“So long as the Al-Aqsa Mosque remains prisoner in the hands of the Jews, this nation [presumably Palestine] will remain humiliated. So long as the Al-Aqsa Mosque remains under the feet of the apes and pigs, this nation will remain humiliated.”
Sheik Aymen Elkasaby delivered this attack against Jews and Israel in a fiery sermon delivered from the pulpit of the Islamic Center of Jersey City on Dec. 8. In the same speech, the imam called for “Allah to wreak vengeance” on the “Jewish oppressors” of the Temple Mount, and to “kill them down to the very last one,” according to translations provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a pro-Israel organization that monitors and translates coverage of the Middle East in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and Pashto media.
The sermon prompted a strong response from the head of the mosque. In a Dec. 18 statement, the congregation announced that Elkasaby would be disciplined for his remarks.
“Imam Aymen Elkasaby has been suspended without pay for one month,” Ahmed Shedeed, the president of the Islamic Center, said in the statement. “The Imam must undergo training with Imams with more interreligious experience.”
Shedeed said that Elkasaby will be permitted to only deliver sermons that are approved by the Imams’ Council of the Metropolitan Area and by Dr. Ali Chaudry, leader of the NJ Interfaith Coalition. The imam, Shedeed added in a vague allusion to an apology, will also express “clarification and regret,” and where he stands “on issues of religious violence and interreligious cooperation.”
Elkasaby’s ire was likely raised by President Donald Trump’s announcement two days earlier that the United States would officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intends to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, decisions that were widely opposed in the Muslim world. Still, this was not the first time Elkasaby has voiced anti-Semitic views.
In a Nov. 24 sermon, Elkasaby said it was “ridiculous” to believe that Islamic State terrorists killed more than 300 worshippers in an attack on a Sufi Muslim mosque in the Sinai Peninsula. Rather, he said, the slaughter “could only have been done by the enemies of Islam — the Jews and their subordinates from among the Muslim rulers,” according to MEMRI translations.
Responding to these comments, Shedeed said both he and Elkasaby acknowledge “that there are people who commit violence in the name of Islam, as there are people who commit violence in the name of other world religions … We stand in opposition to the use of religious texts to justify violence against innocent people.”
In a Dec. 14 interview with the Algemeiner, Shedeed said he was not made aware that Elkasaby had referred to Jews as “apes and pigs” and used other hateful rhetoric until a few days after the sermon. The imam, Shedeed said, had spoken in the heat of the moment in an angry reaction to the announcement about Jerusalem. However, his words warrant “retraining,” where Islamic scholars “will help him to learn to deal with these issues,” comparing it to “sending someone to rehab.”
Shedeed is considered an ecumenical leader who has involved his congregation in interfaith work. In November, his Islamic Center sponsored a gathering of religious leaders from the Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken told the Algemeiner that he appreciated how Shedeed is handling the situation.
“We found him to be understanding and responsive to our concerns, and he immediately took steps to address the situation with the Islamic Center leadership,” Scheinberg said.
That said, Oren Litwin of the Middle East Forum was not satisfied with the level of discipline. Responding to part of Shedeed’s statement, that “A true Muslim who believes in the scriptures would never call for the genocide of any people,” Litwin told the Algemeiner, “if ‘no true Muslim’ would ever call for genocide, then Imam Elkasaby is demonstrably unfit to be entrusted with the spiritual welfare of the congregation. He ought to be replaced with an imam more in keeping with the best traditions of Islam.”
The Muslim community’s actions came after Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) wrote a letter about his “anguish” over the imam’s “abhorrent remarks.” To Shedeed he wrote, “it is your responsibility to make clear that there is no room in your mosque for the hatred of Jews and for the incitement of violence against them,” and Booker urged the mosque president to “take a firm and unequivocal stand against this hatred and bigotry so we may continue to work together.”
Shedeed was a guest of Booker’s at former President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address.
Along with Booker, Joshua Cohen, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office, was quick to denounce Elkasaby’s words.
“These outrageous statements are anti-Semitic and dangerous,” he said in a Dec. 15 statement. “We reject this attempt to cast this matter as a religious war between Jews and Muslims.
“We recognize that this is an enormously sensitive and volatile issue with many different points of view,” Cohen continued, “But anti-Semitism has no place in New Jersey and no place in the discussions concerning Jerusalem. It is more important than ever for religious communities to build cooperation and jointly combat all forms of bigotry.”
Neither Elkasaby nor Shedeed were available for comment.