Muslims gather at mosques for first Friday prayers since Israel-Hamas war started

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Yasir Nawaz's daughter, Amal, 4, clings to him during Friday prayers, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, at the Islamic Center of East Lansing in East Lansing, Mich. In Muslim communities across the world, worshippers gathered at mosques for their first Friday prayers since Hamas militants attacked Israel, igniting the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

In Muslim communities across the world, worshippers gathered at mosques for their first Friday prayers since Hamas militants attacked Israel, igniting the ongoing war, Some imams issued fiery calls of support for the Palestinians. Others bemoaned the loss of civilian lives on both sides and appealed for peace.

IMAMS IN EUROPE PLEAD FOR END TO VIOLENCE

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Prominent imams in France and Greece, in their sermons, decried the violence that has wracked Israel and the Gaza Strip, and appealed for peace.

The imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Abdennour Tahraoui, bemoaned the “tragic news” emerging from a war “that has generated thousands of dead and wounded on both sides.”

“Civilians have been deliberately targeted,” he said. "It’s our duty to condemn these acts and to give witness to our solidarity toward all innocent victims.”

He also appealed for calm in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

“It’s imperative to avoid provocations, or even clashes toward communities of different religions and beliefs, so that we can live in peace and harmony in France," Tahraoui said

Sidi Mohammad Zakim, the imam of Athens' mosque, made similar appeals in his sermon.

“We don’t want violence, we don’t want war. We want peace and I wish to Allah for peace in the whole world,” Sidi Mohammad Zaki told the AP after Friday prayers. “Let each person believe what they want.”

“This bloodshed has to end, because, what fault is it of a little child, either on one side or on the other?" Zaki added. "What fault is it of a woman? Of an elderly person? Why are they playing with these souls.”

—By Leftaris Pitarkis in Athens

IMAMS IN US DENOUNCE ATTACKS ON GAZA, RAISE FUNDS FOR HUMANITARIAN AID

Across the U.S., Muslims walking into mosques for prayers heard sermons on the war unfolding in the Middle East and raised money for humanitarian aid in Gaza.

In New York’s Brooklyn borough, Imam Mohamed Elbar, urging calm, denounced Israel’s attacks and halting of supplies to the Gaza strip – the latter he later described as a war crime. Images of the Palestinian flag and children amid destroyed buildings flashed on a large screen at the mosque.

“The children of Palestine deserve to live just as any of the children in any part of the world,” Elbar said.

Zein Ramawi, one of the mosque leaders who came to the U.S. four decades ago from the West Bank, said he worried about relatives back home.

“The only thing we can do is pray for them … ask God to help our brothers in Palestine.”

In the Washington suburbs, Imam Farhan Siddiqi of Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center delivered an impassioned sermon on the plight of Palestinians living under Israel’s bombardment.

The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza on Friday.

“Evacuate to where?” Siddiqi asked of the Israeli government. “Where do you want them to go? You created an open-air prison. … You control all the exits and you are telling them to leave?”

Near the end of the service, the community had raised more than $16,000 of its $20,000 fundraising goal to send humanitarian relief for Gaza.

“We will continue to respond, we will continue to grow, we will continue to be positive, and we will continue to contribute because that is the way of the Muslim,” Siddiqi said.

In Michigan, Imam Sohail Chaudhry of the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing first explained the Holy Land’s significance to Muslims before weighing in on the latest conflict, condemning violence against all innocent people.

“The root cause of this problem is 50 years plus of oppression, illegal occupation, illegal settlements," Chaudhry said. “You have to return the land of the Palestinian people to them; you have to return their human dignity back to them.”

He urged Muslims in America to speak against the oppression, even if it comes with consequences in the U.S., and to be patient, pray and not to lose hope.

In Minneapolis, Jaylani Hussein told more than 100 young people gathered for the Muslim Student Association’s Friday prayers at a Lutheran church that they have a unique role to play.

“We are the American Muslim population – we have a responsibility to make sure that this country, and our tax dollars, are not used to wipe out our brothers and sisters,” said Hussein, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter, who was invited to address the University of Minnesota students.

First-year student Idhil Mohamed took to heart Hussein’s message to speak against the violence Israel is inflicting on Palestinians. “They’re just children. And it tells us in our religion: children should never be killed,” she said.

Home to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim woman in the U.S. House, Minnesota has a large Muslim community with rapidly growing numbers of refugees from war-torn Somalia.

— Luis Andres Henao, Tiffany Stanley, Mariam Fam and Trisha Ahmed

IN SERMON, SPEAKER URGES EGYPTIANS TO RALLY BEHIND THEIR HOMELAND

In a sermon broadcast on Egyptian television, Ayman Abou Omar stressed the importance of being aware of the value of the homeland and maintaining security.

“The dangers are great, the challenges grave,” he said, urging Egyptians to unite behind their state, leadership and army.

“Without security, there is no state,” he said.

He prayed for Egyptians, their army and president, and asked God to help the Palestinians and aid them in preserving their land.

Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago. has long served as a regional mediator.

— Mariam Fam of AP’s Global Religion Team

CLERICS IN PAKISTAN GIVE EMOTIONAL SERMONS IN SUPPORT OF THE PALESTINIANS

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, a cleric at the pro-Taliban Red Mosque pleaded with God to send special help to the Palestinians.

“Oh Allah destroy Israel! Break it apart into pieces,” urged Abdul Aziz in an emotional sermon delivered to around 900 worshippers congregated for Friday prayers.

The mosque has links to the Pakistani Taliban and is known for backing calls to help the Afghan Taliban across the border. In July 2007, government forces laid siege to the mosque in a military crackdown that killed at least 100 people.

On Friday, the cleric asked God to help all those who wanted to join the jihad, or holy war, in the Palestinian territories.

“Oh Allah make it easy for them to reach there, and bless us with the death of a martyr,” he declared, his voice reverberating through loudspeakers.

Similar sermons were held at mosques throughout the country. And radical Islamist parties held anti-Israel rallies after Friday prayers.

Pakistan has no diplomatic relations with Israel because of the issue of Palestinian statehood.

— Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan

IN INDONESIA, PRAYERS FOR GOD'S PROTECTION AND FOR THE ABSENT

Islamic leaders in Indonesia appealed to all mosques in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation to pray for peace and safety for the Palestinian people.

The chairperson of the Indonesian Mosque Council had urged all mosques to perform the Qunut Nazilahto prayer, one made for protection, to ask for God’s help so that “the conflict in the Gaza Strip would end quickly.”

The appeal from the nation's former Vice President Jusuf Kalla is in line with most Indonesian Muslims, who stand with Palestinians. The prayer was held along with the Salat Al-Ghaib, or prayer for the absent.

In a sermon at Abu Bakar Al Shidiq, one of the most conservative mosques in Jakarta, a cleric called for mobilizing “our power and efforts to help the Muslims in Palestine.”

“Prayer is a weapon for devout Muslims,” he added, “For those of us who have not been given the opportunity by God to take up arms to defend the honor and religion of our Muslims brothers, then we can take up our weapons by raising our hands asking God for His blessings."

— Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan, Jakarta, Indonesia

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