June 14, 2020
AJC Virtual Global Forum 2020
The Siegler Family Annual Muslim-Jewish Address
June 14, 2020
Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa
Secretary General, Muslim World League; Chairman, The Centre for Responsible Leadership
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, Members of the American Jewish Committee, my fellow religious leaders, distinguished guests, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. And Prime Ministers, Presidents, and other national and local leaders in attendance:
It is my sincere pleasure to be here with you today, and I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to a dear friend, Mr. David Harris, and the American Jewish Committee for inviting me to speak at the opening plenary session alongside such accomplished and transformative global leaders.
I would also like to commend you for your tireless work and dedication in an effort to rebuild positive Muslim-Jewish relations. It is a testament to the strong ideals of the American Jewish Committee that you speak out as strongly against those who wish to sow division and proliferate Islamophobia as you do against those who promote anti-Semitism.
To Her Excellency Ms. Angela Merkel, the Federal Chancellor of Germany, your courage in accepting many innocent Muslims fleeing for safety and security from their war-torn homes represents the togetherness that can be found in the very fabric of Germany life. When you spoke of Islam being a part of German society, it was deeply appreciated throughout the Muslim world. Thank you again for the good you have done with your voice.
I am delighted to be with you, especially as the world celebrates such a pivotal moment in history – the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Seventy-five years ago, the world was devastated by the scourge and inimical actions of the Nazis. These terrorists – and there is no better word for them – sought to export their warped and deplorable ideology across the world through hatred and violence. In their sick pursuit to create a divided, unequal world, the Nazis almost succeeded.
However, they drastically underestimated the fortitude and undying will of their enemy, those brave souls who many of us count as family, friends and loved ones. The Nazis also failed to understand that even in the dimmest of lights, there remained a flicker of hope.
The forces of good refused to give in and persisted in their fight to create a better and more equal world, if not for themselves, then for future generations to come. In the end, we stood together as victors and made the solemn vow to never let the atrocities of the Second World War happen again.
World War II taught us many important lessons that we carry with us today. Among those lessons learned is that we possess inherent values – intrinsic commonalities – that bind us together as human beings, irrespective of race, religion, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or any other such category.
Just as the forces of good stood shoulder to shoulder against evil on battlefields across Europe so many years ago, we now must unite against those who promote hatred and intolerance today.
With each passing day, the world becomes more interconnected and closer. By doing good and rejecting evil, we realize the important work of strengthening our fraternal bonds. But we also see how everyday extremism or hatred espoused via social media easily leads to acts of terrorism that can threaten any one of our communities.
Look at the horrible attacks on synagogues in places like Pittsburgh, San Diego and Monsey, New York, or in Halle, Germany. Or the terrible attack on the Islamic community in Christchurch, New Zealand. Or the Easter attacks on churchgoers in Sri Lanka.
These were all acts of sick individuals, guided by sick ideology. But they also reflect the task that all of us face to confront the extremists in our own communities – those everywhere in the world falsely claiming inspiration from our religious texts, or our national flags, or some sick sense of ethnic or racial pride. Defeating evil, and all of its different ideologies and sources, is a massive enterprise that depends on the role of education, family and various platforms of influence that we must constantly strive to achieve.
And we can only win this battle together – through spreading the virtues of understanding, tolerance, empathy and, ultimately, love for one another.
Since taking over the Muslim World League, I have made it my mission to work with my brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith to re-sew the threads of a relationship that dates back centuries, to the birth of Islam itself. Yet in recent years had seen our communities grow apart as politics and religion too often mixed, and because of an absence of comprehensive justice that should permeate the peace of our societies – something that requires awareness, honesty, and wisdom.
Two years ago, on behalf the Muslim World League, I wrote a letter to Sara Bloomfield, Director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I expressed our great sympathy with the victims of the Holocaust, an incident that shook humanity to its core, and voiced our solidarity in fighting the crime that is Holocaust denial.
I was surprised to receive a wave of calls, messages, emails, and letters from Muslim scholars and leaders from all around the world expressing their agreement and wholehearted endorsement of my views. They all emphasized Islam's justice and humane rationale towards this hideous crime, and a number of these scholars joined us when we later visited Auschwitz.
Since that date, the Muslim World League has made a concerted effort to expand our outreach in the Jewish community. As the verses of the Quran dictate, these are “people of the book.” The verses of the Quran also dictate that Jews be given special privileges in the rulings of Islamic jurisprudence.
Throughout history, our differences have been political. They had nothing to do with religion. Islam speaks about divine truth, and never against the right of other religions to exist.
In our meetings with Jewish leaders on several continents including in the Middle East, the United States and in Europe, we have found so much common ground. We have repeatedly seen how we share the same concerns around growing intolerance and the same threats facing each of our communities. But also how we share the same determination to build a more tolerant and peaceful world – a world ruled a just and all-encompassing peace.
Muslims and Jews know only too well the danger posed by extremists of all types who seek to exploit instability to promote hatred and violence, and particularly Neo-Nazism. And as we now experience the challenges of a global pandemic that is killing so many innocent people, and economic turmoil that is costing so many people their jobs and savings around the world, we must be more on guard than ever to this threat.
The only way we can defeat this common enemy is by coming together and acting as one, building bridges of dialogue and cooperation guided by a logic that is just and comprehensive, accepting diversity and other forms of thought, supporting marginalized and overlooked people in communities around the world, rejecting indifference and guarding against violent and ideological extremism.
This is why it was of the utmost importance for the Muslim World League to establish a relationship with the American Jewish Committee – an organization at the forefront of fighting anti-Semitism and advocating for the cooperation of people of different faiths and beliefs to create a better future for all. We value the courageous stances taken by many members of AJC in standing against all forms of racism and hatred, including Islamophobia.
Last year, we solidified our relationship through the signing of a historic agreement to cooperate against racism and extremism in all its forms.
A key aspect of this agreement was to show solidarity by visiting the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, which took place earlier this year in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of that camp. I led a high-level Muslim delegation consisting of prominent Islamic scholars, from various Muslim countries, belonging to different sects: Sunni, Shiite, and others.
On that memorable day, I stood alongside my Muslim and Jewish brothers, united in resolve and said:
Not for Jews, not for Muslims, not for Christians. Not for anyone else.
The horrors of the Holocaust must never be repeated or forgotten.
The undeniable evidence of the atrocities committed against innocent men women and children shook us all.
We saw the children’s shoes, human hair, suitcases and other personal belongings of those lost.
We saw the prison-like barracks, where men, women and children were forced to live.
We saw the remnants of the gas chambers, where poor souls were undressed and killed.
We saw the medical facilities, where Nazi doctors performed unholy experiments.
I personally wept at the mere thought of such horrific crimes.
More than 1 million men, women and children lost their lives at Auschwitz and this is something we cannot let ourselves forget.
Muslims and others must heed this lesson of history. For the lessons of the Holocaust are universal. And the threat of genocide remains with us today.
And as Mr. David Harris and myself wrote in The Chicago Tribune just days after our visit to Auschwitz, Jews and Muslims have a responsibility to leverage all of our influence to stop suffering today.
The risks are very real. Look at what happened in Rwanda or Bosnia just a generation ago, as ethnic or religious hatred so easily morphed into genocide. Or consider the miserable plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar today, who remain subjected to systematic racist discrimination, violence and terrorism.
These are all crimes against Islam. Regardless of who was the perpetrator and who were the victims. And as Muslims, we have a religious obligation and moral duty to act against such unconscionable abuse.
The world is indeed a dangerous place, but these last years of reconstruction in Muslim-Jewish relations provide me with great hope for a brighter tomorrow, one that is characterized by engagement in dialogue that will lead to understanding and a just and all-encompassing peace. The obstacles to this vision abound in the form of bad decisions and actions that only make matters worse.
So even as hatred seems to proliferate with greater ease than ever before via social media, I think we are slowly winning the war. We are building partnerships in which Muslims and Jews, and many Christians and people of other faiths and convictions, are advocating common values, and educating their diverse communities on such commonalities.
And together we are fighting to create a better, more equal world in which there is no place for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of prejudice.
We will prevail, because the truth is on our side.
Please know that Muslim World League will continue working every day to promote the true, moderate values of Islam that prophesize peace, love and coexistence. True, moderate Islam utterly opposes violence against any innocent life.
And we are delighted to work with partners like the American Jewish Committee, who value the sanctity of human life for all people as dearly as we do.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak here today. And I look forward to working with all of you to advance the cause of understanding, tolerance, empathy, love and a just and all-encompassing peace for our world.