American Muslim Leaders Visit Nazi Concentration Camps

Muslim delegates engaged in their afternoon prayers before the main monument at Dachau. PHOTO: A.J. GOLDMANN

A group of Muslims praying outside a concentration camp; such a sight stopped passer-byers in their tracks. Earlier this month, a delegation of prominent US Muslims and Jews visited camps in Dachauin, Germany and Auschwitz, Poland. The eight Muslim participants represented America’s diverse community including Arab, South Asian, African-American, Caucasian, Sunni and Shiite. Never before has such an interfaith effort been documented, some called these events historic, while participants simply called it ‘transformative.’

The special delegation was organized to combat the recent rise of holocaust denial seen amongst Muslim and non-Muslim circles. "The best way to convince someone about the truth of something is to let them see it for themselves and experience it for themselves," said Rabbi Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in Carlstadt. "It was important to take Muslim leaders who have a really significant following in the Muslim-American community."

The trip was organized by an Orthodox Jew, Marshall Bregger and a reform clergyman, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, as well as attended by Hannah Rosenthal – a member of President Obama’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Many of Rosenthal’s family members died at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. The imams “were totally aware that they were visiting my family cemetery, and they were very loving about it,” Rosenthal said.

Upon their return, a statement was released by the eight imam participants, acknowledging the six million Jewish deaths, among 12 million Holocaust deaths overall. "We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics."

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi of Connecticut was one of several participants who found the experience overwhelming. "It was a very moving experience for all of us imams, in particular myself. I had never seen anything like this. I was just overwhelmed throughout the entire trip. I was just overwhelmed at the sheer inhumanity of it. I could not comprehend how such evil could be unleashed." Laila Mohammed, daughter of the late Imam W.D. Muhammad, was quoted as saying “I felt the same thing I feel when I leave a janazah, a funeral, of someone who is in our family. I felt like I had just witnessed the loss of my family.”

Before this trip, most Muslim participants had known very little about the Holocaust, but were interested to learn more, and to personally see the reality of the historical tragedy. Although some of the Imams have previously worked alongside Jews in various inter-religious dialogue projects.

On the first night of Ramadan, the imams met with the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Krakow and the chief rabbi of Poland, who hosted them for dinner at a Turkish mosque in Munich. Trip organizers hope to coordinate similar interfaith delegations in the future.

                                Vanessa Gomez Brake

Vanessa is a conflict analyst, interfaith-er and nonprofit professional.