Ryerson University should reopen its investigation into the case of a teaching assistant who was fired last winter for remarks he made while leading prayers in a Toronto mosque, because the prayers were mistranslated, says Bernie Farber, a longtime human rights advocate who met with the man several times.
Ayman Elkasrawy’s dismissal from Ryerson was announced on Feb. 28, after a video surfaced of prayers he led in the summer of 2016. According to one translation, the invocation that Elkasrawy, an imam, recited was: “O Allah! Destroy anyone who displaced the sons of the Muslims, O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them, O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews.”
The mosque where he delivered the prayer, Masjid Toronto, and Elkasrawy both apologized after the controversial remarks surfaced in a YouTube video.
But a lengthy Oct. 22 article in the Toronto Star, which consulted a number of linguists, suggests that the remarks were mistranslated and taken out of context.
The imam was reflecting on clashes between Israeli police and Muslims at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. The supplication to “slay them one by one” was directed at ISIS terrorists, who had killed Syrians, according to the Star.
Farber, who recently retired as head of the Mosaic Institute, a think-tank that promotes diversity, provided a series of workshops for Elkasrawy on racism and cultural sensitivity in May. As part of the seminars, Elkasrawy also met with Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl at Beth Tzedec Synagogue.
After meeting the imam and reading the work of the translators consulted by the Star, Farber concluded that Elkasrawry did not make anti-Semitic remarks.
“Ayman made a serious error in judgment, in terms of the manner in which he recited the Hadith, the supplication, but clearly was not being anti-Semitic in his mind, or, as it turns out, given the translation by three or four of the top Arab linguists in the world,” Farber told The CJN.
“That’s not to say he wasn’t being political at a time. He shouldn’t have been, and that’s something he takes responsibility for.”
Elkasrawy’s comments, while critical of Israel and its policies, do not meet the test of anti-Semitism, Farber said.
The mosque’s leadership, which was quick to apologize for the prayers and disassociate itself from the imam, was understandably anxious, and eager “not to have the spotlight shined on them,” Farber said.
“If we were a community, as we were in the ’40s and ’50s, … that were being murdered in our houses of worship, we would be a very, very nervous community,” he said, referring to the murder of six worshippers in a Quebec City mosque in January. “We have to show a little empathy to a community that is under attack.”
Elkasrawy is not owed an apology, Farber said, but he believes that Ryerson, which had been urged by some students and B’nai Brith Canada to dismiss the teaching assistant, acted too hastily. He hopes the university will re-examine the situation.
A spokesman for Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi could not be reached for comment by deadline, but the university has said in the past that it does not comment on personnel matters.
The mainstream Jewish organizations that supported Elkasrawy’s dismissal, however, have not changed their views. B’nai Brith Canada consulted three independent translators who upheld the original version of the remarks.
‘Ayman made a serious error in judgment.’
“I don’t think we should speculate on what was going through Mr. Elkasrawy’s mind when he uttered those words,” said Marty York, B’nai Brith’s chief media officer. “We’re not mind readers. We heard some remarks that were extremely offensive to the Jewish People. We wanted to expose this and bring it to the attention of his employer.”
B’nai Brith tried to talk to Elkasrawy when the video first surfaced, but he did not respond to the organization’s attempts, York said.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which also publicly supported Ryerson’s decision to fire the teaching assistant, said it continues to have “serious concerns” about the sermon.
“Even with the most generous interpretation, Elkasrawy’s prayer was deeply disturbing, inflammatory and hateful to Jews. We are troubled by any suggestion to the contrary,” CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel said in a statement.