At mosque, Oakland Muslims express sorrow and worry over violent aftermath to video
on September 17, 2012
As Imam Zaid Shakir walked into Oakland’s Lighthouse Mosque for Friday prayers, several of his congregation leapt to their feet and embraced him, eager to hear his take on a YouTube video, and the violent reaction to it, that have strained relations between many in the Muslim world and the United States.
The California-made video, which mocks the Prophet Mohammed, is a trailer for a feature-length movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” After being posted to YouTube on Wednesday, the clip has so far attracted 4.4 million views, sparking protests at the U.S. embassy in Libya where, on Thursday, a mob killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
“For some people it’s demoralizing because they believe that Islam is a force for good,” Shakir said to the congregation. “Then these things happen, and the eye of suspicion is cast on them.”
In his sermon to the congregants, who filled the small mosque to capacity, Shakir was quick to address the international controversy, strongly condemning recent acts of violence across the Muslim world. He expressed sorrow on behalf of the Muslim community for the death of Stevens, who was a UC Berkeley alumnus.
“It is important for us as Muslims to respect the sanctity of human life, especially people such as Ambassadors,” he said, addressing the congregation.
UC Berkeley Near Eastern Studies professor Hatam Bazian said Bay Area Muslims are likely to feel more alienated in their communities as a result of the violence towards the U.S. embassy in Libya and 12 other U.S. embassies across the Arab world.
“Once again, Muslims in the Bay Area are asking ,‘Can we express who we are?’” Bazian said in an interview. As a result of the recent violence, “kids in school get picked on by other kids who are bullying them,” he said.
After quoting a verse from the Quran in Arabic, Shakir went on to remind the group that there was little outcry from the U.S. when people died in recent drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. One of these strikes killed a 16 year-old U.S. citizen, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Shakir said.
After the sermon, people poured out onto the sidewalk to converse. One member of the mosque sold pies, while others staffed tables displaying handmade Islamic art.
Many at Friday’s services said they had refused to watch the video, because the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed is blasphemy in the Muslim faith.
Standing next to a halal peach cobbler, Maryam, who asked that only her first name be used due to the sensitivity of the video and the unrest surrounding it, said she believes the embassy riots were merely a catalyst for growing unrest in places like Libya and Egypt. But, in any case, she said, such videos demand a response.
“There are so many videos out there that have been really disrespectful and people do need to stand up to that,” she said. “They don’t know anything about our prophet, or what we believe in.”
In his address to the congregation, Shakir emphasized the positive role of Islam in the Oakland community, urging everyone in attendance to be “better Muslims” and to be “thankful for their good health.”
“It’s unfortunate that some people blew it out of proportion,” he said, referring to the video. “Most people see it for the trash that it is.”
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