San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Derek Reeve announced at last week’s council meeting that he gave one of his dogs — animals considered particularly impure in the Muslim world — the same name as the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
“That’s right,” Reeve said at the council meeting, “I named my dog Muhammad.”
The remarks came during a discussion about a planned dog park in the city. A council action related to the dog park was scheduled for adoption without discussion, but Reeve pulled the item to ask questions and make a brief comment.
Apparently Reeve thought the remark was funny, and so did some meeting attendees, who could be heard laughing on the recording of the meeting.
“I have two new dogs. I’m excited about a dog park,” Reeve said. “America and Muhammad may want to play with dogs.”
Local Muslim leaders didn’t see any humor. It is widely regarded an insult in the Arab world to refer to someone as a dog. And Muhammad is the most common name given to men in the Muslim world.
The Muslim leaders see the comment as an attempt to provoke the larger Muslim community.
“It is un-American, irresponsible and immoral of the Councilman to engage in behavior that will not only serve to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, but also runs counter to our country’s values of unity, respect and pluralism,” Munira Syeda, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles wing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wrote in an email.
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, wasn’t as strident but clearly wasn’t pleased with the comment. “It’s difficult to dignify such childishness,” he said. “It doesn’t even deserve a condemnation.”
Al-Marayati said the comments were “beneath” the Muslim community, which wouldn’t come out strongly against them. But he wasn’t restrained in his opinion of Reeve.
“I’m sure the dog is more useful to the city than the city councilman [Reeve],” Al-Marayati said.
Mayor Sam Allevato said he was “frankly shocked” when he heard Reeve make the comment. Allevato said elected officials need to be held to a higher standard.
“I do not believe that comment does any good in the furtherance of good relations with members of the Muslim faith,” Allevato said. “We have to be mindful as the elected leaders of the city. What we speak from the dais reverberates throughout the community and throughout the organization.”
The remark will very likely be discussed at next week’s council meeting. Council members are scheduled to consider “free speech and the decorum of the City Council,” according to the meeting agenda.
Reeve could not be immediately reached for comment.
This isn’t the first time this year that a local city council member has made comments offensive to Muslims. Hundreds turned out at a Villa Park City Council meeting in March to protest comments made by Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, who called attendees at a Muslim charity event “enemies of America.”