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Sydney sheik Youssef Hassan downplays Jewish hate claim

Rachel Baxendale, The Australian

A Sydney sheik who told a group of children that the Jewish people have only envy and hatred in their hearts says he was referring to a particular group of Jews mentioned in the Koran, and not to the Jewish people more broadly.

Sheik Youssef Hassan also said he was joking when he forbade the children from celebrating Hallo­ween. He made the comments during a regular Friday lecture with children and their parents at the Quakers Hill Mosque in Sydney’s northwest late last month.

A video of the lecture remained on the mosque’s YouTube channel late yesterday.

Discussing the second chapter of the Koran, known as Surat ­Al-Baqarah or “The Cow”, Sheik ­Hassan told the children: “Allah mentioned this heart of the Jewish ... the Israelites — the Jewish — their hearts become very hard, and Allah said that they become like a stone, but actually harder than a stone.

“Because Allah said in Surat Al-Baqarah: ‘for indeed there are stones from which rivers burst forth’. Some of the rocks — water comes out of these rocks ... The rocks can be soft, so they can make a way for the water. But the Jewish heart is very hard. They don’t have mercy. They don’t have anything in their hearts. They have got only envy, they got hatred.’’

Asked about Sheik Hassan’s comments about Jewish people, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said: “It’s very unfortunate that any ­religious leader would make such a bigoted and gratuitous remark.”

When a child asked whether it was “halal” or permissible to celebrate Halloween, Sheik Hassan asked the children rhetorically whether Halloween followed the sunnah (teachings) of the prophet or the Koran of Allah.

When they replied that it did not, he said: “So you are giving the fatwa now, not me.”

“You cannot do it,” Sheik Hassan said. “But you can go and ask them for a donation for the masjid (mosque). That is a different story.’’

Contacted yesterday, Sheik Hassan denied that he had been talking about Jewish people in general but rather about a certain story in the Koran, “to show that if you do something against God, he will curse you”.

“I’ve got so many friends Jewish and I have no problem with these people at all,’’ he said. “I have a really good relationship with them.’’

He said he had no power to forbid Halloween. “I’ve got so many Muslim friends who do Halloween,” he said. “I can’t stop them. In a democratic country you can do whatever you want.”

B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said that he was deeply troubled by Sheik Hassan’s “divisive rhetoric”.

The president of the Australian Federation of Islam­ic Councils Keysar Trad said he knew Sheik Hassan and had spoken to him about the lecture and read the rele­vant passage from the Koran.

“To get to the crux of it, the reference to those people is the ­people in the story, not the entire Jewish community,” Mr Trad said. “He’s not talking about the whole Jewish race.”

Mr Trad said Sheik Hassan was a moderate person. “He’s one of those people who’s really ­concerned about having good relations with people of other faiths.”

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