Muslim leaders hold prayers in historic Auschwitz visit

Muslim and Jewish leaders visit concentration camp to spread understanding and solidarity

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The most senior Muslim delegation to visit any Nazi death camp held prayers on Thursday at Auschwitz-Birkenau in a moving ceremony described by organisers as “historic”.

Members of the delegation, led by the secretary general of the Muslim World League, Sheikh Mohammad Al Issa, gathered in prayer at the end of a visit to the concentration camp in Poland, held in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee.

Of the more than 6 million Jews and millions of other victims killed during the Holocaust, more than 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them European Jews, were systematically killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps during the Second World War.

The visit to the camp came days before the 75th anniversary of its liberation by allied forces in 1945.

The visit by the 62 Muslims, including 25 prominent religious leaders from 28 countries, is the first of a number of steps agreed to by Dr Al Issa and AJC chief executive David Harris in April last year to foster deeper ties.

Members from the Jewish committee, children of Holocaust survivors and a senior rabbi also gave blessings in front of the International Monument at Birkenau as members of the delegation lay candles of remembrance.

"We came to say that the Islamic religion deplores these crimes," Dr Al Issa told The National at the site of the concentration camp.

“This visit is important. It expresses the Islamic feeling towards these crimes, these racial, genocidal crimes.”

Dr Al Issa, at many times visibly moved during the tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, explained that the presence of so many senior Islamic scholars, from different sects of the religion, gave force to the delegation’s message.

“Islam doesn’t have double standard as it stands with justice against any crime that violates the sanctity of humankind,” he said.

As he addressed the group in Birkenau, Mr Harris, the son of Holocaust survivors, called the visit by the interfaith delegation “historic” and urged the lessons of the Nazi genocide be properly heeded.

“God gave us mercy, God gave us compassion. Auschwitz is a betrayal of God,” he said. “I cry out for peace.”

Rabbi David Rosen told The National there was hope the building of understanding between the two groups would ultimately lead to the lessening of tension in the region.

“Through such a deepening of a greater understanding between Muslims and Jews we hope we can actually bring a blessing, not just to the world at large but also where there have been conflicts between Jews and Muslims,” Rabbi Rosen said.

“I hope this can have some kind of impact on the Holy Land itself.”

Muslim religious leaders are guided during a visit to the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, in what organizers called “the most senior Islamic leadership delegation" to visit, in Oswiecim, Poland on Thursday Jan. 23, 2020. The interfaith visit by Muslim and Jewish delegates comes on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, just days before the 75th anniversary of the  Jan. 27, 1945, liberation of the death camp by Soviet forces. (American Jewish Committee via AP)
Muslim religious leaders are guided during a visit to the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, in what organisers called “the most senior Islamic leadership delegation" to visit. American Jewish Committee via AP

The delegations will continue their mission in Warsaw. They will visit the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, meet the Muslim community of Warsaw and join for an interfaith Shabbat dinner at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

As the interfaith group visited the concentration camp in Poland, world leaders arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday for a solemn ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.