CNN's Joe Sterling filed this report:
Eight prominent U.S. Muslim leaders paid a visit to Nazi concentration camps in Europe and have issued a strong statement denouncing anti-Semitism, discrimination against Muslims and other forms of hatred.
The group visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex in Poland and Dachau in Germany in early August, and met with survivors of the Holocaust, the Nazi attempt last century to exterminate world Jewry. That onslaught that led to the deaths of around 6 million Jews, and millions of others, such as Poles and Roma, were massacred by the Nazis and their supporters during World War II.
Meant to build bridges between Muslims and Jews, the trip occurred during a time of raw hostility between those peoples in the Middle East and heated arguments in the United States over the plan to build an Islamic Center near the site of the World Trade Center attack.
And the Muslim leaders witnessed the European epicenters of the Holocaust at a time when Holocaust denial has taken root of the Muslim world.
In their recently issued joint statement, the Muslim leaders said they "witnessed firsthand the historical injustice of the Holocaust" and cited the Quran in their message: "In Islam, the destruction of one innocent life is like the destruction of the whole of humanity and the saving of one life is like the saving of the whole of humanity."
"We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity. With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth," the group said in a statement.
The eight visitors were:
- Imam Muzammil Siddiq of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California and chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America;
- Imam Muhamad Maged of the All-Dulles-Area Muslim Society, Dulles Virginia, and vice president of the Islamic Society of North America;
- Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Office of Interfaith & Community Services, Islamic Society of North America, Washington, D.C.;
- Imam Suhaib Webb, Muslim Community Association, Santa Clara, California;
- Ms. Laila Muhammad, daughter of the late Imam W.D. Muhammad, Chicago, Illinois;
- Shaikh Yasir Qadhi, dean of academics, Al Maghrib Institute, New Haven, Connecticut;
- Imam Syed Naqvi, director of the Islamic Information Center, Washington, D.C., and;
- Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, Muslim chaplain, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
"We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where over twelve million human souls perished, including six million Jews," the Muslim leaders said in their statement. "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.
"We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction. Together, we pledge to make real the commitment of "never again" and to stand united against injustice wherever it may be found in the world today," the statement said.
Rabbi Jack Bemporad, one of the trip's leaders who has long worked on interfaith projects, and Marshall Breger, a professor of law at the Catholic University of America lin Washington who is Jewish, led the trip, which was co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Bemporad's group, the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey
The Muslims' statement also mentions "righteous Muslims from Bosnia, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Albania " who rescued many Jewish people.
"We met survivors who, several decades later, vividly and bravely shared their horrific experience of discrimination, suffering, and loss. We saw the many chilling places where men, women and children were systematically and brutally murdered by the millions because of their faith, race, disability and political affiliation," the statement said.
Others on the trip were Suhail Khan, Institute for Global Engagement and former Muslim liaison for President George W. Bush, Rashid Hussein, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Hannah Rosenthal, President Barack Obama's special envoy to monitor anti-Semitism, and Nasreen Badat, a State Department official who focuses on international religious freedom issues.
The group toured the Dachau memorial with a former camp survivor, Max Mannheimer, as a guide. They also went to Poland where they toured the camps and met with survivors. They attended a reception, hosted by Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow Stanisław Dziwisz, and a dinner - which happened to be in honor of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan - with Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich.
"The thing that I found most meaningful [was] the openness the imams had. They were eager to look for themselves," Rabbi Bemporad said. "There wasn't a person there wasn't profoundly transformed by this experience."
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