Muslim influencers visit Auschwitz in hopes to uncover truth behind the Holocaust

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According to the Times of Israel, a group of young leaders from Arab and predominantly Muslim countries in a joint operation with the Sharaka organization is visiting Auschwitz, seeking to bring forth the truth of the Holocaust to the Arab world, while strengthening the bond between the Arab world and Israel following the Abraham Accords Declaration. According to the United States (US) Department of State, the Declaration aims to “recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom”.

According to the Abraham Accords Declaration, there is an active effort to promote “interfaith and intercultural dialogue” to advance a culture of peace between the Abrahamic religions namely Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, simultaneously addressing challenges through mutual cooperation and dialogue. In addition, the focus is on promoting lasting peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world, seeking tolerance and respect for all ensuring a life of “dignity and hope”. Through the Declaration, the aim is to “maximize human potential” with the help of advancement in science, art, medicine, and commerce, respectively. 

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Rawan Osman who is the daughter of a Syrian father and Lebanese mother and is part of the young leaders said that the first time she saw a Jew, she experience a panic attack. The 38-year-old said before moving to Europe, she had never seen a Jew. Osman had lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia and Qatar before moving to France in 2011. Osman added that she live in the “Jewish quarter in Strasbourg next to the Synagogue de la Paix” but never realized that Jews could actually be living there because the Jewish quarters in Lebanon and Syria had been abandoned. 

Osman is currently in Poland in a joint collaboration with the Sharaka organization, and participating in the International March of the Living – one of the largest annual Holocaust commemoration events across the globe held on Yom Hashoah. According to the Times of Israel, this year approximately 2,500 people will make the two-mile trek from Auschwitz I to Birkenau, a smaller congregation to past marches dues to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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In addition, this year’s March is the first where a delegation of young Muslim leaders is participating from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Sharaka organization which was reportedly founded in the December of 2020, a few months after Israel, UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords is determined to build on the newly-established “diplomatic and economic ties” and to establish a real connection between the two communities. 

Director of communications and global affairs at Sharaka, Dan Feferman believes that this is lacking in countries such as Egypt and Jordan where the majority population is largely indifferent and oftentimes “hostile” to the Jewish community, specifically Israel. Feferman has argued that for the longest time, the Arab world has “denied” the holocaust claiming that it is a conspiracy of the Jewish community. Feferman added that the inclusion of the young Muslim influencers in this year’s march is a historic opportunity because through “their various platforms “– traditional media, social media – are going to relay this and use this as a platform to start a wider movement of educating the Arab and Muslim world about the Holocaust”. 

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According to the Times of Israel, the delegation includes young influencers, activists, authors, and politicians from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Bahrain, and the UAE. Rawan Osman of Lebanese descent said that prior to meeting a Jew for the first time, in her mind contact with Jews was “strictly forbidden”. Osman added that in her mind she believes Jews would automatically hate her for her race. The young Hezbollah fan continued that when she studied the combined history of the  Muslims and Jews, she realized that there is an ongoing “war of narratives” which can only be solved if one listens to and understands the Jewish story. Osman added, “I think we have hope, we can reach peace someday, but we have to work on it”. She went on to say that while she is on her first trip to the region, this will not be her last. 

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Meanwhile, Ayesha Jalal who works at Bahrain’s National Commission for Education, Science, and Culture for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that during her visit to Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum, she wished to visit the extermination camps for herself. According to Jalal, the experience is “mindblowing” and nothing like what the media portrays. She added that before her visit, she had always been told the holocaust didn’t happen, however, her visit to Yad Vashem in collaboration with the Sharaka organization helped her to change her perspective and gave her the opportunity to educate the people of her community about the reality. 

Thirty-year-old activist Fatema Al Harbi, Sharaka’s Gulf affairs director said that she had always dreamt of visiting Israel but never thought that it could become a reality. However, Sharaka provided her the opportunity to do so while educating her about the truth behind the Holocaust. She added that she hopes to spread awareness and educate more people. 

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