June 14, 2020 — New York
Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, addressing the opening plenary of the 2020 American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reaffirmed his commitment to preserving Holocaust memory and advancing Muslim-Jewish cooperation.
“I commend you for your tireless work and dedication in an effort to rebuild positive Muslim-Jewish relations,” said Al-Issa, whose global organization is headquartered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. “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 antisemitism.”
In April 2019, Al-Issa and AJC CEO David Harris signed an historic memorandum of understanding to further Muslim-Jewish understanding and cooperate against racism and extremism in all its forms. A key element of the MOU was a joint visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which took place on January 23, and was followed by a day in Warsaw, including a visit to a synagogue and an interfaith Shabbat dinner.
Al-Issa led a delegation of 62 prominent Islamic scholars from 28 countries. It was the most senior Islamic leadership delegation ever to visit Auschwitz or any Nazi German death camp. “On that memorable day, I stood alongside my Muslim and Jewish brothers, united in resolve and said: Never again,” said Al-Issa. “The horrors of the Holocaust must never be repeated or forgotten.”
He described what the Muslim and Jewish delegations viewed together at Auschwitz. “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,” he said.
“The undeniable evidence of the atrocities committed against innocent men women, and children shook us all,” he said. “I personally wept at the mere thought of such horrific crimes,” said Al-Issa. “More than 1 million men, women, and children lost their lives at Auschwitz, and this is something we cannot let ourselves forget.”
Striking a positive note, Al-Issa observed that the Nazis “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 lessons of the Holocaust are universal, he said, and should be applied to confronting extremists who have violently attacked and continue to threaten Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others. “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.”
Toward that end, Al-Issa expressed optimism that “we are slowly winning the war,” even as “hatred seems to proliferate with greater ease than ever before via social media.”
Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths “are advocating common values and educating their diverse communities on such commonalities. Together, we are fighting to create a better, more equal world in which there is no place for antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of prejudice.”
AJC CEO David Harris commented: “It is a great honor for American Jewish Committee to host our cherished friend and partner, Dr. Al-Issa, today. He is one of the world’s most prominent and respected Muslim leaders, and his organization has a profound worldwide impact. At AJC, which has had a long and proud record as an interreligious trailblazer, we have said repeatedly that we‘re determined to help write a promising 21st century chapter in Muslim-Jewish relations. Dr. Al-Issa’s powerful speech today offers us another good reason for optimism and inspiration.”
The full text of Dr. Al-Issa’s speech, The Siegler Family Annual Muslim-Jewish Address, is available in English at ajc.org.