Muslim World League elicits positive reactions as it rejects Holocaust denial

The organisation's secretary-general described the Holocaust as “among the worst human atrocities ever.”
Sunday 04/02/2018
Muslim World League Secretary-General Mohammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa (2nd R) listens to the Rector of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral Patrick Chauvet (L) during a visit to the cathedral, last November.  (AFP)
Getting attention. Muslim World League Secretary-General Mohammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa (2nd R) at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral , last November. (AFP)

LONDON - The Muslim World League (MWL), a Saudi-based pan-Islamic organisation previously accused of spreading intolerance, took a public stance against Holocaust denial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On January 27, the day set to commemorate the events during the second world war in which millions of Jews were killed in Nazi concentration camps, Muslim World League Secretary-General Mohammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa wrote to Sara Bloomfield, director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, describing the Holocaust as “among the worst human atrocities ever.”

Issa called the Holocaust, “an incident that shook humanity to the core and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

“True Islam is against these crimes. It classifies them in the highest degree of penal sanctions and among the worst human atrocities ever,” Issa wrote. “One would ask, who in his right mind would accept, sympathise, or even diminish the extent of this brutal crime?”

Issa said: “We consider any denial of the Holocaust or minimising of its effect a crime to distort history.”

Issa’s letter garnered mixed reactions, with some describing it as “moving” and others dismissing it.

Israeli Embassy in Washington spokesman Itai Bar Dov, posting on Twitter, said the letter was “incredibly moving.”

Harrison Akins, an expert on Middle East affairs, told Newsweek that the letter was a strategic effort to distance Saudi Arabia from those in the region who deny the Holocaust.

“Saudi diplomats in the past have made similar comments denouncing Holocaust denial in opposition to the Iranian government, who routinely denies the Holocaust,” Akins said.

“Acknowledging the Holocaust as historical fact is a way to distinguish itself in the eyes of Western countries from other actors within the Middle East, such as Iran.”

Writing in the New York Daily News, Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, applauded what he said was a significant step by the MWL.

Satloff, while on a visit to the kingdom, said he was impressed by Issa’s religious outreach efforts and his commitment to using the MWL as an instrument of peace and not a political tool.

Satloff said Issa was taking his lead from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz when he “vowed to cleanse his country of extremism and return it to ‘moderate Islam.’” He added that Issa seems to have the mandate to transform the organisation into an entity that preaches tolerance.

“We have had some impressive success, especially in Morocco (where King Mohammed VI’s brother recently endorsed Holocaust education as an important tool in the battle against extremism) and in Tunisia (where civil society is having a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony),” wrote Satloff.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think Saudi Arabia would merit inclusion on that list of ‘progressive’ countries,” he added.

The MWL was founded in 1962 and has mostly worked to propagate Islamic teachings. With the appointment of Issa, a moderate Islamic scholar, the Islamic body has worked to dispel misconceptions about Islam. This aligns with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed’s stated intention of moving the kingdom back to its “moderate” roots.

“Saudi Arabia was not like this before 1979. Saudi Arabia and the entire region saw the proliferation of Al-Sahwa [awakening] project after 1979 for many reasons,” Crown Prince Mohammed said in October at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh.

He was referencing major events in 1979 — the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the siege of Mecca by terrorists that inspired a generation of militants such as al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.

“We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe,” the crown prince said.