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Imams brief congressman on trip to concentration camps to battle anti-Semitism
September 23rd, 2010
07:13 AM ET

Imams brief congressman on trip to concentration camps to battle anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (CNN) - An American imam took an eye-opening tour last month of the Dachau and Auschwitz death camps and said that what he saw was unfathomable - and undeniable.

"You see the ashes of people. You see the pictures. You walk the trail; you see the gas chambers," said Imam Muhamad Maged of the All-Dulles-Area Muslim Society in Virginia, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America.

"It is beyond imagination that somebody would do something like that."


Maged was one of a group of imams who went on the trip. And on Wednesday, they described their visit in a public briefing on Capitol Hill led by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota.

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 in Washington who is Jewish, led the weeklong trip. It was co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Bemporad's group, the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey.

The trip was designed to fight anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust, the Nazi attempt to exterminate world Jewry during World War II. It comes amid tensions in the West over Islam and hostility between Jews and Muslims over the problems in the Middle East.

"It occurred to me that the important thing was for them to go there and simply say, 'this is what the truth is.' Not a political statement, not a propaganda statement, not even necessarily a religious statement. It had to be a statement in a sense that bore witness to what was the truth," Bemporad said at the briefing.

"There is no way you can deny evidence of history when you have seen the actual hair, the shoes," he said referring to exhibits at Auschwitz that display hills of hair and shoes from the tens of thousands of Jews gassed there.

Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said she accompanied the imams because of her concern about what she said is the rise of Holocaust denial that has taken root in the Muslim world.

"Holocaust denial doesn't just feed anti-Semitism, it is anti-Semitism, and it is growing," she said.

Rosenthal monitors anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and she said the trip was so important for fighting those issues and raising awareness in the Muslim community in the United States.

"Sometimes the message is the most important thing. And sometimes it's the messenger," she said: Having Muslim leaders condemn anti-Semitism carried more weight than her own condemnation would.

As the imams, the rabbi and Rosenthal were in Europe, a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran, and demonstrators took to the streets in Manhattan to protest the building of an Islamic center so close to ground zero.

For Bemporad, the rhetoric around those two events and subsequent debates
was eerily familiar.

"The same patterns that I studied teaching Jewish history, with respect to anti-Semitism, are now occurring with respect to anti-Muslim," Bemporad said. "It's the same propaganda, it's the same character assassinations, it's the same dehumanization, it's the same de-contextualization. [Jews] have to be the ones, because of our history, have to stand up against what's happening to the Muslim community."

Ellison, who is a Muslim himself, said he traveled to Auschwitz as a college exchange student and said "that had a transformative effect on me," It was one of the main reasons he got involved with the group who took part in the briefing.

The lawmaker said the administration's response to the threats of Quran-burning was the right one.

"What they did was help maintain America's level of liberty and freedom, where nobody has to fear who they are based on whether they have a kufi on or hijab on or a yarmulke, whether you're a Mormon or a Hindu, you can still worship as you please. It's your business, and you don't have to fear."

Maged spoke about the importance in Islam to speak truth.

"One of the most dangerous things in Islam is to have a false testimony,
and when someone denies the Holocaust, they bear false testimony."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Faith Now • Interfaith issues • Islam • Judaism • Leaders • Persecution • Politics • Quran

soundoff (287 Responses)
  1. Wala

    parents are fundy whack-a-loons Which is why she reminds me so much of a lot of kids I went to colglee with. Their parents kept them on lockdown through high school and when they got to (a very strict, fundie) school they ran wild. I know this because I ran right along with them Home from the neuro, as I thought he really wants to stick needles in my neck. Actually a series of 3 which might work after only one, but maybe two or three. Or maybe not at all-impossible to say I told him I will keep doing the PT and if it gets worse I will think about doing the shots.

    May 19, 2012 at 5:28 am |
  2. citizen kane

    OUR FRIENDS
    The Catholic Church in Saudi Arabia is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome.
    According to data from the Catholic Web portal AsiaNews.it there are estimated to be more than 1 million Roman Catholics in Saudi Arabia, most of them Filipino workers without citizenship.[1] It is estimated that at least 5% of Saudi Arabia is Christian, though some of these people do not have permanent residence.
    Saudi Arabia allows Roman Catholics and Christians of other denominations to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, but does not allow them to practise their faith openly, and as a result Roman Catholics and Christians of other denominations generally only worship in secret within private homes[2]. Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited[3]. These include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols, and others[4].
    The Saudi Arabian Mutaween (Arabic: مطوعين), or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam[5]. Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy[6], a crime punishable by death (Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia) if the accused does not recant[7]. The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services[8].
    Public worship of non-Islamic religions is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and Christians of all denominations have been subjected to persecution for public preaching[9].
    However, there are some signs of more openness. Pope Benedict XVI and King Abdullah have begun negotiations on opening the first Catholic church in the Saudi Kingdom [

    October 4, 2010 at 3:25 am |
    • Frank

      But Saudi Arabia is a 'friend' of the US so they're allowed to do whatever they want. They don't stand in the way of our business interests so they are able to do what they want without impunity.

      October 4, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  3. citizen kane

    The Catholic Church in Saudi Arabia is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome.
    According to data from the Catholic Web portal AsiaNews.it there are estimated to be more than 1 million Roman Catholics in Saudi Arabia, most of them Filipino workers without citizenship.[1] It is estimated that at least 5% of Saudi Arabia is Christian, though some of these people do not have permanent residence.
    Saudi Arabia allows Roman Catholics and Christians of other denominations to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, but does not allow them to practise their faith openly, and as a result Roman Catholics and Christians of other denominations generally only worship in secret within private homes[2]. Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited[3]. These include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols, and others[4].
    The Saudi Arabian Mutaween (Arabic: مطوعين), or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam[5]. Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy[6], a crime punishable by death (Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia) if the accused does not recant[7]. The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services[8].
    Public worship of non-Islamic religions is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and Christians of all denominations have been subjected to persecution for public preaching[9].
    However, there are some signs of more openness. Pope Benedict XVI and King Abdullah have begun negotiations on opening the first Catholic church in the Saudi Kingdom [

    October 4, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  4. divine truth

    October 3, 2010 at 5:42 am |
  5. Frank

    Yay, more Holocaust propaganda to make us weep for the 'poor victimized Jews'. That was over 70 years ago! Most of weren't alive then! Let the dead rest and move on! Sure it was sad, but you have move on in order to heal. All peoples have been put through some pretty terrible stuff. The Jews are not special.
    In the meantime, how about we address 'Israel's' atrocities against the Palenstinian people and their Arab neighbors? That's happening here and now!

    October 3, 2010 at 2:57 am |
    • Frank

      *Most of us

      October 3, 2010 at 3:00 am |
    • Frank

      *Palestinian

      Whoa. Really botched that word.

      October 3, 2010 at 3:01 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.