Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Issa receives an award, virtually, from Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, director of the Combat Antisemitism Movement. (screenshot)
During a worldwide virtual event this month involving Jewish leaders and government officials from various countries, one of the leading figures in Sunni Islam was recognized for his work opposing antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa is the secretary-general of the Muslim World League and is a former minister of justice of Saudi Arabia. The Muslim World League is funded by the Saudi government, is based in Mecca and positions itself as a force for modernization and moderation in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world. Earlier this year, Al-Issa led an historic trip of senior Muslim clerics and leaders to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The online event, titled How Muslims and Jews Can Combat Anti-Semitism Together, featured Al-Issa via video from Saudi Arabia, joined by U.S. government officials including Sam Brownback, a former senator now ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and Elan Carr, special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism. The event was sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation and the Combat Antisemitism Movement, which bills itself as a non-partisan, global grassroots movement of individuals and organizations, across all religions and faiths, united to combat antisemitism. The organization’s director, Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, presented Al-Issa with the movement’s first annual award recognizing Muslim leadership against antisemitism.
“We have been reminded that, even in countries as advanced and multicultural as the United States, misunderstanding and mistrust is dangerous when allowed to fester,” Al-Issa said in an address that was translated from Arabic. “It can lead to anger, violence and social divisions that help no one. Everywhere in the world, we face challenges in building the bridges of communication, partnership and friendship. But, in a world with many complicated threats, from terrorism to global pandemics, our partnerships are more important than ever.”
He talked about the unifying global fight against coronavirus which, he said, “does not care if a person is Muslim or non-Muslim, Jew or non-Jew, Christian or non-Christian … rich or poor, educated or non-educated.”
That unity is a model for opposing the spread of hatred and intolerance, he said, even as extremists attempt to exploit the current uncertainty to push hatred and division.
He spoke of his visit in January to the death camp in Poland, as well as his numerous visits to synagogues and Jewish museums.
“I stood united alongside my Jewish brothers and said, ‘never again.’ Not for Jews, not for Muslims, not for Christians, not for Hindus, not for Sikhs, not for any of God’s children,” said Al-Issa. “History’s greatest horror, the Holocaust, must never be repeated.… The 1.1 million people murdered at Auschwitz were human beings, just like any other, just like any Muslim. And even though it has been 75 years since the gates of the Auschwitz death camp were torn down, creating a better world for future generations is a constant struggle that we must not give up on.”
He cited murders of Muslims in New Zealand, Christians in Sri Lanka and Jews in the United States as indications of the work remaining to be done.
“Whereas Jews and Muslims lived centuries together, in these last decades we have sadly grown apart,” he said. Since taking the helm of the Muslim World League in 2016, he has tried to build bridges with Jewish and Christian communities. He has also been vocal in fighting Holocaust denial in Muslim circles.
“There are those who still try to falsify history, who claim the Holocaust, the most despised crime in human history, is fiction,” he said. “We stand against these liars, no matter who they are or where they come from, for denying history can only serve to further the aims of those who perpetrate hateful ideas of racial, ethnic or religious purity.”
Continued genocides, in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Myanmar, show that the lessons of the Holocaust are universal, he said.
“Muslims have a responsibility to learn them, heed the warning of history and stand as part of the international community to say, ‘never again,’” Al-Issa said. “We will act together to make just peace a reality for Jews and Muslims, and for all people, religions, civilizations and cultures.”