A prominent American imam addressed members of Belsize Square Synagogue on Shabbat on his way home from a visit to Auschwitz with Muslim leaders.
Indian-born Muzammil Siddiqui, chairman of the Fiqh [Islamic law] Council of North America, spent the weekend in London after the trip to Germany and Poland.
Dr Siddiqui, who has been to Auschwitz before, said he could not recall such a broad group of Muslim leaders visiting. Many of the participants had found the experience “overwhelming”, he said in an interview reflecting his address to Belsize Square congregants.
“Many of them could not believe their eyes that this is what happened. People were in tears in many places. Especially when they went to the gas chambers and when they saw the ovens where human beings were burned and when they saw shoes of children, the hair and clothing and prayer shawls.”
The itinerary also included a visit to Dachau, lectures from experts and meetings with Holocaust survivors and non-Jews who had sheltered Jews.
Dr Siddiqui said the group had gone both to study the evil of race hatred and “to develop the bond between us and our fellow Jewish people and understand their suffering”.
It was important for Muslims to “see what happened to the Jewish people,” he said.
Such knowledge countered those in the Muslim world who believed talking about the Holocaust was “propaganda and that’s what Jewish people are doing to draw sympathy to themselves so that they can do whatever they want in Palestine”.
In one moving encounter, a survivor in Krakow who had lost his parents had told the Muslims he had not married “because he did not want to see his children suffer what he suffered”.
Near the wall in Dachau where many inmates had been shot, they had prayed to God to bless the victims and “save humanity from hate and injustice”.
Dr Siddiqui, who is an imam in California, is a friend of Belsize Square’s American rabbi, Stuart Altshuler. Rabbi Altshuler said Dr Siddiqui had been elated to receive “such a warm welcome from a Jewish community. He spoke at length about his trip, how important it is to remember the Jewish pain of the Shoah, and how much work we all need to do to get the word out to the Muslim community.”
Also active in dialogue, Dr Siddiqui said: “We should work together to create some kind of reconciliation, not only between Muslims and Jews, but Muslims, Jews and Christians because all three of us are children of Abraham and Abraham was a man of peace, of hospitality, of kindness.” The politics of groups such as Hamas came from anger and grievance, but forgot the broader vision.