Ironically, the Star’s own archived articles support Jonathan Halevi’s translation and show that the phrase “purify al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews” was recited by none other than the Vice President of the Canadian Council of Imams.

 

On October 22, 2017, The Toronto Star dedicated four pages, including its front page, in an attempt to exonerate Ayman Elkasrawy, an imam at “Masjid Toronto” mosque, from anti-Jewish and anti-infidel prayers during Ramadan 2016.

 

                        Jennifer Yang /credit Toronto Star                   

Relying on “experts” the Star’s Jennifer Yang alleged that Elkasrawy’s prayers were mistranslated and taken out of context. The Star’s “experts” described the translation by Jonathan Halevi as “propaganda”, “mistranslated”, “decontextualized”, “disingenuous” and “slanted translation.”

Investigating this story I’ve learned that Jennifer Yang was explicitly told in an email by Halevi that his translation was “mainly based on Islamic sources” and that he provided her with a few examples.

Ms. Yang did not mentioned this fact in her article. When asked to explain why she edited out any reference to Halevi’s statement regarding the Islamic sources, Ms. Yang decided not to respond to Mr. Halevi’s email.

Arabic dictionaries are a wealth of information in Islamic sources and support Halevi’s translation. The evidence will be presented in a series of articles on this blog.

This article will deal with the main sentence in question that was translated by Halevi based on Islamic sources as “purify al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews.”

Here is what the Star wrote in this regard:

As for “Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews,” a more accurate translation is “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,” according to Nazir Harb Michel, an Arabic sociolinguist and Islamophobia researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

 

The crucial word here is danas. Arabic-English dictionaries list several possible definitions — among them “besmirch,” “defile,” and spiritual “impurity” or “filth” — so context is key in determining the appropriate translation. Harb Michel said “no translator worth two cents” would choose the “filth” definition in the context of Elkasrawy’s prayer.

 

When danas is used in reference to a holy place — like Al-Aqsa — the common definition is “desecration,” the experts agreed. “He does not say ‘the filth of the Jews,’” said Jonathan Featherstone, a senior teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh and former Arabic lecturer with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

 

But what did Elkasrawy mean by “desecration”? Again, context is instructive. Days before his prayers, he and his congregants were reading reports of Israeli police deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets inside Al-Aqsa mosque — actions many Muslims would consider to be a desecration of the site, especially during the 10 holiest days of Ramadan.

 

Elkasrawy now realizes how wrong it was to mention “the Jews,” especially since his intention was to pray for the mosque, not against people.

 

“If I could say it in a more clear way,” he says, “it would be ‘O Allah, protect the Al-Aqsa mosque from occupation. Or preserve the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa mosque from violation.’”

 

He said “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic. And, he asks, “How is it perceived in my (current) community? It’s something I didn’t take into account.”

 

“I have never thought of anything against people of Jewish faith,” he says. “In Islam, we believe that no one should be forced into any religion. We cannot hate any people, any group, because of their ethnicity or their religion.”

In an email to Jonathan Halevi on August 4, 2017 Ms.Yang wrote:

“The line that was most controversial was the one that refers to the “filth of the Jews,” which implies that “Jews are filthy” — a clearly unacceptable and antisemitic sentiment.”

 

The Star acknowledged the phrase “filth of the Jews” is antisemitic. By dismissing Halevi’s translation as “propaganda” and “mistranslation,”  Ms. Yang presented her chosen “correct” translation that reads “the Jews’ desecration of it [al-Aqsa Mosque]” insisting that it has no antisemitic meaning.

On October 30, the Toronto Star’s Public Editor, Kathy English, told Honest Reporting Canada that “the reporters [Jennifer Yang] and her editors put an immense amount of thought and consideration into this piece.”

Apparently the Star’s reporters and editors didn’t do their homework properly. Had they searched the Star’s own online archive they would have found an article penned by Daniel Daleu entitled “Speakers at Muslim conference noted for disparaging gays and Jews.”

Published on October 18, 2011, the Star’s article discussed a prayer by Abdullah Hakim Quick, Canadian imam and scholar (and today’s Vice President of the Canadian Council of Imams) in which he recited the following (originally in English):

“May Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, clean and purify al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Yahood [Jews]”.

The following is an excerpt from the Star’s article:

“Toronto’s Abdullah Hakim Quick, an African-American convert, has been lauded for his work to promote women’s rights, improve interfaith relations and eradicate female genital mutilation; he wrote a column for the Star in the 1990s. Later, however, he said AIDS was caused by “sick” homosexuals who want “to take us all down with them” and referred to the “filth” of Christians and Jews. He has rejected accusations of bigotry. His “filth” comment, he wrote, was merely a plea for “God to heal the spiritual corruption that afflicts some members of religious groups, which in turn leads to injustice against innocent people.”

Toronto Star’s article contains a link to Abdullah Hakim Quick’s statement that reads the following:

“A clip taken from another lecture made me appear to be intolerant of Christians and Jews. Toward the end of my talk I made a supplication for God to purify Islam’s third holiest shrine from the “filth of the Christians and the Jews.” The implicit — and obvious understanding for anyone who heard my lecture — was that I was asking God to heal the spiritual corruption that afflicts some members of religious groups which in turn leads to injustice against innocent people.”

Quick’s supplication urging Allah “to purify al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Yahood [Jews]” was widely reported also by other Canadian media outlets such as the, The Globe and MailMaclean’s MagazineBrampton GuardianXtraCanadian Jews News (CJN)The Muslim Times.

Furthermore, on October 14, 2010 the Star reposted Associated Press’ news report that read:

Occupied Palestine will be liberated from the filth of occupation by the strength of resistance and through the faith of the resistance,” Ahmadinejad said to the crowd.

Ironically, the Star’s own archived articles support Jonathan Halevi’s translation and show that the phrase “purify al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews” was recited by none other than the Vice President of the Canadian Council of Imams.

Stay tuned for the next articles.

Jennifer Yang refused to answer these follow-up questions sent on January 8 and 10.

Ms. Yang, Jonathan Halevi told you in an email that his translation was based on Islamic sources. Why did you not include in your article that Mr. Halevi relied on Islamic sources? According to the Star Journalistic Standards “Every effort must be made to ensure that everything published in the Star is accurate, presented in context, and that all sides are presented fairly.”

 

Ms. Yang, please provide other sources for Mr. Elkasrawy’s statement that “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews.

 

Ms. Yang how do you explain this quote from the October 14, 2010 Star “Occupied Palestine will be liberated from the filth of occupation by the strength of resistance and through the faith of the resistance,” Ahmadinejad said to the crowd.

 

Ms. Yang, Ms. English stated that much “thought and consideration into this piece.” How do you explain your failure to search your own archives or find references to Abdul Hakim Quick’s sermon (“purify al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews”) in other media outlets, including Muslim organizations, or Daniel Daleu’s article entitled “Speakers at Muslim conference noted for disparaging gays and Jews”?

 

Most importantly, when you received information that your article contained errors, why did you not make the appropriate corrections as required by the Toronto Star’s own Journalistic Standards Guide:”Journalistic integrity demands that significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and as prominently and transparently as warranted”?

From the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it.”