NJ Imam Mohamed Moussa: We Have Started a Workshop Training U.S. Imams How to Avoid Incitement and Hate Speech
During his February 2 Friday sermon at the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center in New Jersey, Imam Mohamed Moussa, President of the Tri-State Imams Council, called on preachers and Islamic teachers to be mindful of what they say in sermons and schools and to avoid anything that could be considered incitement to violence. His remarks came against the backdrop of several inciting Friday sermons, including from the New Jersey area, published by MEMRI in recent months. Imam Moussa warned that there are "institutions of Islamophobia" with "budgets in the millions, whose only job is [to monitor] us," and said that "every [Islamic] institution must make sure that anyone speaking on its behalf... is knowledgeable, informed, and responsible." He suggested that mosques be required to only hire preachers who have been instructed by the Tri-State Imams Council on what they are allowed and not allowed to say. The Tri-State Imams Council invited all the imams in the area to a workshop on this issue that was held on February 1. Imam Moussa said that 45 imams attended the successful workshop. He further said that the supplications to Allah to "count [the Jews] one by one, disperse them to the very last one, and not leave a single one of them" - which many preachers recite by heart – are illegal in America and should disappear from the sermons. Imam Moussa's sermon was posted on the NHIEC YouTube channel.
Following is a transcript:
Mohamed Moussa: Setting our priorities straight had an effect on our Islamic discourse in this country. I am saying this because there are entire organizations with budgets in the millions, whose only job is [to monitor] us. These are called “institutions of Islamophobia”. Their job is to monitor everything that we say. There are no longer any hidden mosques, schools, or even small study groups. Out of the blue you find yourself in the mainstream media, and even though you may be preaching in a small mosque, you are harming the entire American Muslim community. It happens all of a sudden. You don’t even notice it.
We need to set our priorities straight, so that our discourse becomes more disciplined. Ever since President Trump announced that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that the U.S. embassy would be moved there, the feelings of Muslims have undoubtedly been inflamed. Therefore, [preachers] who are not skilled speakers have spoken badly.
In this country, you enjoy total freedom. However, this freedom ends where the rights of others begin. In other words, this freedom ends if you rip the social fabric of society, by attacking a minority or a certain religion, for example. If you attack a minority or a certain religion, this is defined by the law and the constitution as hate speech. It might even be considered a hate crime, if it contains incitement to murder or to violence.
The congregation is undoubtedly a source of pressure on the imams and preachers at the mosques. Many imams and preachers in mosques and teachers in [Islamic] schools give in to the pressure of the common people. An imam like that wants to please the people, so he delivers undisciplined fiery sermons. Then he finds himself in a dilemma: either he is forced to apologize publicly – or the Muslims are forced to apologize on his behalf or to disavow him – or else Islamophobia will exploit this to make much greater strides.
After [Trump’s] declaration, some preachers… As I said, about 2,000 or 2,300 preachers and imams deliver sermons in the U.S., and only six preachers were found [delivering inciting sermons]… Six imams is nothing, but they were used in a lot of propaganda. All the newspapers wrote about them, and the entire media spoke about them. They described the Jews in words that were considered to be hate speech. Furthermore, what some of them said in their supplications could have been interpreted as incitement to violence against that minority. Now there are calls to monitor the mosques, and to deny the preachers any immunity if something like this happens. The New York Post published an extensive article about this. The media has been dealing with this ever since, and this has caused many problems.
As I told you, six out of 2,000 spoke in an irresponsible manner. Now, the New York Post is saying that it was a grave mistake to succumb to pressure and stop the NYC mosque monitoring program. In other words, they want to monitor everything that’s going on in the mosques. Tomorrow, they might move on to the schools, and say that these Islamist schools produce potential terrorists, and people who hate our society, all because of videos that might emerge from these schools of teachers who thought they were speaking behind closed doors. This way, the money, blood, and expertise we have invested in these schools will become at risk. Tomorrow, they might tell us to close those schools. What are we going to do? It will all be done in keeping with the law.
So every [Islamic] institution must make sure that anyone speaking on its behalf – I am not speaking for myself, right now… They must make sure that anyone speaking on their behalf is knowledgeable, informed, and responsible. Responsible! Otherwise, all the Muslims will pay the price, especially in the coming days.
Yesterday, we conducted a full-day workshop by the [Tri-State] Imams Council. We invited imams and teachers in Islamic schools. About 45 people accepted our invitation. The workshop lasted about six hours, 10:30 to 16:30. We discussed everything: legal perspectives, the characteristics of religious discourse, and what you should and should not say. There were many questions yesterday. Many questions! Everybody who attended benefited from the workshop, Allah be praised. At the [Tri-State] Imams Council, of which I have the honor to be Secretary-General, we demand that no mosque appoints any imam before he obtains a certificate from us that states that he sat down with us, and received an explanation about what he should and should not say. Otherwise, the mosque will be held responsible.
I have followed all the articles on this subject. Most of the [cases of incitement] were quoted from the supplications. You know, sometimes when we get to the supplications… Our sheikhs remember supplications by heart, and they just recite them. So they start saying: “Oh Allah, count them one by one, disperse them to the very last one, and do not leave a single one of them”. Naturally, people say “Amen”, and then they write [in the press] that the people got all excited, and that they agree to this and want Him to annihilate [the Jews]. According to the law, the call for annihilation constitutes incitement to violence. Naturally, I know that the preacher merely recites supplications he knows by heart, and does not realize that this might be seen as incitement to violence, or anything.
We should be mindful of what we say. This is prayer, not war. I am not declaring war against anyone. These negative supplications should disappear from our mosques. Who are we cursing? There are Jews standing next to us in our demonstrations. There are Christians in Palestine and elsewhere who support the cause. Why should I curse them? Why? What have they done?