This is a guest post by Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters
Recently, we (www.faith-matters.org) launched a booklet on the Righteous Muslims which looked at the history of those people deemed to be Righteous by Yad Vashem and who had saved Jews and others from death by their actions. They did this without the promise of money, personal gain or through external pressure applied to them. They did this because it was right and they did this driven by ideals that were based on values shaped by their faith in Islam.
The launch of the book produced postings on this site suggesting that the book did not describe those who had collaborated with the Nazis. As if the booklet in 32 pages was to take a critical approach to the complex arena of the role of all Muslims in the Holocaust and with postings even suggesting that the individuals could not be driven by Islam and their faith and that they did so because they just wanted to protect people. Increasingly, the dehumanisation of Muslims and the demonization of Islam is pervading its way into the minds of people who should know better.
There were even suggestions that Muslims should feel a collective guilt on the Holocaust, which was just plain wrong. The collective guilt was and should be felt within Europe where some governments did nothing during the Holocaust even though they knew that the extermination camps had been developed and a systematic plan to exterminate people had been triggered within the Nazi administration. Furthermore, the much used example in postings on the Mufti of Jerusalem did not represent all Muslims and some of the postings continued to support a blanket assumption that all Muslims cannot be trusted due to the actions of the Mufti of Jerusalem. I would seriously questions the motives and the basis of these assumptions and statements and the actions of the Righteous Muslims are a clear counter to that.
The aim of the booklet was to look at a brief snapshot of some of the stories of the Righteous Muslims. It was also to give the wider public and those within Jewish communities an understanding of these deeply shared histories between Muslims and Jews and to shine a light on a few of the roots of social justice that existed during this catastrophic time in Europe’s history. In fact, the e-mail responses from individuals within Jewish communities on the booklet has borne this out and many have suggested that they simply did not know about these facts and were heartened by them, rather than the negative light always shone on Muslim and Jewish relations.
A further aim of this booklet was to develop a sense of understanding within Muslim communities, so that they gained an awareness into their own histories. Histories that included people like Ali Sheqar Pashkaj who saved Yeoshua Baruchowic or Destan Balla and Lime Balla who saved the Lazar brothers; or Selahattin Ulkumen who saved the lives of 50 Jews on the island of Rhodes. It is also hoped that some within Muslim communities will be inspired to take an interest into their history and research the role of Muslims since this has been a neglected area and which has thankfully been supported mainly by Jewish investigators and researchers like Robert Satloff and Norman Gerschon. The actions of these investigators and researchers has protected these stories and for that they should be truly commended.
The actions of communities within the Holocaust has always been an area which has had to have been dealt with sensitively for fear of alienating communities or pigeon holing them 65 years later. As I suggested before, the actions of some Muslims (a small minority) in the Second World War were wrong and no doubt some made choices through agreement with Nazi ideology, through ‘just going with the flow’ or through pressure that was applied to them by the Nazis to join up. Furthermore, some joined because of local and regional disputes that were long standing and which the Nazis cynically manipulated. It seems that the politics of local and regional issues and other pressures had over-ridden the social justice element that is strongly a part of Islam.
Yet, this is not the whole view and the shrill voices that attempt to caricature Muslims by regarding all as being in agreement with the Nazi war machine, purposefully fail to look at the whole picture. That the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims fought on the side of the Allies and many millions fought in the green fields of France, through to the swamps of Burma. Many lost their lives in Italy, France, Tunisia, Egypt and Albania and the list goes on. Those that choose to be selective in their analysis of Muslims fail to look at the dearth of evidence which showed that many Muslims were driven by the desire to do what was right and which was driven by their faith in Islam and a strong sense of social justice that was shaped by it.
We hope that this booklet provides the inspiration for its readers to research the area of the Righteous Muslims further. We also hope that it provides hope and inspiration to Jews and Muslims around our shared histories, even in the darkness of the Second World War and the Holocaust. We also hope that the memory of those Muslims, who inspired by their faith, local codes of honour and a strong sense of social justice, lives on. Their histories should be an inspiration for us all.
The Righteous Muslims booklet can be downloaded on http://www.faith-matters.org/resources/publicationsreports/171-righteous-muslim
Gene adds: I’ve posted before about Project Aladdin, aimed at combating antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the Muslim world. The project’s website has material in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish, including translations of books such as Anne Frank’s Diary.