The greatest reform in the Arab world came last week a delegation of Muslim religious leaders visited Auschwitz days ahead of the 75th anniversary of its liberation.
Twenty-five Muslim faith leaders were guided by Saudi Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa, in a joint initiative between the Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Issa is a senior Saudi religious leader and secretary general of the Muslim World League.
In April 2019, Issa and AJC chairman David Harris signed a memorandum of understanding toward “the commitment of the two global institutions to further Muslim-Jewish understanding and cooperate against racism and extremism in all its forms.”
In the historic first visit, the leaders prayed together and visited the camp, learning of the horrors and atrocities committed against the Jewish people during World War II.
Despite the criticism Muslims and non-Muslims alike may have against the Muslim World League or the Saudi religious leadership, the visit is a seismic shift in defining a new Middle East reality — one that isn’t seeped in both denial and conspiracy theories against Jews.
Growing up (and even until today) I witnessed off-the-cuff remarks from certain Muslim family members about how the Jews had manufactured the Holocaust. Within the same breath, these family members would applaud Hitler for his horrific death camps.
As new sitcoms about the realities of Muslim life (like Ramy) rise to popularity, they accurately paint the same picture. These comments are made in passing and swept into the conversation.
By the time most of us have processed what has been said, the conversation has moved on. And these comments almost always came from the older generation and in a culture where it is understood that elders are not to be challenged.
As someone who has violated that cultural norm and challenged my elders often, I also know there is nothing I can say to change the mindset of that generation or even the next generation that follows in their footsteps.
As in any religion, there is a percentage of the population that will always defer to religious authority. There is also a percentage of the population that will always defer to men with beards and robes.
And that’s fine, as long as the message that is communicated by these people is the one of religious leaders acknowledging the brutality committed against the Jewish people. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who does the job as long as the job gets done.
Moving forward, it’s going to be more difficult for Jew-hating Muslims to justify throwing hateful underhanded comments. When it inevitably does happen, someone like myself doesn’t have to engage in an ideological battle; we can simply point to this historic visit as a reference point of a new Muslim reality, one where compassion supersedes paranoia and mistrust against our brothers in faith.