KRAKOW, POLAND — It was a perfect summer day at the Dachau concentration camp. The clear skies and pleasant breeze seemed almost offensive. And there, beneath the main monument, a bronze sculpture of writhing bodies intermeshed with barbed wire, was an uncommon sight: a group of Muslims leaders prostrate in prayer.
At the end of the service, prayer leader Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, offered up an additional prayer: “We pray to God that this will not happen to the Jewish people or to any people anymore.”
Siddiqi was one of eight American Muslim leaders on a study tour to Dachau and Auschwitz that was co-sponsored by a German think tank and the Center for Interreligious Understanding, a New Jersey-based interfaith dialogue group. The delegation’s sole female member was Laila Muhammad, daughter of the late American Muslim leader W.D. Muhammad and granddaughter of Elijah Muhammad, the late leader of the Nation of Islam.
The excursion, which ran from August 8 through August 10, was one the U.S. government itself invested with great importance. Accompanying the group were several government officials, including Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and Rashad Hussain, special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
I doubt Sarah Palin will tweet about this. It is too positive, too pregnant with possibilities of misunderstandings eradicated. She preys on peoples' fears and treads the edges of their ignorance. This journey is one that seeks to build new bridges to somewhere better.
Hillel Fendel, writing for the Israel National News, observes:
The delegates’ level of knowledge about the Holocaust prior to the trip seemed to be fairly low, the Forward reported. When they met with Max Mannheimer, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, they appeared to particularly affected by seeing the number the Nazis had tattooed on his arm, and asked many questions.
The delegation’s youngest member was Yasir Qadhi, 35, dean of academics at Al Maghrib Institute, in New Haven, Conn. Qadhi has since recanted, both vocally and in print, his Holocaust-denial claims, explaining that he had been ignorant and exposed to materials such as the anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” “That’s why I was very happy to come on this trip,” he said, “because I wanted to see for myself how wrong I was.”
We need more interfaith efforts that seek to build bridges between and among religions. We need to expand knowledge and understanding in regard to similarities among the best ideas of the world's faiths.
All the great faiths have their fundamentalists, though. Usually those groups seek to eradicate links between and among faiths. The people behind the efforts to keep the Cordoba House from expanding in lower Manhattan are mostly fundamentalists, whether they are Christian or Jewish.