Pittsburgh imam condemned for anti-Semitic remarks
Religious leader said Jews “make a mockery of their religion,” and “have all the money,” among other comments.
Pittsburgh Imam Naeem Abdullah addressed Jews, often in anti-Semitic terms, in lectures uploaded to his YouTube channel between October 2016 and December 2018. Within the recorded sermons, Abdullah said Jews “make a mockery of their religion,” and “have all the money.” Abdullah additionally said, “If you look deeper behind the scenes, Jews [sic] running everything,” and claimed some Jews “were turned into monkeys and pigs, literally.”
Abdullah, who did not return a request for comment, is the imam of Masjid al-Mu’min, which is located inside a two-story house at 537 Paulson Ave. in the city’s Larimer neighborhood, and imam of the similarly stationed Nur uz-Zamaan Institute. According to Masjid al-Mu’min’s website, the congregation was established in 1989. Masjid al-Mu’min, which seems to cater to Pittsburgh’s African-American Muslim community, appears to have a small following, judging by the roughly dozen listeners to the imam’s sermons on YouTube. On social media, Abdullah has 245 Twitter followers.
In June 2018, Abdullah led prayers at a service marking the end of Ramadan. The service was held at Schenley Park and, according to news reports, was attended by hundreds.
Focusing on numbers is beside the point, said Steven Stalinsky, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which compiled Abdullah’s anti-Semitic remarks as part of a report it released last week.
“This is an imam that is spreading anti-Semitism; that is unacceptable,” said Stalinsky. “People should not accept it, whether there’s two people or 200 people or 2,000 people, it’s just not right. And our job is to monitor and educate and inform people. That’s what we do.”
MEMRI, which was founded in February 1998 as an independent, nonpartisan organization, discovered Abdullah’s remarks and emailed them to the Chronicle last week along with a report detailing Abdullah’s additional references to Jews.
“We maintain the largest archives in the world of translated anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial content from the Arab and Muslim world,” said Stalinsky.
“The same vile words espoused weekly in the mosques in Friday sermons and in the media and school books of the Middle East about Jews are now being spread throughout the U.S.,” he added. “Through MEMRI’s sermon project we have identified and translated anti-Semitic sermons, some including calls for violence, in California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Delaware, Minnesota, Virginia, Illinois and Michigan (as well as in Canada and Europe).”
Stalinsky voiced concern that Abdullah’s mosque is “less than 10 minutes away” from the Tree of Life synagogue building, where a suspected white-supremacist murdered 11 congregants on Oct. 27.
“This issue needs to be addressed by the Jewish community — including synagogues and leading organizations devoted to fighting anti-Semitism,” said Stalinsky. “Since we began our project almost two years ago, many of them have failed to adequately address this anti-Semitism and have chosen to look the other way.”
Joshua Sayles, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, responded that it’s not so simple.
“We don’t want to give this guy any more attention than he deserves,” Sayles explained. “We should be aware of who he is, but we should not give him so much attention that it helps him spread his hateful message.”
At the same time, “while this guy is a bigot, he doesn’t appear to cross the line to incitement,” said Sayles, “and everything he does falls under the constitutionally protected First Amendment.”
Brad Orsini, the Federation’s director of security, said that even protected speech can spark concern.
“We don’t care how miniscule it is,” said Orsini. “If you see signs of hate or anti-Semitism, please report it immediately.”
While Stalinsky also accused the local Muslim community of turning a blind eye to incitement, Wasi Mohamed, who became executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in 2015, denounced any manifestations of hate in an email.
“Islam unequivocally condemns all forms of racism and prejudice,” said Mohamed. “The Quran commands us to appreciate our differences … grow from understanding those differences … and to reflect until we remove arrogance from our hearts so we never resemble the Pharaoh. … We are specifically commanded to actively protect places of worship of those who practice different religions, and the profundity of this commandment and its implications cannot be understated.”
Mohamed, who specified that he was speaking personally, did not specifically condemn Abdullah, but emphasized that “there is no place for anti-Semitism. Not in Islam. Not in Pittsburgh. Not anywhere.”
Mohammad Sajjad, who answered the phone at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh last week, said that when it comes to Abdullah’s remarks, “the Pittsburgh Muslim community doesn’t hold that view or feel that way.”
Still, Stalinsky demanded more and referenced Abdullah’s presence at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh on Jan. 26. A flyer from the event denotes a lecture given by the imam at 6:30 that evening on “The Importance of Gathering at the Masjid.”
Abdullah is not worth the attention, said Sayles. “He’s a nobody. He’s got a miniscule number of followers online and on social media, and I’ve spoken to local Muslim leadership who have told me he has an equally miniscule number of followers who show up at his mosque.
“This guy is clearly an anti-Semite spouting hate not only toward Jews but also toward Christians,” added Sayles. “He twists history in a way that is inconceivable to anyone with a grasp of religion or world religions in general.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com