In Islam, imams serve not only as prayer and faith leaders, but as pillars of the Muslim community. They have the ability to inspire their community members and to shape their religious outlook. Thus, speeches and statements made by American imams may provide valuable insight into what they preach to the members of their communities.
To explore the views preached by imams in the United States, I used the rich archives of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) – which contain over 300 sermons and speeches made by imams and Islamic figures in the West – to collect a sample of statements made by Islamic scholars and imams in America. As it turns out, these imams’ statements make it evident that antisemitism – often in the form of anti-Zionism or anti-Israel sentiment – is very present in some of America’s mosques, and this might reflect a worrying reality about the presence of antisemitism in some of America’s Muslim communities.
In this article, I shall present some of the themes I have found in statements made by American imams and Islamic scholars, and I shall give an example of each theme.
Palestine As An Islamic Waqf – Imam Hasan Sabri
In his Friday sermon of October 12, 2018, at the Islamic Center of South Florida (ICOSF) in Pompano Beach, Imam Hasan Sabri spoke about Palestine as an Islamic waqf:
“Palestine in its entirety is Islamic land, and there is no difference between what was occupied in 1948 and 1967. There is no difference between this village or that village, this city or that city. All of it is Islamic waqf land that was occupied by force.”
Imam Sabri’s reference to Palestine as an Islamic waqf is reminiscent of the Charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas):
“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it… Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day [of] Resurrection.”
The Bureau of Counterterrorism at the United States Department of State designated Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 1997.
“[Palestine] should be liberated from the occupiers and plunderers, even if this leads to the martyrdom of tens of millions of Muslims… There is no room for discussion of concessions.” Image from MEMRI TV clip No. 6823, cited above: Florida Friday Sermon – Imam Hasan Sabri: Palestine In Its Entirety Should Be Liberated, Even If This Leads to the Martyrdom of Tens of Millions of Muslims, October 12, 2018.
To view the clip of Imam Hasan Sabri’s sermon on MEMRI TV, click here.
The Evil and Violent Jews – Imam Salah Sultan
In a series of interviews with the Egyptian Al-Nas and Al-Rahma TV channels in December 2008, Imam Salah Sultan, president of the American Center for Islamic Research (ACIR), a nonprofit organization registered in Ohio and located in Columbus, spoke about the evil and violent nature of the Jews:
“The [Jew] will never make peace or agree to it. The Jews will never accept any international resolution, from East or West, because they understand nothing but force… and they specialize in the shedding of blood, in crime, and in killing…The secret behind the war between the Jews and non-Jews is that [the Jews] want to have a monopoly on the spiritual and ideological leadership of the world, and eventually, the physical leadership.”
Imam Sultan refers to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated antisemitic text purporting to describe the Jews’ plan for world domination, to suggest that the conflict against the Jews is not only about Islam, but rather about the future of all of mankind:
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an attempt to rule and corrupt the entire world…They view [non-Jews] as pigs. That’s the truth. [They view non-Jews as] pigs…worthy of being servants of the Jews, who could ride on their backs and suck their blood.”
“Read Dr. Naguib Al-Kilani’s book, Blood for the Matzos of Zion.” Image from MEMRI TV Clip No. 2443, cited above: “Blood Libel on Hamas TV – President of the American Center for Islamic Research Dr. Sallah Sultan: Jews Murder Non-Jews and Use Their Blood to Knead Passover Matzos, March 30, 2020.
To view this clip of Dr. Sultan on MEMRI TV, click here.
AIPAC and the Zionist Lobby – Imam Muhammad Al-Asi
Imam and Quranic scholar Muhammad Al-Asi gave a sermon in Washington, DC, during the Al-Quds Day rally in 2018. This is the language he used to describe the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the “Zionist lobby” in the United States:
“The Zionist lobby in this country is very strong, probably the strongest lobby in this government. AIPAC is probably stronger than what is called the Israeli Defense Force, probably stronger than Mossad, and probably stronger than the [Israeli] regime over there and all of its structure combined. Yet, being what it is, you see American officials and politicians going to pay their homage to this Israeli lobby in this country every year… [But]… The Zionist colonist, the colonial force in the Holy Land shall be dislodged. We prefer it be dislodged peacefully, but they don’t prefer it that way. They’re going to force us to dislodge it with every other means barring peace.”
“The events of 9/11 were planned by the American administration.” Image from MEMRI TV clip cited above, Iranian TV 9/11 Special: Western Experts Say Both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor Were Planned by the American Administration, September 10, 2006.
To view this clip of Muhammad Al-Asi on MEMRI TV, click here.
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – Sayel Kayed
Sayel Kayed, president of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Muslims for Palestine, is a major supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. In February 2018, during a lecture titled “Al-Quds: The Palestine Lecture Series” delivered at the Muslim Center of Middlesex County in Piscataway, NJ, Kayed explained about the BDS movement:
“When we say BDS, the first thing people think about is just boycotting Israel, boycotting Israeli products. What actually you have is divesting. It means to take your money, anything that does anything to aid the occupation, instead of investing your money in those companies, what do you do? You divest… [And sanctions mean] we are going to sanction Israel, [so] we have nothing to do with Israel.”
Scholars have explained why BDS is an antisemitic movement. In the words of one of these scholars: “The notion of divesting from one nation in the name of helping an entirely separate nation [is] odd… Why not pressure for policy changes… instead of for the eradication of an entire Jewish state?”
Many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state. Often, BDS campaigns give rise to tensions in communities – particularly on college campuses – that can result in harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters, including overt antisemitic expressions and acts.
“[They] say: ‘My Book says this is my land, promised to me, so I am going to kill you.” Quote cited above, from MEMRI TV clip no. 6483, Muslim Center of Middlesex County, NJ Hosts Pro-BDS Event; Speakers Encourage Boycotting J Street, American Companies, February 2, 2018.
To view this clip of Sayel Kayed on MEMRI TV, click here.
Expansionism And Religious War – Imam Nazar Hosein
In articles published between 2010 and 2012, Nazar Hosein, former Imam of Masjid Darul Quran in Long Island, New York, and former Director of Islamic Studies for the Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations of Greater New York, wrote:
“Israel…has been impatiently waiting to provoke the messianic war or wars that [it] so anxiously wants to launch in order to achieve a number of objectives, some of which are… expand the territory of the imposter so-called Holy State of Israel until it encompasses its (false) biblical frontiers.
Regardless of the fact that Israel has given back to four of its neighboring Arab states territories won in wars against them, Imam Hosain predicts how the Jewish State will expand its territory: “It is almost certain that Zionists will soon wage biological war against the Arabs… to bring about a substantial reduction in the population of the Arab world.”
Imam Hosain’s description of Israel as having a religious and messianic mission is evidence that he views Israel through a religious lens – that is, as the state of the Jews.
“The end game [of the COVID-19 pandemic] is in the holy land…This virus has Zionist roots.” Image unrelated to quote cited in the body of the paper. Quote from MEMRI TV Clip No. 8872: Islamic Scholar Imran Hosein: COVID-19 Is Not Compatible With The Quran, Hence It Is Biological Warfare By The Zionists, Who Wish To Annihilate The Arabs In The Holy Land, May 5, 2021.
Israel, the Jewish State – Imam Abolfazl Bahram Nahidian
Scholars warn that verbal attacks that demonize Israel and call for its destruction are likely to be explicit expressions of implicit antisemitism, since Israel is a state for the Jewish people.
A vivid example in this regard is the way Imam Abolfazl Bahram Nahidian of the Manassas Mosque in Virginia criticized Israel while speaking to the crowd attending the 2010 Al-Quds Day Rally in Washington, DC. He said: “Israel was established with the name of war and destruction…Israel is a state of war and destruction.”
It is evident, however, that Imam Nahidian was using Israel as a way to refer to Jews in general: “All the plots and the schemes that they make are to destroy humanity. They say: ‘The land, the leadership, and the wealth of the world belong to us, as the chosen people of God.’ Yes, they [the Jews] are the chosen people of God – to be the most devilish ones on the Earth. They are doing that so they will stay above the rest of humanity. The variety of the plots that they make – you know it. I don’t have to tell you, but I will remind you. They created September 11. They blew up the buildings.” [Emphasis added]
“Yes, they are the chosen people of God – to be the most devilish ones on the Earth.”
“Zionist” Equals “Jew” – Imam Ahmad Dewidar
In an interview with the website of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (http://www.ikhwanonline.com/) in June 2005, Imam Ahmad Dewidar of the Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan and a lecturer on Islamic studies at the Manhattanville College said:
“Many are interested in preventing our [Muslim] influence in [American] society – first and foremost the Zionist lobby, which influences the media…so that we [Muslims] cannot spread our ideas and spotlight our leaders and our successful models. Even when a Muslim tries to work in the media, he has to contend with five million media employees who are controlled by the Jews…
“…[They] have despicable goals, and we [Muslims] see their effects today in America’s actions in the [Middle East] region, imposing its opinion and its outlook on democracy, education, and political involvement on our [Arab and Muslim] countries.”
In his statements, Imam Dewidar combined two themes – Zionists and Jews – and made it clear that by “Zionist,” he means “Jew.” He then used the term “Zionists” as a politically safe way to refer to Jews:
“[The Zionists] control the government, the politics, the economy, and the media in the U.S…. As far as American society is concerned, the suspicion towards anything Islamic – in the streets, in places of recreation and commerce, and in workplaces – remains a heavy burden on the Muslim citizen in America. The media – most of which is under Zionist control – has helped to spread this perception.”
Imam Dewidar finished his antisemitic recipe by criticizing American Muslims’ lack of unity against their fellow “Zionist” citizens:
“The Zionist community numbers only three million…At the same time, the Islamic community numbers 11 million, but its influence is weak…Thus, we [Muslims] lack an organization, a plan, and a strategy around which we can unite and according to which we can act.”
“[The Zionists] control the government, the politics, the economy, and the media in the U.S.” Image unrelated to quote cited in the body of the paper, from MEMRI TV Clip No. 730, New York Imam Ahmad Dewidar: In 1995, I Heard Sermons Calling on Muslims to March on the White House and Turn It into the Muslim House, June 9, 2005.
To view this clip of Ahmad Dewidar on MEMRI TV, click here.
A Note About Qutbism, Bin Laden, and Antisemitism
Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood intellectual who is considered “the father of Salafi jihadism” and who was executed in 1966 for plotting to assassinate Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, believed in a revolutionary Islamic revivalism that would result in the establishment of a modern Islamic state. Qutb considered antisemitism as an essential element of the modern Islamic state, and he viewed Zionism as a Satanic evil that Muslims must combat to reclaim their status in world leadership. Qutb presented the Jews as “a metaphor and symbol for the danger of Western domination and immorality, as well as a continuing threat in their own right to the integrity of Islam which they compulsively seek to destroy.”
Qutb wrote in 1950: “[The Jews want to] free the sensual desires from their restraints and destroy the moral foundation on which the pure Creed rests, in order that the Creed should fall into the filth which they [the Jews] spread so widely on earth. They [the Jews] mutilate the whole of history and falsify it…From such creatures [the Jews] who kill, massacre and defame prophets, one can only expect the spilling of human blood and dirty means which would further their machinations and evil.”
Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, had also been a student of Qutbism, though his antisemitism had been folded into his antagonism to the United States. He believed that attacks on the United States and its allies amount to attacks on Israel, the Jewish state. A vivid example of Bin Laden’s antisemitism is the title of a statement published in February 1998 by Bin Laden and other senior Islamist leaders: “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.” Further evidence of bin Laden’s approach to the Jews may be found in his “Letter to the American People” in 2002, in which he referred to Jews and Judaism eleven times (in contrast, he did not refer to Christianity once). Here are some more examples from “Letter to the American People”:
“Palestine, which has sunk under military occupation for more than 80 years. The British handed over Palestine, with your [American] help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years; years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation…Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy…[The] Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense.”
It is interesting to note that the antisemitism being spread by the above-mentioned imams is reminiscent of the antisemitism of Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden.
Widespread Antisemitism In U.S. Mosques
Many in the United States want to believe that Islam is a religion of peace only, and that sermons and speeches by imams reflect that perspective in their comments about Jews and Israel, but Congressional hearings show that the imams analyzed in this article are not just isolated cases. In 2021, MEMRI published an archive of around 450 pages recording the hatred, antisemitism, and incitement in sermons by imams of mosques throughout the U.S., including California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
But if any audience is still doubtful regarding these findings, I encourage them to search for a khutbah or any statement of any imam in the U.S. in which the imam states that the Jews are NOT pigs, apes, filthy, evil, or any other antisemitic trope. In the words of MEMRI founder Yigal Carmon (personal communication, July 26, 2021), “these imams in the U.S…. are inciting their congregations to violence against Jews, and urging them to spread anti-Israel sentiment within their communities.”
*Iraqi-born Dr. Mohammed Al-Azdee, faculty of Mass Communication at Paier College in Connecticut, holds degrees from the University of Baghdad and Indiana University Bloomington. His work has received awards from the U.S. State Department, the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA), the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), and the International Communication Association (ICA).
 This article is adapted from a larger study presented by Dr. Al-Azdee at a virtual international scholars conference about the manifestations, causes, and consequences of antisemitism in today’s America, organized by the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, in 2021.
 MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7744, Pompano Beach, Florida Friday Sermon By Imam Hasan Sabri: Palestine Must Be Liberated ‘Even If This Leads To The Martyrdom Of Tens Of Millions Of Muslims’, November 2, 2018.
 The charter of Allah: The platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS). (n.d.). Federation of American Scientists. Fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/880818.htm. See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3867, The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas: From the MEMRI Archives, May 26, 2011.
 Bureau of Counterterrorism. Foreign terrorist organizations. U.S. Department of State. State.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/.
 MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2165, As Gaza Fighting Continues, Egyptian Clerics Intensify Antisemitic Statements; Columbus, Ohio Muslim Scholar/Leader Dr. Salah Sultan: Muhammad Said That Judgment Day Will Not Come Until Muslims Fight the Jews and Kill Them; America Will Suffer Destruction, February 3, 2009.
 MEMRI TV Clip No. 6675, Al-Quds Day Sermon by Imam Muhammad Al Asi in Washington D.C.: The Zionist Colonialist Force Must Be Dislodged, If Necessary with Non-Peaceful Means, June 21, 2018.
 MEMRI TV clip No. 6483, Muslim Center of Middlesex County, NJ Hosts Pro-BDS Event; Speakers Encourage Boycotting J Street, American Companies, February 2, 2018.
 BDS: The global campaign to delegitimize Israel. (n.d.). Anti-Defamation League, Adl.org/resources/backgrounders/bds-the-global-campaign-to-delegitimize-israel.
 Dailytrojan.com/2021/02/18/bds-is-anti-semitic, February 18, 2021.
 MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 851, Former New York Imam Promotes Antisemitism and Conspiracy Theories Against the U.S. and Israel On International Tours, Says: ‘It Is Almost Certain That Zionists Will Soon Wage Biological War Against The Arabs’, July 1, 2012.
 Rosenfeld, A. (2021, February 11). Connections between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. 2021 Neustadt Lecture Series, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, OK. United States.
 Al-Quds Day is an annual international event held in protest of Zionism and Israel on the last Friday of every Ramadan, Islam’s fasting month. It was launched in 1979 by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
 MEMRI TV Clip No. 6487, Virginia Imam Abolfazl Nahidian: Israel Carried Out 9/11, the CIA Is Working to Divide the People – Archival, September 19, 2010.
 MEMRI TV Clip No. 6487, Virginia Imam Abolfazl Nahidian: Israel Carried Out 9/11, the CIA Is Working to Divide the People – Archival, September 19, 2010.
 MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 928, Head of Islamic Center in Manhattan: Many Americans Believe 9/11 was Fabricated to Enable the Forging of a ‘New World Order,’ July 1, 2005.
 Qutb, S. (1993). Our struggle with the Jews. (12th ed.). Al-Shorooq.
 Wistrich, R. (1991). Antisemitism: The longest hatred. Pantheon Books. (p. 225).
 Qutb, S. (1993). Our struggle with the Jews. (12th ed.). Al-Shorooq. (pp. 26–27).
 Mendelsohn, B. (2009). Al-Qaeda’s Palestinian problem. Survival, 51(4). 71–86. DOI: 10.1080/00396330903168865
 Full text: “Jihad against Jews and Crusaders”. (1998, February 23). Federation of American Scientists Intelligence Resource Program, Irp.fas.org/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm.
 Theguardian.com/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver, November 24, 2002.
 House Hearing, 112 Congress. (2011, March 10, June 15, and July 27). Compilation of hearings on Islamist radicalization—Volume I. Govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg72541/html/CHRG-112hhrg72541.htm; Joint House and Senate Hearing, 112 Congress. (2011, December 7). Compilation of hearings on Islamist radicalization—Volume II. Govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-112jhrg74648/html/CHRG-112jhrg74648.htm
 Hatred, antisemitism, & incitement in sermons by imams in the West. The Middle East Media Research Institute, 2021.