Muslim clerics reach out with tolerance on trip to Jewish holocaust sites

Lys Anzia – WNN Religion & Belief

Gate at the Dacau Concentration Camp
A gate at the Nazi German prison complex in the modern day Dachau Concentration Camp says “Arbeit Macht Freit” (Work and power makes you free). This and other sites of Jewish atrocity were part of a special convoy tour for religious understanding as a selected group of Muslim imams, along with scholars, activists and religious laypersons, traveled together to Poland and Germany in May 2013. Image: TripAdvisor

(WNN) Krakow, POLAND, EASTERN EUROPE: As global Muslim religious leaders, along with Islamic scholars, activists and laypersons traveled to Europe in May 2013 to see the plight of the Jews during what history has outlined as the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s, their trip was not an easy one for all participants. Travel visas for some, especially one Palestinian professor in particular, who had decided to join the group met with problems as he tried to reach his final destination inside the region of Europe where the Jewish holocaust raged during World War II.

Without formal recognition or papers in Israel, Palestinian Israeli Assistant Professor Barakat Fawzi Hasan is considered ‘stateless’ and ‘unauthorized’ to travel by the Israeli government. Because of this he was not allowed to travel through the Ben Gurion International Airport on his way to join the imams, some from U.S., who gathered together to honor Jews who died during the days of suffering in the Holocaust. But Hasan’s will to join the imams visiting the Jewish prison at Auschwitz Birkenau and other sites, pushed him forward as he traveled an alternate route to meet the others.

“When you see human beings being kept like animals, what can you say about this?” said American imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of Northern America, while news network AFP news filmed the imam’s trip to the Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp. “Other than that, human being[s] have to learn that we cannot accept dehumanization and prejudice and hatred and grudge against one another,” imam Magid added.

As an interfaith tour funded in part by the U.S. Department of State, along with faith and tolerance activist and businessman S.A. Ibrahim and others, the goal to bring what at times has been opposing forces into the same room came with its rewards as well as its challenges, said some of those involved with the trip.

The fact is, not everyone welcomed the immans on the trip.

Set to visit and tour the Orthodox Jewish Ohel Jakob synagogue in Munich, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, 80-year-0ld Charlotte Knoblach who is a strong supporter of Israel’s policy in the Middle East, was awkwardly unable to meet with the imams as they hoped she could give them a personal tour of the synagogue while they visited.

“In the city that was once Hitler’s ideological stronghold, Knobloch’s refusal to engage seemed particularly a missed opportunity,” outlined A.J. Goldmann, a reporter and correspondent for the Jewish Daily Forward who followed the group as they traveled.

“I’ve unpacked my bags,” said Knoblach, a staunch and long-time supporter of Jewish identity and history, during the inaugural ceremony at the Ohel Jakob synagogue during a public speech she made upon the completion of the synagogue after two years of construction from 2004 to 2006.

Even though the meeting would have been ground-breaking for the largest Orthodox synagogue in Munich, the U.S. sponsored delegation of Islamic religious leaders took what was an obvious and missed opportunity in stride.

As the clerics and their associates toured other Muslim religious sites during their trip, including the famous, tolerant and liberal Penzberg mosque, which is just south of Munich, they worked as much as possible during their trip to bring the goal of religious unity to everyone they encountered.

Understanding, tolerance and acceptance was a key ingredient in their discussions and their presence.

Co-sponsor of the trip, S.A. Ibrahim sees interfaith tolerance as one of the most important issues of our day that continues to affect both the religious and the secular. He sees understanding each other as a key to peace and a better world.

“I am very encouraged by the number of people I run into who are like-minded. I have a friend who’s a rabbi whose board I also serve on in New York, who is a great scholar, and he finds parallels between different faiths. And one of his favorite characters from the Bible is Job and the trials of Job. I had talked to him one week about the trials of Job, and another week, during the month of Ramadan, I happened to be in a mosque in California, and the imam was giving a sermon on Job. And I said, you know, how similar can this be?” outlined Ibrahim in a Spring 2013 interview with Wharton Magazine at University of Pennsylvania. “I’m very encouraged as we discover more in common and as we, at the same time, discredit the extremists,” he continued.

Seeing atrocity up-close isn’t easy. Once the imams and the associates traveling with them arrived in the region, the images of genocide, atrocity and obvious torments against the Jews who were incarcerated in concentration camps became clear. In what historians have coined,”a living hell,” the clerics stood together mouthing the words of the Janazah, an Islamic prayer honoring the dead, for those who died in the crematorium as they reached another part of their journey in Germany at the historic prison at Dachau.

The Dachau prison is only 25 minutes by train from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof Station. Opening in 1965, the Dachau Concentration Camp and museum has brought together eye-witness reports, as well as survivor and post-war trial records. Being there in person can be overwhelming, as the destructiveness of hatred can clearly be seen.

“…since the beginning of humankind, hate has been around,” said Ira N. Forman, who was Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the Washington D.C. American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum on June 4, 2013.

Forman was also part of the group traveling with the imams who toured Germany and Poland. During the trip Forman came away from his experience intrinsically inspired that the world can come together regardless of its challenging separations.

“But since then too, good people of all faiths and backgrounds have striven to combat it. It is our mission to confront those who practice hate and to engage and strengthen those who promote tolerance,” said Forum in his statement before the AJC Global Forum.

Outlining what one of the Palestinian imams said in a one-on-one conversation during Forman’s trip to Germany and Poland he quoted the imam saying: “For me Auschwitz means a difficult situation. It means collectively punishing. It means genocidal killing of civilian people…children, women, without any reason. This is what it means for me. It means evil things, a terrible past, and at the same time, it means hope. Why hope? Because the people here in Europe, with what they have faced in the past, they have overcome the discrimination, all the terrible things. And now they live with peace…with safety. This means we can, in the Holy Land, do the same thing. We can overcome our conflict, our wars, our people who were killed, and we can talk together to reach a peace.”


Sources for some of the information in this story have come from journalist A. J. Goldmann at the Jewish Daily Forward.


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