Last week, I participated in an historic trip with American Muslim Imams and community leaders to Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps, sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The purpose of the trip was to collectively bear witness to the still-open wounds from the Holocaust and to build new partnerships to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The trip included Jews, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, and was a bipartisan delegation.
I am proud to have met Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, Imam Muhamad Maged, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, Imam Suhaib Webb, Ms. Laila Muhammad, Shaikh Yasir Qadhi, Imam Syed Naqvi, and Imam Abdullah T. Antepli. We stood together bearing witness to the most sinister and evil chapter of history. We stood together bearing witness to the cruelty and hatred of a regime that, with countless willing executioners, built efficient killing factories. And we stood together bearing witness to unthinkable deeds of governments, while so many remained silent. This profound experience had a real impact on the American Muslim leaders, and experiencing it together bonded us as friends.
Most shocking to the group were the rooms full of actual possessions of the victims of the Holocaust, such as hair removed from women to sell for cloth makers after they were killed, or rooms full of suitcases, shoes, toothbrushes and combs, kitchen appliances, among so many other things. After walking through the gas chambers at Auschwitz, one Imam said, "No Muslim in his right mind, female or male, should deny the Holocaust. 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?" You cannot come out of the visit to the camps the same person you were when you entered.
I believe religious and community leaders have a special responsibility to educate their communities of the particular message of the Holocaust, namely of the importance of the Holocaust for all Jews, and to advance the universal message and lessons of the Holocaust, namely that such evil and darkness can only occur when people choose not to confront it.
In a statement issued at the close of the trip, the Muslim leaders strongly condemned Holocaust denial, Holocaust justification and anti-Semitism. The leaders affirmed that they would strive to fight all religious or ethnic intolerance or hatred. This statement was a significant and historic decision on the part of the American Muslims leaders, and I am hopeful that it is just the beginning of future dialogues and partnerships.