Leaders pay tribute at U.S. memorial to victims of Nazi persecution

By Elizabeth Kelleher
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Muslim-American leaders on December 20 visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, met with Holocaust survivors in its memorial room and lit candles to honor the memory of death-camp victims.

“At a time when mistrust and conflict plagues many parts of the world, it is important for people of different religions and races to unite in positive discourse,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, the legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and one of the visitors to the museum. He said the visit was a success and that he hoped it would lead to even more dialogue.

The visit was the idea of Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Washington’s largest Muslim center and mosque, which serves 5,000 Muslim families.

Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum, said that such a public statement by Muslim leaders was “a first” and that their idea to come was as important as the event itself.

The visit was an “important gesture at this moment in time,” Bloomfield told USINFO. “They reached out to us, which I think is wonderful. They wanted to come here, to have a public expression of solidarity.”

In speaking of the Holocaust to those gathered in the hall, Magid said, “I speak on behalf of American Muslims, all of us who believe that we have to learn from the lessons of history and to commit ourselves: ‘Never again.’” Magid postponed a trip to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj in order to visit the museum.

At the event, Johanna Neumann, a Holocaust survivor, described how Albanian Muslims saved her and her family from the Nazis. She said Albania at the time was 85 percent Muslim and that she and her family were protected by Muslims in their town. “Everybody knew who we were, and nobody would have thought of denouncing us,” Neumann said.

Akbar Ahmad, an Islamic scholar from American University, called the Holocaust “one of the low points in history.” Ahmad urged all people to condemn anti-Semitism and to equally condemn “widespread Islam-phobia,” which he said is evident when people call Muslims “terrorists.” He said anti-Semitism and Islam-phobia are linked: “To check one, we have to check the other.”

In addition to Iftikhar, Magid and Ahmad, visitors to the museum included Hassan Ibrahim of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Rizwan Jaka, Afeefa Syeed, Robert Marro and Rahima Ullah, all affiliated with the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is “about bystanders and for bystanders,” Bloomfield said. “But yesterday was a day when we didn’t stand by,” she said. “We spoke out, and we did so together.”

A video link to the event is available on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)