Muslim World League’s General Secretary honoured for fighting antisemitism, calls for unity against hatred

June 10, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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At a special online event, General Secretary of the Muslim World League, Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa was honoured with an inaugural award for his contribution towards fighting anti-Semitism.

Award given to Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issaby by CAM Director Sacha Roytman-Dratwa: (Photo: Combat Anti-Semitism Movement)

He is the first recipient of the prestigious annual award given by the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement and American Sephardi Federation, to Muslim leaders engaged in the fight against Anti-Semitism. Sheikh Dr Al-Issa was recognized for uniting people of all faiths, publicly condemning Holocaust denial and for inspiring the next generation to tackle hate and promote peace.

In a special address at the event, titled “How Muslims and Jews Can Combat Anti-Semitism Together,” Sheikh Dr Al-Issa spoke passionately about the need for unity in order to overcome anti-Semitism and hatred. Additional speakers at today’s event included Elan Carr (US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism), Sam Brownback (US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom) and Ahmed Shaheed (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Belief and Religion).

Sheikh Dr Al-Issa has consistently provided a powerful voice against extremist ideology and is considered the leading global voice for moderate Islam across the Sunni world. He has frequently condemned Holocaust denial, acts of anti-Semitism and the extremist distortion of religion. In January, he led the Muslim World League on a historic visit of senior Muslim leaders to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.

Speaking from Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Dr Al-Issa encouraged communities to work together, saying “Whereas Jews and Muslims lived centuries together, in these last decades we have sadly grown apart. Now, we must rebuild the bridges of dialogue and the bonds of partnership between our communities… Since taking over the Muslim World League, it has been my mission to fight the forces of hatred and violence.

“Earlier this year, our efforts in particular to shatter the ideology of anti-Semitism culminated in a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where I stood united alongside my Jewish brothers and said:  Never again. Not for Jews, not for Muslims, not for Christians, not for Hindus, not for Sikhs. Not for any of God’s Children. History’s greatest horror, the Holocaust, must never be repeated.”

Sheikh Dr Al-Issa reiterated his firm condemnation of Holocaust denial, saying “There are those who still try to falsify history. Who claim the Holocaust, the most despicable crime in human history, is fiction. We stand against these liars, no matter who they are or where they come from…True Islam deems any attempt to deny or underplay the brutal horrors of the Holocaust as the ultimate insult to the dignity of all those who perished.”

He also condemned those using the current coronavirus pandemic to leverage hate, saying “Today, we all face a common enemy in the form of the coronavirus. It has spread to every corner of the globe, showing us that it does not care if a person is Muslim or non-Muslim, Jew or non-Jew, rich or poor, educated or non-educated… Especially during times of economic challenge and social isolation, the danger of communities turning inward and rejecting the other is even greater. And we know that extremists of all type are seeking to exploit the current uncertainty to push an ideology of hatred and division.”

Sheikh Dr Al -Issa condemned hate crimes across the world, including anti-Semitic attacks, saying Your community has tragically been the target of several terrorist attacks. In Pittsburgh; in San Diego; in Munsey, New York; in Halle, Germany. I condemned each and every one of these horrible assaults upon humanity. As if they were attacks on Muslims.”

He concluded by saying that the Muslim World League is “ready for the fight” against “the scourge of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and all hatred,” adding “We in the Muslim World League are proud to should to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters to build understanding, respect, love and interreligious harmony.”

 The Combat Anti-Semitism Movement Director Sacha Roytman-Dratwa commented: Anti-Semitism can only be defeated by working together. Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa is a unique and important voice in this struggle. I hope that his strong commitment to the issue will encourage more and more Muslim voices to be heard against the hatred of Jews. At a time when Iran’s spiritual leader calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, the Sheikh’s statements condemning the hatred of Jews are of particular importance, especially given the scrutiny he often faces.”

Jason Guberman, Executive Director at American Sephardi Federation added: “We are proud to honour our friend, the Muslim World League’s Secretary-General, Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa, for his commitment, courage, and creativity countering Anti-Semitism as well as fighting against all forms of hate, bigotry, and fanaticism. His moral courage is matched by his boundless intellectual curiosity and willingness to confront controversies directly.”

In New Zealand, spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish Council, Juliet Moses said: ” The New Zealand Jewish Council is thrilled that Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa has been honoured for his inspirational, visionary work in combatting antisemitism and congratulate him for it. We fully endorse his message of unity and building bridges through dialogue, something that we have focussed on increasingly since the barbaric mosque attacks in Christchurch last year. We believe that this is the best antidote to hatred, bigotry and toxic ideologies that the world seems awash in today and that leaders like Sheikh Dr Al-Issa will help make the world a better place for all peoples. He is a very worthy recipient.  

In Australia, the co-CEO of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim told J-Wire: “We need many more authoritative Muslim voices like that of Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa.  He has spoken the truth plainly and fearlessly. By doing so he has put to shame other high-ranking Muslim clerics around the world who never dare to speak out against extremist hatred and violence within their communities even though they know full-well how wrong and harmful this extremism is, and how it damages the reputation of Islam.  Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa has given us the voice of reason and a vision of hope.”

Dr David Adler, President of the Australian Jewish Association (AJA) said “AJA welcomes leaders within Islam who speak out against antisemitism and against Holocaust denial, so we welcome the sentiments expressed by the General Secretary of the Muslim World League, Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa. We regard it as “a hand of friendship” and commend such leadership which is a prerequisite to dealing with the very high rates of antisemitism in many Muslim communities which too often expresses itself in acts of violence”.

AJA last year held events with Dr Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Ishmail Khaldi an Israeli Bedouin diplomat and on 25 June Imam Mohammad Tawhidi is scheduled to be our guest on a virtual event via Zoom. We are very comfortable working positively with such Islamic leaders.”

“Having been involved in high-level Jewish-Muslim engagement for the past two decades, I have no hesitation in saying that the significance of Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Issa’s stance against antisemitism must not be underestimated”, said Jeremy Jones, Director of International and of Community Affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.
In recent times, the Sheikh has not just shown a desire to have a dialogue with the Jewish world but to encourage cooperation, for the common good, of Muslims, Jews and Christians globally.
Jones noted: “His trip to Auschwitz this January, organised by AIJAC’s partner the American Jewish Committee, had a deep impact not just on his thinking but on his actions in confronting Holocaust denial and other antisemitic tropes which are often unchallenged in so much of the Muslim world.
The Combat Antisemitism Movement, which in the first year of its existence has made real and tangible advances in involving people of many religions, nationalities and backgrounds in the struggles against many varieties of antisemitism, and their partners in the American Sephardi Federation, deserve applause and gratitude for hosting this important speech.”

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