“The experience was overwhelming”

Jeff Diamant of Religion News Service reports:

The scenario might have seemed unlikely: prominent Muslims and Jews from the United States, crossing the Atlantic in mournful, spiritual solidarity to visit two Nazi concentration camps. Together.

The trip to Dachau and Auschwitz was meant to combat the rise in Holocaust denial that has popped up in various Muslim and non-Muslim circles around the world — and online — in recent years.

“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 Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in Carlstadt, N.J., who organized the trip. “I feel that it was important to take Muslim leaders who have a really significant following in the American Muslim community.”

Some of the eight imams on the week-long trip, which ended Aug. 12, had worked with Jewish groups in interreligious dialogue. Only one of the eight, Yasir Qadhi of New Haven, Conn., academic dean for the AlMaghrib Institute, had been quoted in 2001 doubting the extent of the Holocaust, but he recanted long before the trip, saying his past views were based on misinformation.

On their return, the imams released a statement citing the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, among 12 million Holocaust deaths overall. It added, “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.” In interviews, the imams said the trip affected them deeply.

“The experience was overwhelming,” Qadhi said. “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.”
History aside, the trip — like all pilgrimages to concentration camps — was emotionally devastating, said Bemporad, the rabbi.

“It was painful,” he said. “One of the most painful things was to see these imams, all pretty intelligent and sophisticated, absolutely bawling like children. They couldn’t get over it, especially when they saw these children’s clothes and children’s shoes by the tonful. It was really poignant.”

Update: A commenter wrote:

I don’t deny there is a value in asking Muslims to visit the Death Camps but I’m not optinistic it will make the desired change in their opinions about Jews. I believe that to acknowledge the scale of The Holocaust in some parts of the Muslim Community will lead to ridicule and marginalisation of some of the attendees. The problem of radicalisation and hatred goes deep in some places.

Look, not all efforts at Jewish-Muslim reconciliation and understanding work, and clearly the obstacles are sometimes enormous. But it seems to me you can either write off all the efforts as naive or too little or doomed to failure and dig yourself deeper into your own trench; or you can try, possibly against the odds, to do something positive, as did the Muslims and Jews who visited the death camps together. Who knows what will change some hearts? And aren’t even small successes worth fighting for?

Adlai Stevenson said on the death of Eleanor Roosevelt, “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.” I think that’s a good way to live your life, even if sometimes the candle gives off only a tiny flicker of light. When it comes to matters like this, too many people are not only satisfied to curse the darkness; they practically wallow in cursing it.