety of religious groups.
On March 11, the ADL released a statement condemning Abouhatab’s remarks as “virulently anti-Jewish hate” that “promoted age-old falsehoods about Jewish control of the media, finance and government.” The statement thanked the Islamic Society for its “quick response” to the release of the videos.
“We look forward to learning more from our friends at Al-Aqsa about how these troubling events occurred, and we will continue to work closely with Al-Aqsa’s leadership to ensure that something like this never happens again,” the statement read.
As for how Abouhatab came to be invited to speak on multiple occasions, Nancy Baron-Baer, executive director of the Philadelphia ADL said, “We’re having discussions on that going forward. We’ve certainly made them aware of the fact that it was not a one-time speaking engagement.”
In a statement, Abouhatab denied that anything he said was anti-Semitic, though The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the MEMRI’s translations were accurate.
“I am not against any religion and what was attributed to me is completely false. I do not promote hate, nor do I insight [sic] violence. The religion of Islam calls me to living peacefully alongside others who share different faiths, and to never transgress against the rights of others, while always speaking the words of truth when need be and under the shade of the law,” he wrote. “I firmly stand by my right to express ideas, words, speech, opinion and thoughts as afforded to me and protected by the First amendment of the United States Constitution. And I reject any campaign or attempt that depicts me as an extremist or a bigot.”
The mosque itself has been the target of intolerance since its 1989 founding. In 2015, a severed pig’s head was left outside of its door, which prompted support from members of the Jewish community.
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