Sheikh Samir Assi, the Imam of Acre, is a man of peace.
Unlike many of his colleagues, he has made his support for the sanctity of human life a very public affair. Sheikh Samir concludes all services at the storied Al-Jazzar mosque with a prayer for peace. Whether preaching to his flock or speaking to Jewish or Christian groups, he teaches that the most important message of Islam is love. And a few years ago, in order to demonstrate commiseration with the sufferings of the Jewish people, he helped initiate a visit of Muslim clerics to Auschwitz.
Sheikh Samir is also an avid supporter of a two-state solution and a critic of the outgoing Israeli government.
He is opposed to Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount and is opposed to the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. He considers the Jewish settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria to be both morally misguided and a hindrance to peace.
The day after the massacre of Jewish worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue, Sheikh Samir participated in a delegation of clergymen which came to the synagogue to denounce the outrage.
“I am against harming any innocent civilians and I condemn the murder. I am participating in this delegation in order to offer my condolences to the fellow worshippers and to condemn the murder in their presence,” he said.
Unfortunately, Sheikh Samir didn’t stop there. Like many well-meaning people before him, he fell into the trap of stating that the murders, while wrong, were the result of understandable grievances at perceived injustice.
“It’s important to know that this comes from madness which began with hate and incitement [by the settlers] and from the political behavior of the government which encourages Jews to enter the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa mosque. This offends the sensibilities of the [Muslim] sector and causes rage. There is also the building [of Jewish homes] in East Jerusalem and the behavior of the settlers, who harm mosques and carry out ‘price tag’ attacks. Then there was the rumor that the [Arab] bus driver may have been murdered by settlers. All these things together dragged an already volatile situation into madness.”
Unfortunately, Jews and Muslims sometimes murder innocent civilians. When this happens, it is crucial to categorically condemn the evil without reference to political disagreements or other extenuating circumstances. Just as it would have been a mistake to dilute the condemnation of the murder of Mohamed Abu Kheidar by references to grievances over Arab attempts to limit Jewish settlement or prevent Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, so is it a mistake to dilute the condemnation of the synagogue massacre with references to anger about the Jewish desire to build homes or visit our religious holy site.
Sheikh Samir, you and I don’t always agree politically. But we share a sense of partnership because of our common struggle for true peace based on the appreciation of the sanctity of human life. In order to prevail in this struggle, it would be best if all of us try harder to stay on message.