Muslim Courage in Canada: Funding the National Holocaust Memorial

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People holds signs during a solidarity march in Toronto, November 20, 2015.
People holds signs during a solidarity march in Toronto, November 20, 2015.Credit: Reuters

On 27th November 1095, Pope Urban II issued a declaration calling upon Christians to redeem the Holy City of Jerusalem from the hands of the ‘infidel’ Muslims. Tens of thousands of Christians heeded the call and set out for the Holy Land. En route, they discovered that there were many other infidels that were no less deserving of vengeance – the Jews. The Crusaders murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews and destroyed hundreds of Jewish communities along their savage journey.             

To say that the relationship between Christians, Muslims and Jews over the centuries has been tumultuous is an understatement. Over the last millennium and more, millions have been slaughtered in the name of God. Tragically, the misappropriation of religion continues until this very day. 

While humankind has perpetrated some terrible crimes, the most heinous of all was unquestionably the Holocaust. And while the Holocaust was not perpetrated in the name of Christianity per se, there exists no doubt that Christianity played a major role. Nearly all Germans at the time were Christian, two thirds of the country adhering to Protestantism and one third to Catholicism. Deep-seated Church anti-Semitism laid the foundation for the acquiescence of the German people to the Nazi final solution. Moreover, the deafening silence of the Vatican along with the Nazis’ call to service in the name of ‘Positive Christianity’ make the role played by religion in the genocide of the Holocaust undeniable.

While crimes against humanity in the name of every religion have continued into the twenty-first century, the clearest and most immediate threat today comes from Islamist radicals. The extremist theology comes in various incarnations – from Al Qaeda to ISIS, Hamas to Boko Haram – but what unites the doctrine is the terrorization of people of all faiths equally. Christian, Jew, or Muslim. Unless you adhere to their radical interpretation of Islam, you are a target.

But the news is not all bleak. In Canada, next week history will be made: Our country is in the process of constructing a National Holocaust Monument. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the monument will be a testament to Canada’s eternal commitment to stand at the forefront of the battle against racism and intolerance around the world, along with honoring the memory of the millions of Jews and others annihilated by the Nazis. The monument also recognizes the important contributions Holocaust survivors have made to building Canada.

Funding for the monument has been shared equally by Canadians from all walks of life and private donors. However, the most heartwarming and historic donation, in my opinion, will be made this coming Monday night. The Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations has rallied their members and will be presenting a check from funds gathered from Muslim Canadians. The donation will be delivered in the presence of over two hundred Muslims, at a reception hosted by the German ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Werner Wnendt, the emissary of Germany’s ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union.

In light of our historical background, it’s worth reflecting on this moment: Muslims will be demonstrating their tangible support for crimes perpetrated against Jews by Christians. The event will be hosted by the German government. In the history of the Abrahamic religions, it’s hard to have imagined such an event taking place.

It’s no accident that it is taking place in Canada, whose values make such an occasion not only possible, but inevitable, and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Canada, from its very inception as a conglomerate of English, French and indigenous peoples, has fostered a culture of respect and tolerance for all. Indeed, those same values crowdfunded the repair of an Ontario mosque that was desecrated just last week. Intolerance isn’t tolerated in Canada.

Ultimately, however, while it’s all well and good to attribute the generosity of the Coalition of Progressive Muslims to the Canadian spirit, let’s be honest. While we may have created a climate of tolerance here in Canada, the real heroes are these Muslims who have courageously stepped up and looked their coreligionists straight in the eye and said, ‘Not in our name!’  We know that these brave individuals are but the tip of the iceberg of Muslims worldwide who genuinely wish to live in peace with Jews, Christians, and people of all faiths.  We applaud their courage and willingness to tangibly demonstrate their commitment to the fight against intolerance. May they be a shining example to the entire world of what Islam truly preaches and may we merit living in a world of peace in our days.

Rabbi Daniel Friedman is the rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Canada.  He chairs the National Holocaust Monument Development Council of Canada.

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