Of the more than 6 million Jews and millions of other victims killed during the Holocaust, in total 1.1 million lost their lives at Auschwitz during the Second World War.
On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the former Nazi German death camp in Poland, a high-level interfaith delegation visited the place, led Dr. Mohammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL). The delegation comprised 62 Muslims, including 25 prominent religious leaders, from some 28 countries.
The interfaith visit also included the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), David Harris. “Our 21st century challenge at AJC is to write a new chapter between the Muslim and Jewish peoples,” said Harris. “There are those who want to keep us divided. We will not let them win. It’s about nothing less than defining the future of the world in which we want to live.” The AJC delegation included members of the organization, among them some children of Holocaust survivors.
The visit by the interfaith Jewish and Muslim delegation from the MWL and the AJC was agreed to in April 2019. In total, a year and a half of negotiations were needed behind the scenes before the visit was secured. The visit took place as part of events commemorating 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the World War II death camp where the Nazis killed more than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews. Over six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust.
“The delegation affirms the messages of the Muslim World League against violence, hatred, and extremism,” the group said in a statement. Speaking to Al Arabiya during the visit, Sheikh Al-Issa said, “We are advocates for peace. We believe in peace. This high-level delegation of Muslim scholars from different countries and from different sects has come to say that our religion is one of peace, one of mercy and one which fights evil”.
Of the more than 6 million Jews and millions of other victims killed during the Holocaust, in total 1.1 million lost their lives at Auschwitz during the Second World War. The death camp was built and operated by the Nazis during the German occupation of Poland. Since it was liberated by the allies in 1945 the death camp, where the vast majority of those killed were European Jews, has been hallowed ground. Recently, during events across the globe for the 75th anniversary of that liberation, it was also a place of prayer for Muslims mourning the carnage of the Nazi genocide. This most senior delegation of Muslim leaders ever to visit Auschwitz held prayers at the concentration camp. Before he led the prayers, Sheikh Al-Issa said that his group, which included both Sunni and Shia clerics, stood vehemently against the crimes perpetrated at Auschwitz. “We came to say that the Islamic religion deplores these crimes,” he said. “This visit is important, it expresses the Islamic feeling towards these crimes, these racial, genocidal crimes”. “Islam doesn’t have double standard, as it stands with justice against any crime that violates the sanctity of humankind,” he said. “This high-level delegation of Muslim scholars has come to say that our religion is one of peace, one of mercy, and one which fights evil,” Sheikh Al-Issa, who served as Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Justice until 2015, said during the visit.
The day following the visit to Auschwitz, a Friday, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, the interfaith delegation celebrated the life of their respective religious cultures in Poland. Jews and Muslims prayed together at Jummah prayers at the Tatarska Street Mosque by the Tartar cemetery in the north west of Warsaw. The sermon there called for understanding between neighbours. The Muslim community in Poland is centuries old. The grave stones to Tartar officers in the cemetery, written in Cyrillic and Arabic, date back to the 19th century.
After Muslim prayers the delegation went to Warsaw’s only remaining pre-war synagogue, the Nozyk Synagogue in the centre of the Polish capital, before a Friday Shabbat service. The Jewish temple stood in what was the Warsaw Ghetto, where nearly half a million Jews were imprisoned during World War Two. Most held there were sent to the gas chambers, killed during the ghetto uprising or died of starvation.
The day concluded with a Shabbat dinner, held at Warsaw’s Royal Palace. The Speaker of the Polish Senate, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz, and members of the Polish Catholic clergy were in attendance.
Following his visit to the extermination camps, Sheikh Al-Issa said, Sheikh al-Issa said”We condemn the horrific acts that took place at Auschwitz against the Jews. It is a stain on humanity”. “The evidence we saw yesterday shook us all. It was so painful for me looking at human hair, at children’s shoes, at so much more evidence of the atrocity.”
Sheikh Al-Issa, who became the most senior Muslim leader in history to visit Auschwitz, said “Islamic values” prompted him to make the trip and that he “would oppose anyone who denies” the Holocaust. Emphasizing that Muslims and Jews have much in common, he added, “Even if we could act on 10 percent of the commonality, it would help bring peace to the world.” “The meetings today and yesterday should send a strong message about our cooperation against those who twist the word of G-d to generate hate towards others, towards humanity,” Sheikh Al-Issa said.