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The Essence of Humanity

The Essence of Humanity

Issue 64 January 2010

Does a boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day really show Muslims to be a people of high principle or does it rather undermine their perceived capacity to lead a plural society?


It’s January again and along with New Year’s resolutions and the joys of the winter gas bills comes the inevitable discussions over Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) and whether it should be supported or boycotted by the Muslim community and its representatives such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). 

In September, I began teaching a course on ‘Muslim-Jewish Relations’ at the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge. Last week, one of our students gave an insightful presentation on the topic of HMD. He was genuinely mystified at the failure of Muslims to support it given that the national guidance and local practice here in Cambridge has always been to highlight all the contemporary instances of Genocide. As you can imagine, the subject provoked a lively debate.

It occurred to me that when we, as a Muslim community, make a stand on an issue of principle it is crucial that our target audience understands our motivation and accepts it for what it is. There can be no doubt that there would have been outrage had MCB not boycotted HMD in 2009, being so close as it was to the Israeli action in Gaza and the worsening plight of the Palestinians. But what about the wider society? Many commentators in the media saw this as merely an excuse for Muslims to snub the suffering of the Jews in WWII and further evidence of the ‘anti-Semitism inherent in Islam’.

We are very fond of the Qur’anic verse which states, “You are the best of peoples evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.” But this is clearly not God’s definition of who we are, but rather of who we have the potential to become. God is exhorting Muslims to become the people that everyone from every community respects and trusts to lead them forward.

The Prophet Muhammad was such a leader. He was called upon to lead the people of Madinah because he showed respect for all of God’s creation and his first ummah was a pluralist and fractured society. You may recall the incident that is documented in the hadith in which the Companions were surprised to see him stand up out of respect for the bier of a Jew. We cannot say for certain why they were surprised; it might be simply because the man was not a Muslim, or it might be because of one of the recent conflicts that had taken place with the Jewish tribes, or it might be both. What we do know is that his response was to remind his Companions of the humanity of the man who had passed away.

When we show respect for the suffering of others, which is how the wider community perceive participation in HMD, it does not weaken our respect for our fellow Muslims, rather it enhances it. We stand out as potential leaders of our complex and multi-faceted society. So what should we do now?

Daniel Barenboim the famous Jewish conductor and pianist recently condemned the futile efforts made to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by force. He asserted that we must find a new way forward “which allays fear, acknowledges injustice, and leads to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike… which demands of all sides a common responsibility: to ensure equal rights and dignity to both peoples, and ensure the right of each person to transcend the past and aspire to a future.”

This is a truly Islamic message and one that should remind us that both of our communities are guided by God and contain right minded people who retain a sense of compassion and justice. We must take the initiative to heal the rifts in our fractured society through sincere words and actions that demonstrate love and compassion for mankind. 


Dawud Bone, January 2010 

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Abdul Rauf

23 Jan 10, 00:24

Bone is right to say that Muslims should respect and remember what has happened in the Holocaust. But has never called for a boycott of HMD. It has never advocated a boycott, simply stayed away. And it has acknowledged the tragedy thus, look at their website:

"The best living memorial for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust is trying to ensure that we make the cry Never Again real for all people who suffer, everywhere."

Of course, Mr Bone's former employers, the Board of Deputies, would have you believe that the MCB is anti-semitic, and has on several occasions tried to silence the MCB because its stance on Israel. Take the latest outrageous letter they sent to the Government smearing the MCB.

Wheras, the MCB has clearly stood firm against anti-semitism, and ensured it is not linked to its stance on Israel. Moreover, the MCB highlighted a few months ago the sacrifice of millions thousands World War to liberate Jews in concentration camps

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21 Jan 10, 00:53

These requests (see previous comment and link below) made to the Director of the Yad Vashem memorial and the president of the State of Israel do raise the question as to how and where we should be commemorating the victims of the holocaust until such time as the there is a just peace in Palestine. We should not be afraid to offend the status quo in our pursuit of the truth just as these brave descendents of holocaust victims have done.
Remove Our Grandmother's Name from the Wall at Yad Vashem

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21 Jan 10, 00:34 /Erase-my-grandfather-s-name-at-Yad-VashemSource : Le Monde by Jean-Moïse Braitberg requesting Israel after last year’s invasion of Gaza to remove his grandfather’s name from the Holocaust museum in Israel. “...Yet you, Mr. President, you lead the destiny of a country which claims not only to represent the Jews as a whole, but also the memory of those who were victims of Nazism. This is what concerns me and that I find unacceptable. By displaying the names the Yad Vashem Memorial, in the heart of the state of Israel, your state imprisons my family memories behind the barbed wires of zionism, and makes it hostage of a so-called moral authority which commits every day the abomination of denying justice. So, please, remove the name of my grandfather from the shrine dedicated to cruelty against Jews so that it no longer justifies the injustice being done to the Palestinians."

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7 Jan 10, 17:51

A view from America: When I first heard that the Swiss had voted to ban minarets, I was astonished and appalled that Swiss voters would treat their neighbors with such disrespect. Now I've learned from this article that a significant number of British Muslims have boycotted a day to remember the millions who were slaughtered in the Holocaust. I am equally astonished and appalled that these British Muslims would be so disrespectful of their neighbors. Someone needs to find the strength and humility to rise above this pettiness -- indeed, God calls us to do just that. Anything else could lead to a potentially lethal conflict.

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