A group of American Muslim leaders made a first-of-its-kind visit to Nazi concentration camps this week, prompting tears from at least one of them.
Eight imams made a three-day trip Dachau and Auschwitz this week, co-sponsored by a German think tank and the New Jersey-based Center for Interreligious Understanding, and strongly supported by the United States government.
The trip, as reported in the Jewish Forward, was the brainchild of law professor Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew and former senior official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Breger said, “There is a view that there is growing anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, reinforced by people like President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, that there is growing Holocaust denial in the Muslim world. In light of that, the idea was to offer education to those who might not have the kind of knowledge that we’ve had about World War II and the Jewish community, and to do this in a public way.”
The imams prayed at Dachau, with a concluding prayer by Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California: “We pray to G-d that this will not happen to the Jewish people or to any people anymore.”
Suhaib Webb, an imam from Santa Clara in the Bay Area, grew up in a white Christian household in Oklahoma and later converted to Islam. Walking around Auschwitz with tears in his eyes, he said, “It was far worse than I imagined.”
“No Muslim in his right mind, female or male, should deny the Holocaust,” said Mohamed Magid, imam and executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. “When you walk the walk of the people who have been taken to be gassed, to be killed, how can a person deny physical evidence, something that’s beyond doubt?”
Just a few days earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad reiterated his claim that the Jews "made up" the "so-called Holocaust."
The delegates’ level of knowledge about the Holocaust prior to the trip seemed to be fairly low, the Forward reported. When they met with Max Mannheimer, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, they appeared to particularly affected by seeing the number the Nazis had tattooed on his arm, and asked many questions.
The delegation’s youngest member was Yasir Qadhi, 35, dean of academics at Al Maghrib Institute, in New Haven, Conn. Qadhi has since recanted, both vocally and in print, his Holocaust-denial claims, explaining that he had been ignorant and exposed to materials such as the anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” “That’s why I was very happy to come on this trip,” he said, “because I wanted to see for myself how wrong I was.”
Breger told the Forward, “These imams all have significant constituents in American Muslim communities as recognized legal scholars, people with mega-mosques, people with radio shows, people on the web, people who reach out to youth.” He said that the Jewish community, in contrast, often looks to engage with Muslims who meet specified criteria but do not have large constituencies.