At a press conference this morning Imam Ammar Shahin offered a sincere apology explaining, “Recently in my Sermons, I let my emotions get the best of me and cloud my better judgment. I said things that were hurtful to Jews. This was unacceptable.”
He said, “To the Jewish community here in Davis and beyond, I say this: I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused. The last thing I would do is intentionally hurt anyone, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is not in my heart, nor does my religion allow it.”
The question now as Mayor Robb Davis put it – “is it enough?” He offered the answer, “no it is not.”
For those wanting an apology – it was a start. Standing behind the Imam as he spoke were religious leaders, community leaders and elected official. The group came together and worked through the language and hashed out an agreement.
And for some, they said they felt more hopeful than before.
Mayor Davis once again had to deliver a difficult speech on a difficult topic. “We live in brittle times,” he said. “We wake up each morning wondering what’s the next thing that’s going to show us the shattering of our social relationships.”
“We wonder at times if we can ever find healing,” he said.
“Today, we’re going to hear an apology,” he said. “But this is not about today, this about a long journey within our city to make today possible. This about people telling truth to the Imam about the truth about his words. Those people are from the Islamic Community and those people are from the Jewish Community.”
“The question has to be, ‘is it enough?’” he continued. “The answer must surely be no, it is not enough. The hurts are deep. Words were spoken that are harmful and hurtful. One statement cannot be enough.”
“It cannot be enough because we are living in a storm,” he said. “We are living in the moment of the great shattering of our society. Everything outside is telling us that brokenness is the way forward. So we’re standing here against that brokenness.”
“We have the responsibility of standing day to day in the storm, and picking up the breeches in the walls,” the Mayor stated.
Supervisor Don Saylor said, “A few days ago like most of you – my heart was broken. Ugly words were spoken in our community and it hurt us.
“Today we are demonstrating what can happen when we have built a relationship that’s based on sincere quest for understanding and for connection,” he said. “This doesn’t happen everywhere something this takes place. We could be fighting in the streets. Instead we opted for a different course. I’m so proud of our community as we recommit to understanding awareness and reform the bonds that built this community.
Rev. Elizabeth Banks said “we must do better than the language we hear coming from the highest office in our country.”
She read from the Guardian: “Hatred is the gateway to discrimination. Harassment is the pathway to violence. Hate speech is the foundation of for harmful acts against each other.”
She said, “We all have the capacity to speak against others and make them less than human but we are called to be human beings together. To seek understanding and not act from hate or fear.” She added, “We are called to take hatred and fear and turn them into compassion, into something that is beautiful.”
She said, “out of our of most painful moments, we are given the opportunity to cross a bridge to beauty and strength.”
Sameera Ali, from CAIR- Sacramento Valley read from a statement put out by the organization. She said, “We are deeply troubled and feel the pain of the Jewish community.”
She continued, “We wish to state unequivocally that Islamic Faith does not condone any harming of an innocent person regardless of their faith.”
The Davis faith community has enjoyed a long period of interfaith dialogue and respect, Ms. Ali said and they commit to maintaining a strong bond with members of the Jewish community as well as other faiths.
Bruce Pomer, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council said that when he first heard the remarks, “I was so angry.” But he said, “through the process of the last several hours and days, as I worked with the Muslim community to bring about this event, the process of dealing with the problem, coming together, has created a good deal of hope in my mind and made me realize that we have the foundation to keep working together and make that relationship – and it is so important now that we be together because of the forces we face.”
“We’re allies most of the time,” he said. “And when we got done preparing for this event, we were allies again.”
Amr Zedan, President of the Islamic Center of Davis said that “we are fortunate to have the Jewish community that has always stood by us, never failed to stand by us at times of need and we only want to see our relationship grow.”
“At the Davis Islamic Center, I want to reiterate that we stand against all forms of hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” he said.
The Imam spoke second to last, stating:
“I do understand how my words were hurtful, and I am sorry. I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts, for this I, truly apologize. Words matter and have consequences.
“Over the past few days, I have had the opportunity to discuss the content of my sermon, with several individuals inside and outside the Muslim community and have come to realize the harm it has caused. Indeed, commitment to defending religious rights in Jerusalem should not cause division or fan the flames of anti-Semitism.”
He said, “Today, I commit to working harder and will join efforts for mutual understanding and building bridges.”
Finally Rabbi Seth Castleman accepted the Imam’s apology.
“Sheik Shahin – I deeply appreciate and accept your words of apology,” the Rabbi said. “As you know as well as I, apologies are only as worthy as the actions that follow. So I call upon you, I implore you to follow up those words with actions.”
“Nothing less than that will satisfy the community that you serve and I serve,” he said.
“The world that we have today is in fact broken, as Mayor Robb Davis spoke of,” he said. “In Judaism we say it’s made up of broken shards of the earth and hidden sparks of divinity. To heal the world to me means putting those broken pieces back together and finding those hidden sparks.”
He said that seven or eight of them had met for hours and talked and discussed. He said, “we found that we agreed on far more than we disagreed. That was putting the broken pieces together and we shared holy sparks as well.”
His last words were to his friend Ammar (as opposed to the Sheik Shahin), “I count you as a colleague, I hope that you can live up to being amongst your colleagues here as being one of many clergy here in Davis. We are here to support you, to guide you, and to take your guidance.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting