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. Justina

    This article is at a loss. Everyone on earth should care about the plight of non-Muslims in the Islamic nations, not the Muslims in the free West, because the suffering of non-Muslims at the hands of Muslims in the Muslim-majority areas is like that of Jews under Nazis. Muslims should be thankful they can exercise their religion in the West while their own nations are slaughtering non-Muslims.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:22 am |
  2. abdulameer

    The fact that these religious Moslems acknowledge the historical fact of the Holocaust means nothing. They still support Hamas and Hezbollah and the destruction of Israel. They still follow all of the passages in the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad which call for hatred and killing of Jews. For example, the Hamas Charter contains this notorious statement by Muhammad:
    - Allah's Apostle said, "You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, 'O 'Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.' "
    This call to genocide of the Jews is considered sacred holy writ by Keith Ellison and all the imams.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:23 am |
  3. frak

    This imam was probably taking notes and admiring the Nazis for their actions. It's exactly what the world's Muslims want to do to all people of other religions...exterminate them in the name of Allah.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:18 am |
  4. Faiza

    I am an american muslim and I believe in the Holocaust- that it happened without a shadow of doubt. people here say why dont the arabs and other muslims all over there believe as well – because it wasnt really taught in their curriculum- they focused mainly on thier own history while e have focused on the whole of western history. my parents who were from Pakistan were taught Islamic history and history of Mughal empires and that whole jazz, not really european history (explains for itself why)- to them it was never relevant. I had to teach my parents the holocaust and they believe as well. to those muslims who deny, its mainly due to the politics of mideast that inevitbliy turns to a religion problems. and to those who ask why we never condemn, we do (DUH!!) but its never really news worthy- neverr underestimate the power of media . Obviously if we are to live in this world we cant isolate ourselves- thats not what Islam wants-My religions teaches me to live peacefully, coexist, love for all hatred for none. that is the Islam i was raised on- not violent stupidity that seems to capture all of your imaginations.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:01 am |
    • Frogist

      @Faiza: I am surprised that European history isn't taught in schools. I had never heard that before. Do you mean secondary schools or colleges? I can understand focusing on the history of your region, that is what we did in my school to, but we also had world history. Unfortunately our world history never taught us much about the eastern world. So India, Pakistan, China, Middle East... those subjects weren't given much time. That could explain quite a bit of the misunderstanding between the east and west if the history of either side was mostly absent from schools.
      Also I agree with you that we have to learn to coexist somehow despite everything.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  5. Arab Muslim

    So what is it exactly we are supposed to do with this dramatic event !!!?
    Recognise Israel and Jews have the right to revenge their haulocost from Muslems in Ghaza ?
    Muslims haven't done Jews or anybody else no haulocost!!! So why are we being punnished!?
    It is silly to shed teers over things that are history and you can't change whilest you let what you can change pass by!
    Nobody can reverse time to stop Nazzis from what they have sone to Jews and other nations, but one can sure do something about what is happening to Paletinians now!! Right no Ghaza is under siege dearest Imam, what are you doing about it ? Why don't you go there and see the more recent ashes!?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • Frogist

      @Arab Muslim: What we do with this event is recognise that both sides of the conflict can see something of importance to the other side. If muslims can see the atrocities done to jews, then jews can see the atrocities done to muslims. It's a start. A small one, but one that can be supported nevertheless. And a step towards figuring out what to do in the present. The past has lessons for us so that we don't repeat the history. It's an important step.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  6. Michael

    The best way to get Muslims and particullary Arabs to stop denying the Holocust is to ask the Israeli government to stop oppressing the Palestinian People. As long as Israel's continues to occupy Palestine adn deprive them from their humna rights , All Arabs both muslims and christian would continue to deny the holocoust.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  7. Reality

    Only for Muslims who have not seen:

    The Five Step Method to Deprogram/"Deflaw" 1400 years of Islamic Brainwashing-

    Are you ready?

    o Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs/tenets.

    Background Biography

    Al-Baihaqi was a scholar of fiqh, of the Shafi'i school of thought as well as hadith. He studied fiqh from Abu al-Fath Nasir ibn al-Husayn ibn Muhammad al-Naysaburi, among others. He also studied hadith from Hakim al-Nishaburi and was his foremost pupil, among others in that subject as well. He died in 1066 CE.


    Imam Bayhaqi was a prominent author in his time, having authored more than one thousand volumes according to Al-Dhahabi[3]. Among the most well-known books authored by him are:

    Al-Sunan al-Kubra, commonly known as Sunan al-Bayhaqi
    Ma`arifa al-Sunan wa al-Athar
    Bayan Khata Man Akhta`a `Ala al-Shafi`i (The Exposition of the Error of Those who have Attributed Error to al-Shafi`i)
    Al-Mabsut, a book on Shafi`i Law
    Al-Asma' wa al-Sifat (The Divine Names and Attributes)
    Al-I`tiqad `ala Madhhab al-Salaf Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a
    Dala'il al-Nubuwwah (The Signs of Prophethood)
    Shu`ab al-Iman (The branches of faith)
    Al-Da`awat al-Kabir (The Major Book of Supplications)
    Al-Zuhd al-Kabir (The Major Book of Asceticism)

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave attended to by his wives before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Accept these five "cleansers" and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Similar programs are available for deprogramming Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Pagans.

    September 23, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  8. Robert

    Ellison 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...".

    How is it that telling the "Pastor" it would be a bad idea to burn the Qur'an because it would upset Muslims, rather than supporting his right to burn the Qur'an regardless of how misguided it might be, help "maintain American's level of liberty and freedom"?

    September 23, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Robert: No one forced his hand to stop him burning a Quran. No one threw him in jail for threatening to do so. No one infringed on his freedom of speech. When you ask someone to please not do something offensive and possibly dangerous to others you are not infringing on someone's freedom of speech. You are appealing for common decency. Freedom of speech does not occur in a vacuum. Yes, he had the right to but it was misguided, downright rude and intentionally provocative with absolutely no redeeming factors. If your neighbour is threatening to kill your dog if you keep making your dog poop on his lawn, yet you keep making your dog poop on his lawn, then you can't be surprised when your dog gets killed. Does that make the neighbour right? No. Does that make you negligent and stupid. Yes. You can expect them to support you going to the authorities. But you can't expect anyone to support you intentionally provoking your neighbour.
      I would have liked that instead of framing the Quran burning as "Don't do it because of the terrorists," but framed as rude and uncivilized. But that is another discussion altogether.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  9. Drew

    I actually heard this Imam speak in person last weekend. Charming man. Sadly, I don't think that any amount of sensible talk from the middle of any conflict will do anything to move the extremists on either side. When moderate religious folks speak of possibilities for understanding and peace, the only people who hear them are those who agree already. The people who really need to hear it wouldn't be listening in the first place.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  10. Rhonda

    "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." We do have to fear a religion that wants to take over the world. Islam does not want religious freedom for everyone, their long term goal is to force Islam on the entire world.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
  11. Garrick Harris

    Islam is the biggest problem facing the world today. It can not co-exsist with a Christian Free Society like we have here in America. It is better served if it stays in the middle east in the backward, dark ages where it belongs. There can be no such thing as a Muslim American as the two words Muslim and American have nothing in common.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Garrick: Muhammed Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jackson... all Americans, all muslims.
      Please try to meet with some muslim people, be friendly and find out who they really are. You shouldn't have a problem finding them, as there is most likely a mosque close by in whichever state you live.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  12. Iqbal khan

    I am still waiting to hear the reason or reasons (historical facts) why Hitler did what he did to the jews

    September 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  13. Hussain

    This is the true face of Islam, why beat about the bush about co existence and all being Abrahamic religions etc. Islam is not , here is the proof, it wants nothing to do with Christianity or Judaism. The West was built on Christianity & Judaism and Islam had nothing to so with it .

    "O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends, they are but friends of each other. And whoever befriends them, then surely, he is one of them." [5:51].
    Allah said, after mentioning the fact that the faithful believers gave their support to the faithful believers among the Muhajirin, Ansar and Bedouins,
    [وَالَّذينَ كَفَرُواْ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَآءُ بَعْضٍ إِلاَّ تَفْعَلُوهُ تَكُنْ فِتْنَةٌ فِى الاٌّرْضِ وَفَسَادٌ كَبِيرٌ ]

    And whoever does that, will never be helped by Allah in any way- meaning, whoever commits this act that Allah has prohibited, then Allah will discard him. Similarly, Allah said, O you who believe! Take not My enemies and your enemies as friends, showing affection towards them), until,

    [يأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لاَ تَتَّخِذُواْ عَدُوِّى وَعَدُوَّكُمْ أَوْلِيَآءَ تُلْقُونَ إِلَيْهِمْ بِالْمَوَدَّةِ]

    [وَمَن يَفْعَلْهُ مِنكُمْ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ سَوَآءَ السَّبِيلِ]

    Source: Tafsir by Ibn Kathir

    September 23, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • Iqbal khan

      Improve your knowledge please

      September 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
    • Muneef

      @Hussain. In reference to the verse you chosen to quote got me to wonder what ever happened to verse 13 in sura 49 ? Think Awlia does not mean friends here but some thing very deep meaning here?

      September 24, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  14. Hussain

    In the Christian world there are many sects, Catholics, C of E, Presbytarian, Methodists and so forth, the common factor being belief in the Bible and Jesus Christ as the Saviour. Islam too has 2 major sects, Sunnni & Shia and a host of minor sects such as Ahmadia, Sufi, Ismaelie, and so forth, although the main line Sunnies deny that the others are true believers of Islam. What we see on TV and world wide news papers is the daily violence by Muslims, who will stop at nothing. Right now today, take a look at Iraq, Thailand, Pakistan, Indonesia Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and so forth. Muslims who kill Men, women & children in the name of their God – Allah, and the Imam's who preach that everyone must submit to Islam or die. There are many of us who would never submit to their violence or to their barbaric 'religion of hate'.
    The so called 'Moderate Muslims' never seem to condemn these Barbaric acts, they only repeat that 'Islam is a religion peace', which we find hard to believe when we see such barbarous, evil acts being carried on by its followers. Are we to belive that these men represent all Muslims or most? They speak with the loudest voices, and their actions cannot be ignored. Can we ever forget the Muslim mobs celebrating in the streets after 9/11. Or the demonstrations and violence all over the world that was that took place, during the Danish Mohamed cartoon fiasco . The men who kill for God may be a minority, but they appear to have much support from all Muslims, the march in London and elsewhere seem to prove this. They loom so large that they have in fact become the face of Islam. The so called 'moderate Muslims' if they do exist are absent from the stage of world events. Their silence is deafening.

    September 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Hussain: Then how do you explain these Imams who are promoting a message of understanding of what other religious people went through, or of how intolerance can lead to violence? These are the moderates you are asking for. Why do you deny them now?

      September 24, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  15. dani23

    Great now that they have seen how an innocent people were almost wiped off the map 65 years ago they should take a field trip to a Palestinians refuge camp in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to see the conditions Palestinian people live. More importantly, they should go into the West bank and see how the lives of Palestinian citizens coup with occupation, check points, land confiscation, and beautiful paved roads headed to Israeli settlements that surround Palestinian villages and towns for which they cannot use or cross without getting shot at.

    September 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  16. Mary

    I am glad to see more people are visiting the site of this horrible act, to see that it really did happen, especially someone of Islamic faith. There are others of different faiths that also need to visit. I can't believe someone would try to say it never happened.

    Next, maybe someone should think to interview one of the men who opened the gates and tried to bring those people inside back to health, perhaps the U.S. 14th Armoured division, infantry. They were known as The Liberators. My father told me how they marched the Germany villagers through the camps to show them what they had done, actually what they had put up with. The smell was distinct and every where. It couldn't be denied.

    Someone interveiw one of these men before they all pass away. Maybe interveiw some of those German people that were forced to march through the camps and bury the dead. Also interveiw some of the Polish and Lithuanian people, who lost loved ones in the mass executions in the forests, during that war.

    September 23, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  17. George

    So, using the comparison of pre-WW2 anti-semitism to that of the feelings of Americans toward Muslims disturbs me, but not as much as it disturbed me to see those human beings jumping from the windows of the World Trade Center to their death, and it doesn't disturb me as much as seeing innocent journalists or contractors have their heads cut off on video, and it does'nt disturb me as much as the Ft. Hood shooter, or the Times Square bomber. You see, the Nazis didn't really have a good reason to not like the Jews, but we Americans have plenty of good reasons to not like Muslims. That's why his comparison disturbs me. I guess you will say I'm disturbed, but the truth is there for all to see.

    September 23, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
    • Frogist

      @George: I don't think there is ever any good reason to hate an entire group of people because of the actions of a few. We are making all muslims out to be hateful caricatures of themselves, much like the Nazis did of the Jews. That is where the comparison is most accurate.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  18. Christopher W. Chase

    Much of the problem has been fed by the European tendency to criminalize certain forms of speech and legitimate others. When you criminalize Holocaust denial, you create a space for people to accuse of you of hypocrisy for not protecting their discourse: witness the protests over the caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. The United States has the right approach.

    September 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  19. alex208

    Man are people ever going to stop bringing up the holocaust...or is the holocaust now becoming a new religion? What does the holocaust during WWII have to do with Muslim Jewish relations in 2010?

    September 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
    • Mary

      If you don't want to hear it, don't read it.

      September 23, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • Frogist

      @alex: No, people are never going to stop bringing up the holocaust. It is an important part of history and will always have lessons for those who wish to learn about religious intolerance, political totalitarianism, and human behaviour. And if you read some of the comments about the conflict between Palestine and Israel as well as what is happening in Iran, you might better understand how it could be relelvant to Jewish/Muslim relations.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  20. Ron

    How unusual! A news story that is full of good news and hope. I, along with millions I suspect, applaud the courage of these Imams. I think the conclusion of the story is very apt: Truth must be accepted! Nothing good is to be gained by bearing "false witness." Islam will never be respected by the majority in the West until it stops blaming the Jews for everything – we've been there before, and we are not going back there.

    September 23, 2010 at 7:01 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.