A headline appearing in yesterday's Washington Post may have been interpreted to imply that sentiment expressed by one Islamic Center worshiper over the assassination of Anwar Sadat was the official position of the Washington mosque's leadership. The Islamic Center has taken no position, a spokesman said yesterday.
"Forgive me," said the pale and shaken Egyptian Embassy spokesman, Ahmed Nasr Said, yesterday as he stood beneath a portrait of assassinated president Anwar Sadat. "It is so very difficult to imagine what happened. Very difficult. Very difficult to believe . . . .
"We have lost a very great man, a man of peace beloved by his people and by all people."
Behind the locked, wooden door of the Egyptian press office at 1825 Connecticut Ave. and elsewhere in the Washington area, news of Sadat's assassination stunned those who heard it. Most, like Said, reacted with sadness -- including leaders of Washington's Jewish community who remember Sadat as a man of peace.
Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz of Adas Israel, the area's largest conservative synagogue, hailed Sadat for "cutting through the chaos that separated Israel from Egypt for centuries."
The rabbi said he met Sadat in Cairo last year and was deeply moved when the president declared that he was committed to peace with Israel "because enough mothers have been bereaved on both sides."
"Oct. 6 is the very anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War," Rabbi Rabinowitz said, noting yesterday's date. "Oct. 6, a sacred day in the Jewish calendar, has become a day of chaos and crisis again."
The National Association of Arab-Americans, in a statement issued from its Washington headquarters, described Sadat as a leader "who courageously sought peace in the Middle East by his dramatic journey to Jerusalem."
Ron Cathell, communications director, said that, while the 10,000-member group "certainly viewed him in a positive light, we recognize that Sadat is a very controversial figure. You will run into a lot of people who are pleased that Sadat is gone. He ruled in a very -- uh, I don't know how to characterize it -- a very strong way."
Mayor Marion Barry, in a statement, expressed "great respect for Sadat's courage, dignity and leadership" and said the assassination should remind political leaders they must redouble their efforts at achieving peaceful change instead of violence.
Some in the 10,000- to-15,000-member Egyptian-American community felt differently, however.
At the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue, scene of past divisive battles within the Moslem community, Ezzat Dak, 37, an Egyptian who runs a Pennsylvania Avenue tailor shop, was celebrating.
"Believe it or not, there are Egyptian people here who are happy he is gone," said Dak, who calls himself a former Sadat supporter. "I believe 60 percent of the Egyptian people here will celebrate that God takes him."
Standing before the stone columns of the Islamic Center mosque, Dak said he and other Egyptian friends supported Sadat's rapprochement with the Israelis and only turned against him "when he started to put people in jail."
Dak was referring to the Egyptian government's crackdown last month on leftist, rightist and religious opposition leaders. More than 1,500 persons were arrested, six publications banned and several foreign journalists expelled.