Senior Saudi Religious Leader Visits Auschwitz on 75th Anniversary of Liberation

Mohammed al-Issa, a close associate of the Saudi crown price, leads group of clerics in joint visit to the concentration camp along with American Jewish Committee

Jack Khoury
JTA
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Mohammad Al-Issa and David Harris visit the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020
Mohammad Al-Issa and David Harris visit the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020Credit: KACPER PEMPEL/ REUTERS
Jack Khoury
JTA

Senior Saudi religious leader Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa, secretary general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, brought a delegation of Muslim leaders to visit the Auschwitz death camp on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation.    

The visit, which was planned in advance, was part of a joint enterprise between the and the .

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Al-Issa and American Jewish Committee chairman David Harris signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2019, which  enshrined "the commitment of the two global institutions to further Muslim-Jewish understanding and cooperate against racism and extremism in all its forms,” according to an AJC statement.

Al-Issa also has accepted an invitation from Harris to address the AJC Global Forum in Berlin in June 2020. Harris, in turn, will lead an AJC delegation to Saudi Arabia.

“I believe that by paying my respects to the victims of Auschwitz, I will encourage Muslims and non-Muslims to embrace mutual respect, understanding and diversity,” Al-Issa, a widely recognized thought leader on moderate Islam, said in the statement. “The heinous attacks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in Christchurch, New Zealand, and most recently in Sri Lanka compel us all to unite and stand up against those who want to divide us,” he also said.

Mohammad Al-Issa and David Harris visit the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020
Mohammad Al-Issa and David Harris visit the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, January 23, 2020Credit: KACPER PEMPEL/ REUTERS

A former justice minister, al-Issa has also held a number of senior positions in the religious and legal system in Saudi Arabia, and is considered a close associate of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. In recent years, he has been closely involved in the Kingdom's ecumenical attempts, meeting with senior figures in Christianity and Judaism.

In 2017, al-Issa visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and declared Holocaust denial a crime against Islam. He expressed his belief that Holocaust denial helps those who embrace hatred and ethnic cleansing all over the world, pointing out that it legitimizes abuses againts Muslims - like in Myanmar.

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