Ziauddin Sardar wants to remember the Holocaust
When Muslims take part in Holocaust Memorial Day events, they are following the example of the Proph
I am clearly one of those foolish Muslims who have "succumbed to Zionist pressure". I think the salutary lessons of the Holocaust should be remembered. I think that Holocaust Memorial Day, designated by the UK, with the support of the United Nations, as 27 January, is an important commemoration. And I think that Muslims should take an active part in the memorial service and other commemorative events across Britain.
But the Muslim Council of Britain, which has been denouncing Holocaust Memorial Day since its inception in 2001, believes that Muslims who think like me have crossed over to the enemy camp and become Zionist sympathisers. "Sir" Iqbal Sacranie, the increasingly nutty secretary general of the council, has refused to attend the memorial service. While the council has repeatedly condemned the Nazi atrocities as "an enormous crime against humanity", it wants the day renamed "Genocide Memorial Day", so that it can be "inclusive of the sufferings of all people" and recognise horrors such as the genocide of Muslims in Chechnya and Bosnia. Until this is done, it says, Muslims should shun the event, and those who continue to support it are traitors to the cause of Islam.
We should, without doubt, remember all genocides - and not just the massacres of Muslims in Chechnya and Bosnia, but also the mass execution of Muslims in Gujarat, the systematic slaughter of the black Sudanese in Darfur by Arab janjaweed and the genocide in Rwanda, to name but a few. Yet not all genocides are the same, even though they are all horrendously evil acts. Apples and grapes alike are fruit, but they are distinctively different products of entirely different soils.
The Holocaust cannot be generalised. It is unparalleled both in its sheer magnitude and the sophistication with which it was carried out. As Zygmunt Bauman, one of our most profound social thinkers, shows in Modernity and the Holocaust, the systematic genocide of the Jews would not have been possible without modern means of management and execution. The Holocaust is thus a distinct product of modernity and, as such, it is also an event specific to the history of modernity. Moreover, as a turning point in how difference was seen, it is a special moment in European history.
Jews as Jews naturally have a right to mark this most horrendous moment in their history. And Muslims, as human beings, should not only join them in their sorrow and suffering but should learn its significance for modernity. By refusing to attend Holocaust Memorial Day the Muslim Council of Britain did more than show its ignorance of European history. It unwittingly declared that Jewish suffering was less important than the suffering of others. If Muslims are concerned about Bosnia and Chechnya, let them organise their own memorial days for these genocides - and invite Jews and others to participate in these events. But Muslims have no right to demean the horror experienced by Jews, and as human beings they cannot stand aside and refuse to participate in remembering this human calamity.
It is shameful for the council and its supporters to demonise those Muslims who participate in the memorial day; and to suggest that those not following the party line are lesser Muslims, or worse still "enemies", is infantile and unforgivable. If they were not so pernicious, some of the declarations issued on behalf of the council could be dismissed as insane.
One British Muslim who attended a Holocaust Memorial Day event, thus incurring the wrath of the council, is Imam Abduljalil Sajid of Brighton. I have known Imam Sajid since my youth. A tireless campaigner for religious harmony, he is a man of integrity and independent thinking. He is also a very learned person, with deep knowledge of Islamic thought and history. And he has provided a number of excellent reasons why Muslims should take an active part in Holocaust Memorial Day.
By joining the commemorations, Imam Sajid says, Muslims will be following the example of the Prophet. Once, when the Prophet saw a funeral procession, he stood up as a mark of respect. His companions pointed out that the procession was for a Jewish person. The Jews, like all human beings, he declared, "deserve respect and condolence at their tragic deaths under the hands of oppressors". The Prophet also went out of his way to look after and care for an old Jewish woman who was clearly hostile to him.
The Holocaust, Imam Sajid states, was "an enormous and unique crime against humanity" which became the symbol of hatred against Jews. Muslims must stand "shoulder to shoulder with Jews to oppose hate, prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and killing". The fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is the same fight, and we have to fight it together. "By showing our human solidarity with them we shall be promoting our causes and getting their support in return," he says.
The Muslim Council of Britain should listen to the wise counsel of Imam Sajid and, instead of demonising him, it should support him. If Muslims are to be an integral part of Europe, they have to know European history and understand the significance of its landmark moments.
The council is now rethinking its position. I hope it behaves out of character and does the right thing.