‘Shoah Through Muslim Eyes’ by Mehnaz M. Afridi
Deconstructing stereotypes and highlighting misconceptions between Muslims and Jews is at the core of “Shoah Through Muslim Eyes” by Mehnaz M. Afridi, a Pakistani-born Muslim and director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Centre at Manhattan College.
The college trusted her work enough to appoint Afridi, a faith¬ful Muslim, to such a sensitive position despite recriminations by some Jews that no Muslim, no matter how qualified or dedicated, should be so entrusted.
Misjudgements between Muslims and Jews encouraged Afridi to educate Muslims more on the difference between Israel, Judaism and Zionism through the Shoah, the Jewish term for the Holocaust. She explained in her book why the Shoah is one of the most important historic events to learn from despite the common complaint that there is too much emphasis on it compared to other genocides, such as happened in Rwanda and to Armenians and American Indians.
For Afridi, denying the Shoah is a “crime against humanity.” Many Muslims claim the death toll is exaggerated despite evidence. The subject is taboo to speak about and, if it is spoken about, it must be seen relative to other discus¬sions of suffering, some argue.
“God created the lives that were killed so it is our responsibil¬ity to remember them,” Afridi emphasised.
She said misperceptions be¬tween Muslims and Jews go back to the time of the Shoah.
She points out that the term “Muselmann” — literally meaning “the Muslim” — is seen in many Shoah testimonies. “It was used to describe a prisoner who was sur¬rendering, as Muslims surrender to God,” Afridi said.
Many testimonies described the surrendering as ‘defenceless,’ ‘dying of malnutrition,’ ‘useless garbage’ and ‘the drowned.’ How¬ever, Muslims see surrender in a positive way, as it is a surrender to God in the act of prayer.”
In her book, the author high¬lights stories of Muslims who were directly linked to the Shoah. Some helped Jews, some were imprisoned in camps with Jews and some turned away. Albania, a predominantly Muslim country, saved all its Jewish citizens during the Shoah. Afridi wanted to give those Muslims a voice regarding the Shoah.
She also stressed the miscon¬ception that there was a strong relationship between Arabs and the Nazis. Arabs needed alliances and did not want Jews to immi¬grate to Palestine. Therefore, the alliance was sparked by material interests and strategic concerns, not by ideology, Afridi contended, noting that Muslims and Arabs were also seen as racially inferior by the Nazis because they were non-European.
Many Muslims say Jews used the Shoah to colonise Palestine and Jews were given support from Europe and the United States because of the Shoah and the guilt from European culprits, witnesses and the power of the American- Jewish community. Afridi said we must deconstruct stereotypes of Jews in the Muslim world and vice versa.
Further educating about each other’s history and suffering will deeply affect the political realities and circumstances of Jews and Muslims, Afridi said, adding that history was taught very differently in Muslim countries, compared to Western ones.
“While in the United States, the narrative of colonial history has changed with regard to events such as Native-American geno¬cide, enslavement of Africans, Vietnam and the civil rights move¬ment, this change has not hap¬pened in many Muslim curricula,” Afridi said.
One lesson to be learned from the Shoah, Afridi noted, is that when the Jews went to France, they emerged in a Jewish ghetto because they did not speak the language. Today many Muslims and Arabs are travelling to the West and doing the same thing. “This is a problem because it is important to assimilate and be kind to all so stereotypes are fur¬ther broken down,” she said.
Afridi stated that if a Muslim be¬lieves Jews are his enemies, then he must be listening to extremist factions that openly call to exter¬minate Jews. “Prophet Moham¬mad, peace be upon him, married a Jewish woman who is given by God the title of ‘The mother of believers’,” she said.
She said anti-Semitism was not created by Muslims but its roots are traced to Christianity and the accusation that Jews were Christ’s killers.
“Shoah Through Muslim Eyes” is an excellent study of overlooked facts connecting Muslims, Arabs and Jews. Afridi’s intelligent analysis successfully breaks down common stereotypes and miscon¬ceptions and provides vital les-sons from the past that can easily be implemented.