Shalom and Peace! Today on Holocaust Remembrance Day I would like to share a recent experience that changed my perspective in an unexpected way. My perspective about Jews, about the Holocaust, about myself. Sounds mysterious? I didn’t mean it to be. Let me go back a couple of weeks and start again.
I am a Contributing Scholar for the State of Formation, an online program of the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. Earlier this month the State of Formation sent me and a few other scholars to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. for a day’s worth of tours, discussions and presentations. What’s the big deal, you ask? I’m Muslim who grew up in Pakistan, and I had never thought much about the Holocaust until this visit.
I have to be honest and say that the visit to the museum was difficult at the very least and even emotionally exhausting. We didn’t see all the exhibits but we saw enough to give me a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and make me wonder at the evilness of human nature. But then I also visited the rescuers exhibit and wondered at the courageous kindness of neighbors and strangers. I may have held my composure if we hadn’t toured the section about today’s genocides, dedicated to the continued dangers in the world around us. It was as I watched a short film about Syrian refugees that I finally broke down and cried.
I cried about the Jews who were treated like less than human, no, less than animals. I cried for the people who put their own lives in danger to help those who didn’t have a place to rest their heads. I cried for myself, for my children who live in an increasingly violent world. I cried for a loss of innocence and hope and a shattering of dreams.
But then I realized that we also live in a time of hope and courage. We live in a time when Muslims and Jews can come together in a unique manner to help each other, just like we did in centuries past. Like the grand mosque in Paris where Jews were given safety in the midst of the Holocaust, like the Polish Muslims who shielded their Jewish neighbors, like countless others lost in history and only now being discovered by research at the Holocaust Museum and elsewhere, we too can be each others’ support.
What does that mean for us in practical terms and how is it even possible? At the Museum that day surrounded by my State of Formation colleagues, we discussed how. As Muslims we need to embrace the Holocaust as a shared historical event, rather than a Jewish one. As Jews we need to allow others to share this important catastrophe. There is evidence emerging of Muslims not only saving Jews but also suffering alongside Jews in concentration camps and ghettos. Horror and violence never targets just one community alone, and we need to recognize and accept this fact.
Yes, for Muslims that will mean shouting over the voices of the Holocaust deniers, teaching our kids about that era in our shameful past, and healing as a multi-faith community. For Jews, that will mean giving up the Jews-only narrative of the Holocaust, and more significantly, supporting Muslims in current day genocides like Syria. It will mean understanding that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are actually one and the same thing, two ugly sides of the same tainted coin. We need to look out for each other, for if we don’t then who will?
Theologically, culturally and emotionally, Jews and Muslims are so much more alike than different, and it’s about time we worked together instead of apart. I didn’t think that’s the lesson I would learn when I went to Washington D.C. but that’s the surprising thing about being open and inviting: you learn more than you could possibly imagine. May God bless you and keep you safe on this Yom HaShoah.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston, editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret Literary Journal and author of Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan,available in June. Follow her @saadiafaruqi and on her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com.