(March 14, 2019 / MEMRI) Following MEMRI’s March 6 publication of a report on anti-Semitic sermons delivered by Imam Abdelmohsen Abouhatab at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in Philadelphia between November 2018 and February 2019, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society officials issued an apology.
On March 8, Board of Trustees secretary Chukri Khorchid and Imam Mohamed Shehata posted on the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society website: “Al Aqsa Islamic Society rejects anti-Semitism in any form. 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.”
While the mosque statement noted that “we are shocked and outraged to learn that one of our guest speakers” had made these statements, at the conclusion of Abouhatab’s Jan. 11 sermon, as worshipers prepared to leave, a mosque leader, likely Imam Mohamed Shehata himself, took the microphone and said: “On behalf of all of you, I would like to extend our gratitude to Sheikh Abdelmohsen Abouhattab for this good sermon.”
Similar expressions of gratitude by the same mosque leader were repeated after each of Abouhatab’s sermons.
Source: Alaqsaislamicsociety.com, March 9, 2019.
On March 9, Imam Abouhatab issued a “Public Statement” on his website, English and Arabic, denying that his statements were anti-Semitic, citing Koran verses and stating, in English: “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 continued: “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.” Additionally, according to a March 11 media report, he said that his statements had been “taken out of context to accuse me of antisemitism.”
Media reported that Abouhatab has spoken at several area mosques but is not employed by any of them. He served at Masjid Al-Jamia in West Philadelphia for a decade until he let go about three years ago. The Masjid Al-Jamia director said that during that time Abouhatab did not make “any kind of controversial statements” but was “a little political,” which is one reason he is no longer there.
Al-Aqsa Islamic Society Works Closely With Philadelphia Mayors, City and State Officials,Local U.S. Attorney’s Office
As highlighted in the MEMRI report, the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society is known for interfaith activity and for working with Philadelphia Democratic mayors Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney, the ADL and other Jewish organizations, the FBI, law enforcement, and more, including participation in a November 2018 “Securing Sacred Spaces and Places” summit in Philadelphia hosted by the ADL, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (USAO), and the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC), at which Chukri Korchid spoke.
Over the years, city and state officials have attended events at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society and alongside mosque officials. In 2011, then-Mayor Nutter visited the mosque’s Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy and spoke to children there. The mosque was an important campaign stop for mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, who was later elected mayor and attended events there. In 2016, City Councilman David Oh and State Sen. Art Haywood went to the mosque for Eid Al-Fitr holiday to sign the Arab American Institute’s “Pledge to Combat Bigotry,” in which signatories pledge to refrain from and speak out against bigotry towards Muslims and Arabs; mayoral candidate Kenney signed the pledge at the mosque as well, in July 2015. Also, at a Dec. 8, 2015 press conference following an anti-Muslim incident at the mosque (see original MEMRI report), Al-Aqsa Islamic Society Imam Mohamed Shehata spoke at Philadelphia’s City Hall, along with then-mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Vimeo.com/18388586, accessed March 12, 2019.
Left: Mayoral candidate Jim Kenney at campaign stop at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, July 2015 (Phillyvoice.com, Dec. 7, 2015). Right: On July 15, 2015, on Eid Al-Fitr at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, Candidate Kenney signs the Arab American Institute’s “Pledge to Combat Bigotry” (Aaiusa.org, July 31, 2015)
Mayor Jim Kenney attends January 9, 2016 event at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society. (Spiritnews.org, Jan. 13, 2016; Alaqsaislamicsociety.com)
At Al-Aqsa Islamic Society on February 18, 2016, City Councilman David Oh (left) and State Sen. Art Haywood (center) signed the Arab American Institute’s “Pledge to Combat Bigotry.” On right, Imam Shehata (Phlcouncil.com, Feb. 23, 2016)
Dec. 8, 2015 press conference at City Hall. Left: Then-Mayor Nutter on left, Imam Shehata in center (Phillyvoice.com, Dec. 8, 2015). Right: Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaks at the press conference (Witf.org, Dec. 9, 2015).
To date, only the ADL has spoken out about Imam Abouhatab’s statements, the mosque’s apology, and Abouhatab’s subsequent denial. Following Abouhatab’s denial, the ADL issued a statement calling it “flying in the face of multiple expert translations,” and said he was “shamefully unrepentant for spouting anti-Jewish hate.”
It added that the organization had conferred with the city’s Commission on Human Relations about the incident and that it would continue its interfaith work with Al-Aqsa as the mosque investigates the sermons.
Additionally, as of this writing, the videos of Abouhatab’s sermons that MEMRI translated remain on the mosque’s YouTube channel.
Full report at MEMRI.