A few days ago, The Algemeiner published my article on Omar Suleiman, a very popular Palestinian-American imam whom Linda Sarsour has repeatedly praised – and who has also expressed admiration for her. When I researched Suleiman’s views on Israel and on Jews, I quickly found a lot of alarming material: he posted an image signaling support for the Muslim Brotherhood; he repeatedly called for another intifada and tried his best to incite religious passions; he also compared Israel to the Nazis and to Taliban-affiliated terrorists who had perpetrated a horrendous massacre in a school in Pakistan. But what shocked me most was listening to some of his religious teachings that are available on You Tube. The example I cited in the article was from a lecture series on the Bani Israel that he gave a few years ago, and in the introductory lecture, he very clearly blamed the Bani Israel – literally the “sons of Israel,” i.e. the Jews – for the fact that food decays. Quite obviously, this is no less pernicious than the medieval blood libel.
Now I just discovered that, without tagging me or linking to my article, he has posted a text on his Facebook page that seems to be an indirect response to my piece – and I have to say that I found much of it quite impressive, certainly compared to Linda Sarsour’s pathetic habit to dismiss all criticism as “alt-right” and “Islamophobic.” You can read Suleiman’s post here or in the screenshot below.
Of course, I did not ‘intentionally decontextualize’ anything Suleiman said or wrote. And I think it’s not convincing to describe the material I documented as ‘slip ups,’ since in most instances, he repeatedly expressed the same or similar views. I am also working on documenting some other material from Suleiman’s lectures that I found very disturbing and that in my view is central to the Muslim unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in any borders.
It should go without saying that I do not “hate” Omar Suleiman, and I do not “want to bury” him in his “past mistakes.” But quite obviously, it can have far-reaching consequences when an imam who has more than a million followers on social media makes “mistakes” and writes things he now wishes he “never wrote.” Indeed, some of the things I exposed were “liked” or shared by tens of thousands of people.
But I found it moving and very dignified that Suleiman wrote:
“Maybe thats a lesson though that we need to always be more responsible with our words. That even before social media, your words were being recorded and saved. That everything you’ve ever said may have impacted someone for years after even if you moved on. That we should heed the prophetic advice to not say things today that we will have to apologize for tomorrow.
I pray that I’ve written and said more good than evil, and that my carefully archived scrolls will be a proof for me rather than against me.”
Suleiman is very young – just in his early thirties, and from what I’ve seen, I do think his record includes a lot of “good.” But as I’ve already noted, I still think that he also promotes some very problematic views which I plan to document further. If he wishes to clarify or revise his views, he has many platforms to do so. And he has already shown that he is sometimes willing to change: e.g., he seemed prepared to tone down his previous condemnation of homosexuality – though only he can know if it is out of conviction or because of political expediency. But if he revises some of the views I have documented, and still plan to document, I would regard this as a small, yet still hopeful, step that could only help to improve relations between Muslims and Jews not just in the US, but perhaps even in the Middle East. After all, Suleiman is young, clearly very talented and very ambitious, and if he were to revise some of his problematic views, he could become a moderating voice that is desperately needed when so many religious leaders are eager to incite their followers by demonizing the Jews and denying their long historical attachment and rights to the land of Israel.
Several people have told me that they feel I’m too conciliatory here, because Suleiman after all did not explicitly renounce any of his views; one person also criticized that he didn’t delete any of the offensive posts I cited (and archived). But I think only time will tell if I was too conciliatory. Even if he deleted the posts I exposed, it wouldn’t change the fact that when he published them, many thousands of people read, liked and shared them, and the incitement can’t be undone. Yet, I think compared to the reaction Linda Sarsour regularly offers when she is facing criticism, Suleiman’s vague acknowledgment that he regrets some of the views he expressed, should be appreciated — though, to be sure, Sarsour is setting a very low bar.
The past can’t be undone, but if Suleiman will now avoid calling for another intifada and stop describing Israel in terms that echo the Nazi slogan “The Jews are our misfortune,” I for one would find that a very positive outcome, since the 1.2 million (and counting) people who follow him will not be poisoned by such incitement from a religious leader they adore. Incidentally, it is very interesting to check out the comments responding to his post: most people accept very graciously that the imam they admire expresses regret about going public with some unspecified views and that he simply encourages everyone to learn from what he presents as his own learning experience.
Having said all this, I don’t have any illusions about how deep-seated Suleiman’s anti-Israel — and arguably anti-Jewish — resentments are. I have watched some of his relevant lectures and found it all in all a rather depressing experience. But more on this in a follow-up article later this month.