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: Interfaith issues • Islam • Judaism • Leaders • Persecution • Politics • Quran

soundoff (287 Responses)
  1. JC

    Iqbal khan:

    That's an interesting statement, given the fact that Muhammad wasn't born until a lot later. Ever hear of Zoraster? His was the state religion of most of the Iranians, etc. from about 500 BCE, until it was pushed out by Islam in the 7th century. What religion were the prophets, again? And that makes you a likely candidate for troll-hood, my ignorant little friend.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  2. oda155

    Hmmm… now if we can only get more white folks in this country to visit some of the historical locations in Africa and here in this country so that they can feel the true impact of slavery and what cost an entire race of people and what it costs us still to this day… and I’m not asking for any thing from you… I just want you to see and try to understand.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  3. antonieta zacarias

    Dear muslims and Jews friends : I hope one day we will be all in peace, sitting in the same table. I am a catholic, my grandpa was Lebanese ( muslim) and my other grandpa was President of my country and he allowed a ship full of Jews to enter my country during the WWII. I see both of you as brothers. One Day we will be able to leave in peace together.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  4. Drake

    To Iqbal Khan- Check your spelling Mr Muslim, I think you meant prophets unless you mean making money. And quit trying to claim the history of Judaism and Christianity for your own. None of the biblical prophets had any connection to your pathetic excuse of a religion. Just because you say they did does not make it so. This nonsense was started by a delusional, warmongering pedophile and now over 1 billion people are enslaved by it. Keep believing in that satanical false faith if you want, just stoip bothering the rest of us.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  5. BF

    Is it me or does this guy look like uncle Phil off of Fresh Prince of Bel Air

    September 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
    • Ray

      LOL, I have been a member of the ADAMS Center my whole life. I see Imam Maged and converse with him on a weekly basis and that is the first time anyone has ever said that. He totally looks like Uncle Phil!!

      September 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Chaden

    I am a Christian (Roman Catholic) and I have one thing to say about this post. I am incredibly happy and overwhelmed to see an Imam speaking out about an undeniable truth, which is the Holocaust. I commend you Imam Muhamad Maged of the All-Dulles-Area Muslim Society in Virginia, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America. You have gained a lot of respect from me, and i only wish more people like you existed; strong leaders who will voice out their views and opinions for the greater good of humanity. Every faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, etc...should aspire to make this world a place of peace, tolerance and love for fellow human beings regardless of religion, race or gender. We are all equal in the eyes of God (Allah), and to spill blood in the name of God (religion) is evil and will not go unpunished (whether in this world or the next). All religions can learn a great deal about this man, and how he's working hard to bring more understanding, tolerance and respect between each religion. I applaud you sir...well done!!!

    September 23, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  7. labandme

    Yeah, stoning women is much more humane than gassing them. He's just another muslim leader pretending to be human.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Thom

    Any chance of getting Ahmadinejad booked for this tour?

    September 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • Sulu

      you think he does not know the truth...he obviously does. But he is against the zionist movement than any other.

      September 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  9. GflDed

    While other people suffered in the in WWII, the Romani in greater proportion that Jews, the event wiped out a culture. It wasn't just Jewish people, it was Synagogues, Jewish libraries, and other cultural centers. It wasn't just the Germans, there was plenty of help. Zionism can be justified because the people of Europe and around the world proved the really didn't care what the Germans were doing. Besides a few heroic individuals, no nation lifted a finger to save the Jews. Saying the Jews could go back to Poland or Soviet Russia or even France after the war is a complete lack of understanding of the Jewish situation in the world. Israel can't justify all of its actions, but Israel can certainly justify is existence.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Miranda

      Read about the Danes, before you say "No Nation." They successfully saved 99% of their Jewish population by evacuating them to neutral countries. Furthermore, the non-Jewish neighbors maintained homes and businesses for their Jewish friends, so that they would have homes to which to return.

      September 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Jubu

      Re Jews saved from the Holocaust by compatriots:
      Taking nothing away from the Danes, there were fewer than 10K Jews in WW2 Denmark to save, & in a national effort that extended from local Communist Party to the royal family, Danish fishermen took all but a few hundred to neutral Sweden over a couple of nights in 1942 (I think). Meanwhile, Bulgaria had about 80,000 prewar Jews &, in another combined national effort–this one led by members of a right wing government & the local Orthodox Church–managed to save (if I remember correctly) more than 80% of them. Moreover, the story was almost unknown in the US until about a decade ago & is apparently still less well known than many more unhappy facts.

      September 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  10. Iqbal khan


    September 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • Tsshhh

      It's hilarious that the Spanish, French and Dutch are called the Americans before America existed. What a freak.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
    • Larry

      Iqbal Khan. You certainly take liberties with facts and numbers. The estimated number of native americans at the time of the arrival of the europeans is somewhere between 10 and 50 million. You said the europeans killed 89 million. Us, there weren't that many there. Plus, the vast majority of them were killed by disease, not by murder. The destruction of native american cultures was a horrible thing, but let's at least get some of the facts straight. Most of the rest of your crazy ramblings were also either not true or exaggerated.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
    • tim

      Never let facts get in the way of a good story, eh? According to him, the entire population of the planet was wiped out, long ago. What an ignorant clown.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:23 am |
    • Frogist

      @Tshhh: Well it depends on how you define "America". If you consider that the name of the continent, America (North, Central and South) came about because of Amerigo Vespucci, then the idea that the people who came over as settlers ie the french, spanish and dutch as americans would not be incorrect.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  11. Iqbal khan

    Can some body refresh the historical facts What were the reasons that made Hitler do what he did to the Jews?

    September 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • g

      The "reasons" were sick perverted twisted hatred. That's the historical fact.

      September 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Miranda

      Because political power is easiest to attain when you can find a common enemy to fight....Hitler had the Jewish people, Nero had the Christians, McCarthy the Communists....it's common political tool.

      He was playing on already present anti-Jewish sentiment. Not unlike the blanket statements made about Islam....and the anti-Muslim sentiment...

      September 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  12. Stiff

    Plain and simple....humans suck.

    September 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  13. tulsa4U

    Why do muslims wanna come to the USA so much if it is so evil. Oh, thats right, they want to take over our culture and impose shari law. I say, you all stay over there and we'll stay over here.

    September 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • Frogist

      @tulsa4U: your grasp of immigration and international relations as well as religion is lacking. If you want to know the answer to your question how about you ask a muslim person.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  14. Amelia

    This is a disgusting self-promotion. This piece of trash preaches a religion whose holy book says Jews are pigs, thieves, and should all be killed. Auschwitz is his utopia.

    September 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Amelia: Your ignorance and hatred is just... vintage!

      September 24, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  15. Next?

    IIranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be forced to take the tour as well.
    I wonder if he would still claim it never happened after touring of these sites?

    September 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • msaprilr

      He would. He's nuts.

      September 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  16. Steve

    Muslims had taken other communites hostages, the Buddist had been pushed to China from Afghanistan, the Hindus in Bangladesh had been forced into islam or had to leave their homeland and move to India, same in Pakistan, Muslims forced Hindus, Sikhs and Christans to leave pakistan so face the Sharia. They prosecute everyone else, now everyone else is try to put them on the chopping block, followers of islam is going to multiply faster, and others had to compromise, return the lands to the Buddist in Afghanistan, return the land to the Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan, we will ask Israel to leave the west bank, gaza etc. Otherwise the war should go own, and I am happy if the IDF is slaughtering the terror network in Palestine.

    September 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • JFairweather

      You are talking about people, not a religion.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Steve: You are happy when people are slaughtered? Really?

      September 24, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  17. Kermit Roosevelt

    This is a great start.

    September 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  18. jt8018

    Notice how they never mentioned anything about Christians being discriminated against?
    Only Muslims & Jews

    September 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • Eliya Liron

      When were Christians discriminated against? When Constintine forced everyone in his kingdom to become Christians or die? When the Church burned Jews? When the Church burned Protestants? When Protestants burned Catholics? When the Inquisition developed new horrible ways to torture people they believed to be heretics, or those that wouldn't convert from Islam or Judiasm? When Christian countries kicked out all of the Jews and sent them to other countries where they were eventually kicked out or killed as well? When Christian sects that fled England for the New World for religious freedom burned "witches" at the stake? When Catholic priests molested children? When Jim Baker, Jerry Falwell and numerous other "moral majority" leaders were caught embezelling funds and sleeping around on their wives? Tell me, when were Christians, who have dominated Western civilization since around 500 CE, ever been discriminated against?

      September 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
    • Next?

      You have to ask? Methinks you must have flunked History in school. Do you not ever recall hearing about the Romans throwing Christians to the lions in the arena. To me that sounds as horrible as the Jews being sent into the showers – maybe more so. The Jews didn't have any idea what was in store for them whereas the Chrisitans could see what was happening to their friends before being a lions next meal themselves. I think you can count that as discrimination.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • tim

      NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

      September 24, 2010 at 5:53 am |
    • Frogist

      @jt8018: This was a visit by muslim Imams with Jewish support to talk about the Holocaust to create understanding between the two. Why should they mention Christians at all?

      @tim: Oh no NOT the comfy chair!

      September 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Nunya

    I can't beleive they are comparing the Muslim situation to the Jewish situation in WW2. Tell me, was there an occasion in recent history in which a a group of Jews murdered thousands of other people and then the majority of the rest of the Jews around the world celebrated it? Newspapers have published cartoons of Jews for decades but won't publish one dipicting mohamed. Why is that? Why can't I say I beleive mohomed was a pedophile if that's what I beleive? CNN probably won't even post this because I said that...

    September 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Mojonaamdi

      When the Jews were kicked out by Christians in Spain, they went to the only place and people who would accept the... the Muslim countries. To this day, the Jews in Turkey still commemorate the blessed day the Turks welcomed them.
      When America declared it's independence from Britain, it was a Muslim country – Morocco, that was the 1st to recognize the new independent United States of America. Look up the golden age of the Jews and you will find that the Jewish people and culture golden age was when they lived under the Muslim rulers in Spain.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Nunya: I think there might be a bit of a cultural misunderstanding in your post. Muslims almost never depict Mohammed in an image. This is a tradition that comes from the Islamic belief that muslims should not take part in idolatry. So someone making a cartoon of Mohammed can be considered extremely disrespectful to this tradition that goes back centuries. There is no corresponding tradition in judaism or the west that says depicting jews as images is not ok.
      As for saying Mohammed was a pedophile... No one is preventing you from speaking what you think. But you must consider the impact of your words. You must ask why you want to say that. Is it because you are curious or that you want to inflict hurt. If someone said to you, "Your mother is a wh0re." You might take that very personally, even if she was a s-ex worker. Especially if the words are meant to hurt you. But even if someone says it to discuss the safety of women in the s-ex trade in a round table discussion, it still might be very hurtful even if the intentions may not have been to hurt you. Words have power and we must use that power wisely.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  20. Bender

    Not only jewish people were in concentration camps. Why di we forget millions other victims?

    September 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Phil

      The fact that there were an equal number of Poles and Roma killed by the Nazis is never mentioned, is intentional. If people knew that Hitler didn;t just pick on the Jews, it would water down their message. I've been to the Simon Wiesenthal center in LA, there is ZERO mention of the others that were killed. Shame on them.

      September 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • JFairweather

      The Nazis also wiped out almost the entire european Baha'i community. leaving only a few dozen alive. And there were the the Roma, gays, people with physical deformities and mental issues, and they executed Polish military officers en masse.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.